Walter Sabatini spoke about an array of subjects relating to Roma on Tuesday when he spoke to students at Università Roma Tre for a discussion on the evolution on the sporting director’s role in football. The former Giallorossi sporting director’s comments follow.
Applause as Sabatini enters
Today is an inauspicious day for me. Roma’s next sporting director has nearly been confirmed. It’s not official yeat, but it’s Monchi. A great professional. Roma have chosen an extraordinary man and have made an extraordinary choice. He’s made a lot of money on players.
Up until October I was Roma’s sporting director, but in the last few months I’ve still thought about things as though I were still Roma’s sporting director. I’ve been thrown by the choice I made. I hate the fact I’ve lost Roma, Roma was my life. I’ve not missed a single Roma game since. Things are gloomy for me now. Making profits, retaining assets and remaining competitive is what makes a sporting director great. Profits are needed at a financial level. For educational purposes, I’ll try to think about other things today. But the profits that have been made on players in the past few years at Roma are important. Sometimes they’ve allowed the club to avoid recapitalizing.
Monchi has been presented as someone who makes some great deals, I would echo that and support that, but he is being presented as a deus ex machina, a man who doesn’t make mistakes. A couple of media outlets denounced me when I was introduced. Roma have made some huge steps forward in the last few months in improving their relationship with the press, who are now more than generous with Roma. Before that, coaches and directors were treated awfully. It’s completely false that you can sign a perfect player every time by using some sort of algorithm. One of the reasons I asked to leave Roma was that statistics were becoming more important than what you could see with your own eyes.
You achieve these by buying players who have the potential to produce a profit, and I did so at Roma with a great deal of luck. When selling players for profit, you have to remember that this mustn’t impact on the squad the player is leaving behind. What has been done at Roma in the past few years is very important, profits have been made on players that have allowed them to stay within UEFA’s [Financial Fair Play] restrictions and avoid recapitalizations.
Why do Roma keep finishing second?
As I’ve said before, Juventus are going through a fortunate cycle that they will never be able to repeat. It’s true that Roma are finishing second, but I guarantee you that a lot of major clubs would like to be finishing second like Roma will – or could. I say that because Napoli are very strong. But hopefully we’ll hold onto our position. Us, not them. Are you all Romanisti here? To think some people thought me a Laziale…
Then deny it!
I’ve always denied it, work it out… I’ve always said that I respect Lazio, they employed me during a difficult period of my life. I’m grateful, I would never disparage Lazio. But you have always heard me say that I want to beat them. Arrogance exists in football as well.
Who do sporting directors work with?
There are a lot of people who work alongside sporting directors. Knowledge, scouting and purchases are what make a team competitive. Scouting should be enriched by intelligent work, particularly in the South American market.
Roma-Sampdoria under Ranieri
I hated that game, because at the time I was Palermo’s sporting director and we were trying to get into the Champions League. Roma should have been 6-0 up in the first half, then they lost and I wanted to die. Imagine the euphoria at getting Palermo into the Champions League.
It hurt everyone, I was in hospital 3 times after that.
Andreazzoli on the bench
Actually, he got that game wrong.
They overlap a bit with the coach’s role, but sometimes they can be useful.
I signed him, he didn’t have any teeth at the time – he looked like Count Ugolino. It was at Perugia, he was 12 years old and he was on trial playing against 15 year olds.
When I paid €9m to sign him on a co-ownership deal people said I was crazy, that I must be drunk. I was convinced that he would become even better though.
Spalletti has tried, and is trying, to change the Romanista mentality in order to make them a winning team. But he’s had to say some difficult things, and has been on a collision course with Totti. I’ve seen him do some unbelievable things with the ball, but managing him while he is on the decline has been a problem. While he has hurt Totti on some occasions, Spalletti has done it in order to foster the idea of a strong squad at Roma. He’s done some brilliant things and is continuing to try to do so. But look at what’s happening. He’s brave, and not many people are. I hope he stays. I’m sad to see Spalletti being vilified and denigrated.
How much is Roma’s squad worth?
If the next sporting director decides that he doesn’t like the players there, he could sell them and bring in over €200m. But I don’t think he’ll do that.
Does Mazzone have it in for Spalletti?
What, no… What he said was affectionate… These things happen all the time, and most people in this city are fine with it. Our coach is honest and responsible, he’s trying to bring the right sort of mentality to Trigoria. And what happens? People insult him. The new sporting director will have a huge advantage though, and I applaud the club – they have been able to turn the media around. They’re calling Monchi the King Midas of football.
Spalletti would be a huge loss though. He doesn’t ask for the best players. Spalletti has never talked about his squad not being good enough in front of the cameras. Look at what other coaches do in the same situation. Spalletti deserves to win at Roma, and he’s the only person capable of doing so.
Could Spalletti go to Juve?
Good luck to him if he does, but I hope Spalletti wants to stay at Roma.
Iturbe is an excellent player who did badly. When I bought him he was the darling of Rome and the Roman media. It was my fault that I bought him for that price. People really wanted Iturbe and I wanted to make a statement for Roma, putting my club on a pedestal. I wanted Roma to be considered an international force. Just like when I came here, before I was actually appointed sporting director, I went to buy Lamela. Erik was on the transfer market, and another Serie A club was trying to buy him.
Doumbia is a great player. Likewise Gerson. What hurt Doumbia was that people underestimated the despicable condition he returned to us in after the African Cup of Nations. Even I could have scored against Parma. But no one remembers that Doumbia, despite that traumatic debut, then scored against Sassuolo and against Genoa. Then things went badly, and that was partly my responsibility.
As soon as Roma decide he’s not wanted, I’ll sign him for another club. He’s a bit unemotional but he was only born in 1997 and it wasn’t easy for him to settle – particularly when there are hundreds of other players who are making mistakes at the same time.
Why aren’t Roma winning?
OK, Roma aren’t winning, but we’ve spent 3 years putting things in place so that they can start. They will win. Maybe even this season.
Roma needed to sell Benatia for €30m and buy Manolas for €13m. There was a lot of talk about that, not all of it reliable, but when players play badly they don’t talk about taking a pay cut, but if they play well then they go out of control about their pay. Regardless of Roma’s financial situation, you always have to keep a club’s finances in mind.
Roma mustn’t sell him, and I hope they don’t, but the thing that will lower his price is his age. He would be a crazy signing, almost inadvisable [at that price]. But it’s indisputable that he’s the best player in Europe.
Chinese Super League
Now there are governmental regulations which prevent crazy signings, but I’m very happy about it. I got €18m from the Chinese for Gervinho, I made him stay at Trigoria for 3 days, because if he’d left then other people would have talked him out of it.
I hoped he’d be performing like this last year.
He’s an exceptional person, he arrived in Rome with incredible enthusiasm. He wanted to impose his own style, and he achieved that at Celta Vigo. That Roma side wasn’t a great team, we rushed into the transfer market at the last minute, but there was a time when Luis seemed to have completely transmitted his ideas to the players. After the game against Bologna I thought that Roma, if they worked in perfect harmony, were capable of dominating games. But nothing went right after that game. We tried to keep him but he wanted to leave. Even now though, I think of him with affection and respect.
People said some stupid, disgraceful things about him. There was a lot of focus on technique, but ultimately he joined for €2m and he left for €2m. Ibarbo had a big impact against Lazio, we basically signed him for free to do something like that, to help us win the derby and qualify for the Champions League. I’d do that sort of deal again.
We needed a back up, he’s a fantastic guy but an inconsistent player. He’d stop and do turns and tricks in his own box before clearing the ball. But he scored a huge goal for us, worth €30m [to beat Lazio and send Roma into the Champions League]. Then I had the chance to sell him for the same amount as I bought him for. I called him in to say ‘Yanga, I’ve sold you’. I’ve never felt as hurt by how a player looked at me as I did then. Those 10 minutes killed me.
They play the best football in Italy, unless Roma are on form…
I never thought about it while I was at Roma, we suited each other. I’m a pragmatist and Roma needed that same pragmatism. Someone said that I should start again at the bottom because I need to get away from stress, but that’s not a problem. If I drop down a level I’d still work in the same way, only my targets would change.
Barriers at the Olimpico
You don’t know how much [the fans’] absence has hurt Roma, even though they’ve won a lot of matches at the Olimpico. Everyone in football tries to make the fans happy, that’s all you can do. It’s something that not every president I’ve worked with has understood though.
I think he’s thinking about carrying on for another year. I don’t know what the club will do though, I’m not involved any more.
At the time I didn’t have enough money to buy him, and Sampdoria paid €4m in cash for him.