Analyzing Monchi’s Ill-fated Spell at Roma
By 2017, Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo – more commonly known as ‘Monchi’ – had established himself as one of the best Directors of Football in the game during a 16-year stint at Sevilla. During his time at the Andalusians, Monchi brought the likes of Ivan Rakitić, Dani Alves, Adriano and Seydou Keïta – amongst others – to the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, as Sevilla established themselves as one of the top sides in Spain.
While title success eluded them amid the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona, Los Nervionenses still got their hands on two Copa del Rey titles and five Europa Leagues/UEFA Cups, as Monchi helped Sevilla return from the doldrums of the Segunda, to the lofty heights of European adulation.
Understandably, the former goalkeeper became hot property, and was linked with several of Europe’s top clubs as the Director of Football model began to take shape at the top table. Ultimately it was Roma who landed him, bringing him to the Stadio Olimpico looking to end a then 16-year wait for a league title.
While the 2017/18 summer window isn’t the one under the microscope today, it is worth mentioning the success that followed during the Spaniard’s first season. Under new manager Eusebio Di Francesco, Roma finished 3rd in Serie A and reached the semi-final of the Champions League for the first time since 1984.
This was a squad mostly built by Luciano Spaletti, however. Of the ten players with the most minutes for Roma in 17/18, just two of those were Monchi additions (Aleksandar Kolarov (31) and Federico Fazio (30) ) – keeping in mind that Spalletti had finished 2nd during his final term in the capital.
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All of this culminated in high expectations heading into the 2018/19 campaign, with many tipping Roma to make ground in closing the 18-point gap between themselves and all-conquering Juventus at the top of Serie A, whilst also making a good fist of it in Europe again.
This brings us to their summer business of 2018, where Monchi was heavily backed but did have to manage some key departures such as Alisson’s move to Liverpool, Radja Nainggolan’s switch to Inter and Kevin Strootman’s departure for Marseille.
That £147.5m figure is what is of interest to us today, as we’re going to analyse where that money went, and how well those investments did for AS Roma.
Iván Marcano – free – FC Porto
A hallmark of Monchi’s time at Sevilla was his use of the free agent and loan markets – two things he used less of during his two-year spell in Italy. One example of those, however, was the signing of Spanish defender Iván Marcano.
It didn’t work out for the then-31-year-old, as he mustered just over 800 minutes in Italy before heading back to Porto just a year later for £2.5m. The transfer itself may not have worked on the pitch for Roma, but a couple of million pounds profit shows why shopping around in the free market can offer financial gains.
They were lucky that, despite Porto having plenty of younger options in defence, they decided to bring the veteran back to the Estádio do Dragão, otherwise this could have been a prime example of burning wages over the years of a contract.
Daniel Fuzato – £450,000 – Palmeiras
Given that goalkeepers don’t often peak until they hit their late twenties – a statement backed by Roma’s £10.3m purchase of 33-year-old goalkeeper Rui Patrício over the summer – it was never likely that Daniel Fuzato was going to make an instant impact at the Olimpico, arriving just three days after his 20th birthday.
Happy birthday Daniel Fuzato! 🥳
The 'keeper is 24 today! 🧤🇧🇷 #ASRoma pic.twitter.com/qpxegODM8J
— AS Roma English (@ASRomaEN) July 4, 2021
In the years since, the Brazilian has made just seven Roma appearances, failing to make any real dent on the club’s goalkeeping crisis during the previous three seasons. Now, with the arrival of Patrício, it now looks less likely than ever that Fuzato will have a chance to claim the number one shirt. But at £450,000, and with time to still theoretically impress, it is hardly one of this summer’s biggest issues.
Antonio Mirante – £3.6m – Bologna
Another goalkeeper signed in the wake of Alisson’s departure to Liverpool, Mirante could have certainly expected to make more of a challenge for a starting berth than Daniel Fuzato, but was generally signed to play second fiddle as the more experienced shot-stopper in the Roma squad – and so it told.
In three years at Roma, he featured in 29 Serie A games and finished his time at the club with a fairly woeful display against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Europa League last season. He was signed as a backup in fairness, even if £3.6m does sound like a bit of an overspend for a 34-year-old.
Nicolò Zaniolo – £4.5m & swapped for Radja Nainggolan – Inter
Despite enjoying a fruitful 2017/18 season, Radja Nainggolan had just turned 30 and was headed towards his twilight years. But such was the desperation of former Roma boss Luciano Spalletti to reunite with his former midfield maestro, Inter paid a reported £20.5m and swapped him for Nicolò Zaniolo and Davide Santon (more on him later). A deal that Roma undoubtedly got the better end of.
.@ASRomaEN's Nicolo Zaniolo suffered Torn ACL's in back-to-back seasons
Today he scored for the first time since July 2020. Look what it meant to the 22-year-old ❤️ pic.twitter.com/eIcqWbdeUd
— International Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCup) August 26, 2021
Thanks to the faith shown in the then-19-year-old by Di Francesco, Zaniolo became a hit with the Roma faithful after contributing seven goals in 27 league games during his first season. A cruel ACL injury in 19/20 halted his progress, but the lengthy Coronavirus delay meant he was able to finish the season by contributing to three more goals in just 210 post-lockdown minutes.
He did miss practically the entirety of 20/21 with a further ACL injury, but at just 22 the powerful midfielder has plenty of time on his side and has now returned to the first-team picture under Mourinho. Monchi may not leave a great legacy at Roma, but, so long as he can remain fit, the Spaniard will always have the silver lining of bringing Zaniolo to the club – a man who has been spoken of in the same breath as Totti during his fledgling career.
Bryan Cristante – £4.5m loan fee with obligation to buy for £20m – Atalanta
Bryan Cristante’s time at Roma has been a mixed bag; he was signed off the back of a nine-goal season with Atalanta playing in a more advanced role, but during his time in the City of Seven Hills, the Italian has dropped deeper and deeper – eventually playing most of 2020/21 on the right side of a three-man defence.
He was unremarkable there to say the least, with Mourinho opting to move him further forward to a screening role in a two alongside the more box-to-box Jordan Veretout. There, Cristante has been able to show off more of his skill set – making more passes and hitting more long balls than any other Giallorossi player in the early part of the season.
Il giorno dell'addio di De Rossi :"Ne vorrei cento come Bryan Cristante". #RomaTrabzonspor @SkySport pic.twitter.com/pTrYpvO85S
— Angelo Mangiante (@angelomangiante) August 26, 2021
But for £25m, the Roma faithful could have expected to see more from someone who has seemingly offered very little at either end of the pitch during his time at the club. It will be interesting to see if he can turn it around under The Special One.
Ante Ćorić – £5.4m – Dinamo Zagreb
Sometimes, there can be too many chefs in the kitchen, and that certainly seemed the case for Ante Ćorić in Italy. Rather boringly dubbed as ‘the next Luka Modrić’ by onlookers, Ćorić’s move to Europe came as no surprise, but with so many midfield options, he quickly fell down the pecking order and out the ever-revolving exit door.
Spells at Almeía, VVV-Venlo, NK Olimpija and now FC Zurich have left the Croatian stranded on his footballing journey – unwanted by his parent club, but never doing enough to earn a permanent move elsewhere, and still on a contract that doesn’t expire until 2023. Monchi can’t be ridiculed too much for the way Ćorić’s Roma career has panned out; with so many other good, young midfield options, there was bound to be a couple who couldn’t make the step up.
Robin Olsen – £8.1m – FC Copenhagen
Another one of those goalkeepers burdened with the task of replacing Alisson was Robin Olsen, a then-28-year-old Swedish goalkeeper signed from Danish side FC Copenhagen for just over £8.1m. He made 27 Serie A appearances in his debut campaign, but failed to impress, making several key errors and finishing the campaign with the 14th best save percentage of Serie A goalkeepers to play the same or more games than the Swede.
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Subsequently, he was replaced by Pau López, spent 19/20 and 20/21 on loan at Cagliari and Everton before finding himself out on loan again at Sheffield United in the Championship for this season. His contract expires next summer and it would be quite right to suggest he won’t be offered a new one, and that this was another failed Monchi addition.
Davide Santon – £8.5m & swapped for Radja Nainggolan – Inter Milan
The other half of that now-infamous player plus cash exchange for Radja Nainggolan was Davide Santon, as he swapped San Siro for the Olimpico in a deal equating around £8.5m. It’s safe to say that it hasn’t worked out as well as their deal for Zaniolo at half the price, illustrated perfectly by the fact that the latter has played more games for Roma in a time that he has had to overcome two separate ACL injuries.
Santon has looked solid enough during his time in Rome, but in truth, this half of the deal seemed strange anyway; while Santon is versatile and can operate on both sides of defence and in a more advanced position, he hadn’t managed more than 15 league games in a season since his Newcastle days. He did play 17 times in his debut campaign, but the numbers have dwindled year on year and the Italian is now completely out of the picture.
Much like Olsen and Coric, Santon is still a Roma player, but unlike the previous two he has refused to go out on loan and reportedly turned down a deadline day move to Fulham this summer. He too will no doubt be released by the club next year, setting the Giallorossi back over £200,000 per Serie A appearance.
Grégoire Defrel – £13.5m – Sassuolo
Before heading to Roma, manager Di Francesco had enjoyed five prosperous years at Sassuolo (ignoring the six-week stint in 2014 in between his sacking and re-appointment) – leading them from Serie B all the way to the Europa League group stages, with Grégoire Defrel as one of his star players.
The Frenchman originally signed on loan for £4.5m in 17/18, with an obligation to buy for a further £13.5m if certain sporting targets were met – which they somehow were. During what proved to be his one season at Roma, Defrel played 15 times, started just five and managed a solitary Serie A goal before his already lacklustre season was curtailed by a knee injury.
While he may have signed permanently in 2018, he went straight out on loan to Sampdoria, before back-to-back loan spells with Sassuolo – eventually returning permanently to il Neroverdi for £9m this summer. Defrel’s move was undoubtedly poor, but it can be caveated by the fact that they received a decent sum back for him, and Sassuolo took Davide Fratessi and Riccardo Marchizza from Roma at the time of his sale for £7m.
His lack of action and goal scoring was partly down to the form of Edin Džeko, resigning the Frenchman to the bench for most of the season, or out wide during the 480 minutes he saw throughout the campaign. Ultimately, though, the then-26-year-old just looked out of his depth at a club with Champions League ambitions.
After an unflattering return of 3 goals and 2 assists in 28 Serie A appearances last season, Defrel has been used as an impact sub under new Sassuolo manager Alessio Dionisi, and whilst Francesco Caputo’s departure to Sampdoria could open the door up for him to play more minutes, it is likely that his role as the spearhead of attack will be filled by Gianluca Scamacca, eight years Defrel’s junior.
Justin Kluivert – £15.5m – Ajax
Very quickly, the Ajax team that reached the Europa League Final/Champions League semi-final has been stored under the ‘streets won’t forget’ umbrella of great sides. But one member of the 2016-18 era who is often overlooked is Justin Kluivert – son of the former Ajax legend, Patrick.
This is due to the lack of impact Justin has had since his move further into Europe, joining Roma in the summer of 2018 for £15.5m, placing him just outside the top ten all-time Eredivisie exports at that time. His struggles in Italy are best evidenced by the stats in his debut season; he placed 85th in Serie A for dribbles per90 and 168th for shots – two metrics he excelled in during his final season in Holland – whilst only netting a solitary goal from 1,300 minutes.
Four goals in 2019/20 offered a better return, but with his gametime likely to be limited in 20/21, the Dutchman was loaned to RB Leipzig – but fared no better. He is now looking to kickstart a faltering career on loan at Nice under the tutelage of Christophe Galtier, with the French side holding a mandatory option to buy dependant on clauses.
When taking into account the loan fees and the £12m obligation to buy at the end of the current season, Roma could more-or-less break even on the 22-year-old – an outcome which would have felt incredibly unsatisfactory when he arrived in 2018.
Javier Pastore – £23m – Paris Saint-Germain
Undoubtedly the pièce de résistance of Monchi’s shambolic 18/19 summer window was the acquisition of Javier Pastore – a 29-year-old, who was notorious for suffering niggling injuries, on a five-year deal, to play in a system which had little room for him. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, as it turns out, pretty much everything. Pastore missed 16 games in his first season, 17 in his second and 26 in 20/21, mustering just 30 league appearances and only 12 starts in his three years at the club – eventually terminating his contract two years early in the hope of a fresh start somewhere else.
Of course, injuries can happen – no Director of Football, player, or manager can prevent that. But the warning signs were there; Pastore had missed nearly 80 games for PSG during his time in France, and by the age of 29, that was only going to get worse. It’s a shame that he was seldom seen in the Eternal City, but he should never have arrived in the first place.
Steven Nzonzi – £24m – Sevilla
The lavish spending on players entering the twilight of their careers didn’t end there, though, as Monchi inexplicably forked out £24m for the services of yet another 29-year-old in the shape of Steven Nzonzi – a man he had brought to Sevilla with great effect three years earlier.
Roma loaned out several young players, but it’s reportedly all-out war between the club and Steven Nzonzi, Davide Santon and Federico Fazio, who turned down moves https://t.co/xCjSogDR6B #ASRoma #SerieA #SerieATIM
— footballitalia (@footballitalia) August 31, 2021
Expectations were high for the Frenchman’s arrival; he had just been part of a World Cup-winning squad, had spent three as the central lynchpin of a widely successful Sevilla side, and his fee placed him in the top five most expensive arrivals in Roma’s history. He wasn’t awful, but things just didn’t click for the towering midfielder – and his age meant that a lack of immediate cohesion was a big issue.
After falling out of favour with Paulo Fonseca, Nzonzi spent 2019/20 and 2020/21 out on loan at Galatasaray and Stade Rennais respectively, but reportedly turned down moves to Qatar, England and France this summer and looks set to run down the final year of his bumper £5m-per-year contract.
It may sound obvious, but when you sign a player for a lot of money, they have to play minutes. But Nzonzi and Pastore played a combined 3,803 of a possible 10,260 league minutes between 2018-2021 – just 37%. Two absolutely disastrous moves which have cost Roma dearly.
Patrik Schick – £38m – Sampdoria
Is a dreadful summer window ever truly complete without the club breaking their record transfer fee in the process? The evidence is inconclusive, but it does help a bad window become a downright disastrous one – as the signing of Patrik Schick showed.
After just one season in the Italian top flight with Sampdoria – a year in which he netted 11 and assisted four – Schick was signed by Roma in 2017 on another loan with an obligation to buy deal. It’s always a risk signing a player following one good season, but the fact that Schick also failed not one, but two medicals at Juventus in the same summer should have served as the red flag Monchi needed to avoid the deal.
Patrik Schick ends his European Championship as the joint-top scorer alongside Cristiano Ronaldo — with three fewer penalty goals — as well as the winner of the Goal of the Tournament and one of the 10 nominees for the UEFA Goal of the Season.@ZachLowy:https://t.co/Ql3eHT9cOC pic.twitter.com/PCkkUcyoFJ
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) July 24, 2021
Nevertheless, he pressed on, with the Czech managing just two goals in his debut campaign as he – much like Defrel – found himself out wide or on the bench to aid Edin Džeko, or up front on his own in the Bosnian’s rare absence. This is despite the fact that, whilst at Samp, Schick worked best when linking up with a fellow frontman – namely Fabio Qualiarella.
He netted just five league goals across 17/18 and 18/19, with a loan offer from RB Leipzig offering him a lifeline to rejuvenate a once-promising career – which it did. He hit ten goals in only 22 Bundesliga games, catching the watchful eye of Bayer Leverkusen who decided to fork out £24m to secure his services permanently ahead of 20/21. No Bayer player scored more or attempted more shots per90 last term, as the now-25-year-old took his newfound confidence into Euro 2020, where he finished at the joint-top scorer.
The age profile and potential ability of Schick meant that Roma were able to claw back a chunk of the fee they paid for him, but much like Kluivert, this is another move that promised an awful lot, delivered awfully little, but will prove their worth elsewhere. To summarise, Monchi brought in 13 players during the ill-fated summer window of 2018. During the three years since, those players have made a combined 534 appearances for Roma – but for the likes of Defrel, Kluivert, Pastore, Nzonzi and Schick, they were mostly either disappointing, sporadic, or both.
From the baker’s dozen of general drab and poor forward planning, just Zaniolo and maybe Cristante can be called successes, and even then that is a little generous on the latter while the former has spent two long periods out injured during his time.
Just five of these players remain in the current squad, with three out and loan the final five moving onto pastures new. The summer set Roma back £147.5m, but brought in just £35m. For the reputation, Monchi built – and maintains now back at Sevilla – his stint in the Eternal City was a genuine disaster, which set the club back years.
By: James Pendleton / @jpends_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / NurPhoto