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The Legend of ‘Monchi’ Returns To Face Roma

 

The famed sporting director of Sevilla – Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo, commonly known as Monchi, was one of the most in-demand figures in football a few years ago. Under his watch the Spanish side rose to prominence, achieving domestic and European glory. The fabled ‘transfer wizard’ was at the heart of it overseeing transfers, youth promotion and managerial choices. Why then, did it all go wrong for Monchi when he left Spain to join AS Roma?

By: Stefano Faccendini

When Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo, better known as Monchi, was announced as the new AS Roma Sporting Director in 2017, the reaction of local media and fans, in the red and yellow side of the eternal city at least, was nothing short of excessive.

As often happens in this part of the world enthusiasm started to run very high, without any real reason or a proper explanation. Monchi wasn’t a great manager or a star of the game, he was a club director who, in a completely different environment in Sevilla, had been given the time to build an incredible network of contacts in order to scout and nurture young professionals.

And the Spaniard was very good at it. Since his appointment in 2008, Sevilla won the Europa League five times, the European Super Cup once, the Copa del Rey twice and the Spanish Super Cup once. They were regulars in Europe with six appearances in the Champions League and above all the club generated quite a lot of money.

An estimate of the business made by Monchi while in Andalusia shows something close to €200m profit. He scouted the local market bringing in players like Jesús Navas, Sergio Ramos and José Antonio Reyes but also the international one with names such as Ivan Rakitić, Adriano, Dani Alves, Júlio Baptista and Seydou Keita added to his list of success stories.

Roma, especially the American financiers backing the club, liked what they saw and decided they wanted to copy the model. Monchi was pursued and joined the Serie A side. Other clubs wanted him but the Giallorossi sold him on a big and ambitious project which promised to make Mochi immortal. You rarely win in Rome but when you do, you’ll be granted eternal life in the memory of the fans. He was given full control and plenty of trust but nothing could prepare him for the pressure that pushed his fellow countryman, Luis Enrique, away after just one single season in charge of Totti and co.

Fast forward a little less than two years, and Monchi is back at Sevilla. Following the sacking of Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco, the Sporting Director decided that it was impossible to follow the project he started and chose to head back home. In the previous season, Mochi’s first,  the club had reached the semi-final of the Champions League and finished third in the table, but in 2018/19 Roma went out in the Last 16 and did not qualify for the UEFA top competition after a very disappointing sixth-placed finish.

As ever, media, fans and clubs needed a scapegoat – someone to blame – and the fact Monchi opted to quit so quickly convinced the people he was that. The person who destroyed a potentially great team, and one who fled while the boat was sinking. From being hailed as the Messiah to being considered completely incompetent in less than two seasons, was quite typical of the fickle, fiery attitudes in Rome.

Let’s look at some facts then.

In his first season, Roma were quite busy in the transfer market and a chunky group of players arrived in the Italian capital:

Monchi's First Season: Roma Transfers In

NameAgeFrom
Rick Karsdorp22Feyenoord Rotterdam
Cengiz Ünder20Istanbul Basaksehir FK
Bruno Peres27Torino FC
Lorenzo Pellegrini21US Sassuolo
Juan Jesus26Inter
Mário Rui26Empoli FC
Héctor Moreno29PSV Eindhoven
Maxime Gonalons28Olympique Lione
Aleksandar Kolarov31Manchester City
Grégoire Defrel26US Sassuolo (loan)
Federico Fazio30Tottenham Hotspur
Jonathan Silva23Sporting CP
Patrik Schick21UC Sampdoria

Just six of these names are still there, but only Aleksandar Kolarov and Lorenzo Pellegrini could be defined as regulars with Cengiz Ünder out of favour with new manager Paulo Fonseca and Bruno Peres back after a double loan spell in Brazil.

On the way out there were a few notable names. Apparently the club needed money to meet FFP regulations but for the fans, it was still painful to see Mo Salah, who would go on to destroy the Giallorossi in the semifinal of the Champions League,  leaving at the same time as stars Antonio Rudiger, who went to Chelsea in the Premier League, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, Leandro Paredes and above all Francesco Totti, who retired after 25 years of glorious service.

On the balance sheets, according to the media, Roma turned a profit of €63.7m.

Their most expensive signing of that first season, Rick Karsdorp, was rarely fit and appeared just once in all competitions.

The following summer came and went and once again through the gates of the training ground at Trigoria the traffic is pretty intense:

Monchi's Second Season: Roma Transfers In

NameAgeFrom
Patrik Schick22UC Sampdoria
Steven Nzonzi29Sevilla FC
Javier Pastore29FC Paris Saint-Germain
Justin Kluivert19Ajax Amsterdam
Grégoire Defrel27US Sassuolo
Davide Santon27Inter
Robin Olsen28FC Copenhagen
Ante Coric21GNK Dinamo Zagabria
Bryan Cristante23Atalanta BC
Nicolò Zaniolo18Inter Primavera
Antonio Mirante34Bologna FC 1909
Daniel Fuzato21Palmeiras
Iván Marcano31FC Porto

Of all these names Nicolò Zaniolo, unknown at the time, is now the biggest prospect for the future of the club, but most of the rest have since moved on or are bit-part players. Leaving the club are fans favourites, Alisson, Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan.

This time not even the cashier of the club was smiling. The most expensive signing of Monchi’s spell at Roma, Patrik Schick, didn’t convince and joined RB Leipzig at the end of the season. Nzonzi, Defrel and Olsen were also out after a single season and many think Pastore stayed just because not many clubs can afford the salary agreed by Monchi and the club. He was certainly not a first choice player. Those five players value exceeded the €100m mark. To the eyes of the fans, all the money gained by the sales of Alisson and the others were invested in players who could not make a difference and rather than a step up, Roma made a big step back.

Roma 2019/20 (all comps) - Players Bought Under Monchi

NameAppsMinutesGoals
Aleksandar Kolarov4134237
Lorenzo Pellegrini3324833
Bryan Cristante3221271
Nicolò Zaniolo3219498
Justin Kluivert3121317
Federico Fazio2317672
Cengiz Ünder2311513
Davide Santon219740
Bruno Peres1810842
Javier Pastore157950
Antonio Mirante76020
Juan Jesus52270

For many in Rome, they’d misread the abilities of Monchi. His skills at Sevilla were the ability to trade players to make a profit while scouting talent abroad, in lower leagues or at youth level. He didn’t guarantee trophies alone.

In Italy, it didn’t really work out. Many think that the team he left is a loth weaker than the one he found on his arrival and, FFP or not, he has yet to be forgiven.

In the coming Europa League clash between Roma and Sevilla, all the eyes in Roma will be on him, rather than on the pitch. It is just a shame the venue will be a neutral ground behind closed doors, as it is a matchup worthy of a bigger stage.

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