As the sporting director moves into the second half of his first year with the Giallorossi, he sat down with Gazzetta dello Sport for an in-depth interview on his experiences so far...
From navigating Francesco Totti's retirement to the ups and downs of his first transfer window in the Italian capital, read everything the Spaniard had to say below...
GAZZETTA: You've said you can be yourself in Rome. What do you mean by that?
MONCHI: “One example is having a very close relationship with the dressing room. I'm a sporting director who likes to work alongside the players and coach. Being in close contact helps you get to know people better. That's crucial as it's often the case that a player fails at a club because he's not happy and you don't always notice it if you're not close to him.
"I spend a lot of time in the dressing room – not to spy on anyone but because I enjoy it. I have breakfast and dinner with the team and I travel on the team bus. I realised I was doing something a bit unusual when I pulled on the training kit: they looked at me as if to say, 'What's he up to?' It's the same with Di Francesco: I'm always in his office. We don't meet by appointment. It's non-negotiable for me. I wouldn't be Monchi otherwise. This way I feel a part of the team.”
You mentioned the coach...
“There are some people you never figure out and others you clock straight away. Eusebio falls into the second category. He doesn't keep things from you. I think three of his best attributes are his knowledge of Roma, the intensity he puts into his work and the way he always looks you straight in the eye. If he has to say something bad to a player, he says it, but always in the right way.”
No sooner had you set foot in Trigoria than you had to tell Francesco Totti what to do after he hung up his boots.
“I'd have never imagined we could have such a close relationship, especially as I didn't come here to offer him a nice new car but instead say 'Thanks for everything'. Anything could have happened but fortunately it went really well. It's more down to him than me. On a scale of 1-10, I'd give our relationship an 11. He's very warm and friendly.
"It's not easy to change direction after 27 years on the same path. The club did the right thing by giving him the time and space he needed. Totti could have dug his heels in but instead he understood and accepted the situation.”
What's your assessment of these first six months in Italy?
“We knew it would be an unusual year. I knew from day one that Luciano Spalletti – who did a brilliant job here – would leave. Then there were the departures of [Mohamed] Salah, [Antonio] Rudiger and [Leo] Paredes, and the greatest Roma player of all time hung up his boots. There were lots of changes, including a new, non-Italian sporting director, so we were expecting a tricky period but we can be very pleased.
"Now we must be ambitious and expect even more. We need to find stability within the club, both financially and on the pitch, so that we don't need to sell players. And we must aspire to be challenging regularly at the very top, in Italy and in Europe. Atletico Madrid are an example of how to do things the right way. It may be the case that we still need to sell players but that shouldn't be a cause for concern. Just as it was for me at Sevilla, if you sell players it must help you consolidate your position, not weaken it.
"The fans need to get behind us but they'll only do that if we get results. They don't go to the stadium to applaud a good balance sheet. Fans aren't happy if we post profits of €45 million but don't win anything. I'm here to win things, not make empty promises.”
So you're aiming for the Scudetto?
“If you don't hold out the carrot, the donkey won't move. Why shouldn't we talk about winning the title? We're not the favourites but we have to try. We started off a bit behind but we're slowly making our way up to the level of Napoli, Juve and Inter. We're still in the construction phase but it will be a fine building when it's finished.”
People are getting very excited about Roma...
“People need to learn there's such a thing as grey as well as black and white. You can't think we've won the league after a single victory or that losing to Napoli means we're aiming for fourth. You can't quell people's enthusiasm but we do need to rein it in a little. Too many mood swings don't help. We need to find the right shade of grey.”
Aleksandar Kolarov has been a fantastic signing but the other new players have found it harder to make an impact.
“You weigh everything up at the end. If we had made conclusions after Dani Alves' first 6-12 months at Sevilla, they'd have thrown me in the Guadalquivir [river in Seville]. We signed eight players. Am I completely happy? No. Am I confident? Yes. Roma's full-strength team is made up of 11 international players – it's not easy to improve on that. But you can improve your options. We're second for rotation and we're in an excellent position in Italy and Europe."
You've said that if a coach asks for a lamp, you can't give him a table. How does Patrik Schick fit into that equation?
“We wanted a left-sided forward to replace Salah. We tried to sign [Riyad] Mahrez but couldn't because Leicester didn't want to sell him. That's not just my excuse – they turned down Barcelona too. Once it became clear Mahrez wasn't going to happen, we asked ourselves, 'Is it better to bring in a left-sided winger no matter what, even though we already have other options, or try to sign Schick, who wasn't exactly the player we were looking for but is an investment for the club?' It would have been wrong not to sign Schick on tactical reasons alone. A sporting director has to sit halfway between the coach and the club.”
Will you try to sign Mahrez again in January?
“We're not going to do anything in January. Our signings will be the improvement of [Gregoire] Defrel and [Cengiz] Under, the arrival of Schick and the return of Emerson.”
Can you explain all these injuries?
“We do have a problem but we mustn't be afraid to admit it. We need to find the way to improve things. We have some great professionals here and the solution is not to change personnel, which is often the knee-jerk reaction, but change certain details. You can change the breakfast time without changing the waiters.”
If you could sign any non-Roma player in Serie A who would it be?
“[Paulo] Dybala. He's the most decisive player in the league.”
What do you miss most?
“My family and friends. But Roma give me everything I miss. I'm happy here.”