Roma’s former sporting director, Walter Sabatini, has spoken to Rete7 about his time with the Giallorossi, explaining that he simply had to leave the club but has always been and will always be a tifoso.
Why didn’t you become Bologna’s sporting director last summer?
It was a wonderful opportunity, but Bologna needed things to be done immediately and I couldn’t guarantee that. I would have had two roles, sometimes working for Roma and sometimes working for Bologna. It was important to be completely honest to them: I wouldn’t have been 100% available to them. So, very regretfully, I had to turn it down. I’m disappointed about it now, given the slightly depressing end to my time with Roma. I insisted I had to leave because of all the conditions required to work there. I am and will always be a Roma fan, but I am very attached to Bologna as well.
Will Destro reach his potential?
He needs to do a lot more. He’s had a lot of injuries, but he was like a thoroughbred when he arrived in Rome. He scored many goals at Roma, an extraordinary strike average. He will always be one of Roma’s most prolific goalscorers. But I’m not happy with the attitude he has at the moment at Bologna. I pay close attention to the careers of all those players who I have had an influence on. Bologna welcomed Destro as though he were a top player. He has a slightly odd character though: he’s a bit touchy and this can result in him getting involved in certain unpredictable situations on the pitch. He’s otherwise a very good player with an eye for goal. The team needs to help him but he also needs to bring more energy to his game. There’s no reason why he should be jealous of Belotti or Pavoletti, even if Belotti plays with more hunger and desire. He’s a bit too haughty. Mattia needs to respond to this, he needs to go back to being the striker he was at Roma and the one that Bologna thought they’d signed. Destro did his best things at Roma when he was competing with great players like Osvaldo and Totti. He just needs a bit of incitement.
Is he worth the money they paid for him?
He doesn’t score very much though…
You also need to consider how important the goals he has scored are.
I’ve been following him since early last year, because Cosmi told me that he had the technical ability to play at Roma.
Sadiq is a very good player. It was me who struck the deal with Bologna. As soon as we completed the deal though, he picked up a slight muscle contusion. I sent him to my doctor so that he could carry out some scans before he left. The results were all negative. The Bologna doctor was informed and he also carried out some tests, which came back negative. When he started training at Bologna, he said he was in a great deal of pain, and it was later discovered that the injury was more complex than either of the previous tests had suggested. I was sorry for both Bologna and for the player. He had 2 or 3 very impressive games at Roma. His team-mates were frequently trying to pick him out, because at that time he was playing well and converting chances into goals. He’s an unsightly player, even ungraceful, but that also makes him very hard to play against. He and Destro would have made a great strike partnership, perhaps they still can! It pained me to see him injured, I hope that he’ll be able to start playing again soon. I’ll go for a coffee with him tomorrow.
He was loved for many years not just by Roma fans but inside the dressing room as well. He knew his own limitations. He played a lot of matches at a good level, maybe people didn’t always notice him, but he was very reliable. He wasn’t a regular starter because he had a formerly world class player in Maicon ahead of him, but when Bologna bought him they were definitely looking for someone with his reliability. Toro is Toro. He brought people together in the dressing room. When I completed his sale, a lot of players came to me to complain because people liked him in the dressing room. Roma didn’t need to sell Torosidis.
Have you ever seriously thought about giving up smoking?
I’ve never thought about it. I’m always a bit disappointed when I get to the last couple of drags on a cigarette, and I think about lighting another one straight away. I could have bought a two-bed apartment on Rome’s Piazza di Spagna with the money I’ve spent on cigarettes. On average it takes me 3 minutes to smoke a cigarette, if I’m stressed then it can be less than 2 minutes.
Are you friends with Verdone?
I’ve never met him, but I love him both as an actor and as a director. I talk regularly with Valerio Mastandrea though, he’s a friend of mine.
What did people in Rome call Fenucci?
The accountant. Claudio was always stressed when he was working at Roma, but he always worked tirelessly.
Will Bologna complete their new stadium before Roma do?
It’s fundamental for Roma to have a new stadium. In general, if Italian teams own their own grounds then it would help to bring families back to the stadium. Roma have been working on this for many years, but Bologna are only intending to revamp their existing stadium so I think that will be the easier job.
What purpose does the January transfer window serve?
It’s always been a period of great intensity and stress for me. You’re supposed to suffer in football, moments without stress are only temporary. Sometimes I’ve been able to make some good choices [in the January transfer window]. For instance, last year we were fortunate at Roma to bring in 2 players who changed the team’s fortunes: Perotti and El Shaarawy. A couple of years before that we signed Nainggolan from Cagliari, that was an expensive and very difficult operation. We paid €9m for the co-ownership rights. But when a good player arrives in the dressing room, you can feel a surge of adrenaline.
Who is your favourite transfer signing?
There have been quite a few. Perhaps the most spectacular, and fortunate, was Marquinhos. He was a young kid who we bought for €3m, and within a year we had sold him on for a stratospheric amount of money.
And your most painful sale?
First of all, whenever it doesn’t work out for any of my players, it hurts me. I wouldn’t want to be Messi’s or Ronaldo’s sporting director: I’m the sporting director of the likes of Emerson Palmieri. But [my most painful sale] was Yanga-Mbiwa. It made me uncomfortable. I bought him from Newcastle with a slightly odd condition: we would have to buy him if he played 20 matches. In the event, he played more than 20 matches both out of necessity and because he deserved to. He was loved by everyone after his goal against Lazio, but I needed to bring in €10m – which is how much he was worth – and then I received an offer from Lyon. I still remember how stunned and emotional he was in my office, but he didn’t say anything. I felt terrible, I didn’t know what to say to him. I knew that I was doing him an injustice.
How many players did you turn a profit on at Roma?
A lot, but I don’t know exactly how many. Making a profit on a player is one of the main traits of how I work, but the important thing is ensuring the team remains competitive.
Was it necessary to give Pjanic to Juventus?
It was a transfer like any other. There were certain economic obligations that had to be respected. When a player expects his salary to be increased, it forces the club to reflect on a number of factors.
Could you have got more money for him?
No, that was his market value.
He was considered to be a reject and a second-rate player for months. Now he’s improving and he’s becoming a fine full back. He will have an impact on Roma’s performances, he can become a crucial player for them and will be in demand in the transfer market in the future. Football is full of surprises. He didn’t play at Palermo, but you need confidence in football.
He was a phenomenal player, and was one of my greatest regrets. He had an ambivalent view towards life. He thought he was cursed and that he was a rock star, he was a difficult person. But the things he did at Roma were extraordinary.
Do you weigh up players’ characters when you’re considering which players to buy?
Players can falsify their characters on the pitch, or learn things that don’t come to them naturally. I am more interested in a player’s movement and ideas. I still remember Lamela when he was at River, he won me over with his style of dribbling.
How much did you pay for Ibarbo?
Nothing. It isn’t true that we paid €8m for him. I paid €2m to sign him on loan in January, and I recouped that in July. He had the game of his life in the derby against Lazio. You could see the real Ibarbo that day. He scored, and he immediately showed he was a good signing.
What sort of competition is the Coppa Italia? Are teams energised by it?
It’s not seen in a good light in its early stages. I hope that a small team is able to win it one day. The Coppa Italia was one of the highlights of my times at Palermo when my team got to the final in Rome. It was wonderful to see all those people wearing pink shirts in Rome. The English [FA Cup] is definitely more appealing than the Coppa Italia, which needs to be revitalised. It does, however, offer some great economic incentives: the Europa League and the Supercoppa.