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Tiago Pinto: The Friedkin's project is solid, we want to ensure the team keeps improving

See everything the club's General Manager had to say during his customary press conference at the conclusion of the summer transfer window...


This has been a great transfer window for Roma. You’ve built an instant team with plenty of players with lots of top-level experience … so is now the moment to admit that this side has a duty to at least fight for the title?

“First of all, as I have done in the past, I want to thank all the people within the club who have worked alongside me [during this period]. From the outside the transfer window seems like fun and games, but for us working within it they are three very demanding months. I want to thank all those who have helped me – including those from PR, who have a tough job as well. I thank everyone for their efforts.

“I think we have improved the squad. I said on the first day that my target from the very beginning was to improve the squad. Now, today, the squad is better; it has more depth and it has more quality.

“I don’t agree with your comment about an ‘instant team’ but I acknowledge that you have always talked about it in those terms. I just don’t believe it to be true; Roma has the fourth youngest squad in Serie A and that was not the case when I arrived two years ago. It is the youngest squad of the big seven clubs and a part of our sporting strategy has always been to ensure there is space for young players like Zalewski, Felix, Bove, Darboe, and this season Faticanti, Volpato, Missori, Keramitsis and more.

“So, as we’ve always said, we need a balance: we can’t always take gambles like perhaps we did with Tammy last year and this season we did with Svilar and Celik. We also need finished articles, like Paulo Dybala, Andrea Belotti or Gini Wijnaldum.

“Having said that, I think that at the end of this window the squad is stronger than it was. But that is always in relation to what I think is our biggest advantage: the coach and his leadership. Last season the coach turned good players into great players and helped a lot of young players make really significant strides.

"Clearly this season we have brought in some top players and we all expect to do a bit better than we did last season, but we will never talk about the title. It’s not that we want to hide from it – that’s not it – but that, as I’ve always said, I struggle to think about next May when we are still only in September.

“Perhaps for some you the transfer market dictates 80% of any team’s success on the pitch, but I don’t see it like that: I think the daily work we put in is very important and so that is where our focus should be. Andrea Belotti said it well yesterday; we need to believe in our ability to win every game – and we need to start with Udinese on Sunday.”

How close was Nicolo Zaniolo to leaving the club? And now how will you go about the negotiations for his contract renewal?

“He was never close to leaving. Last season saw Nicolo get going again after two tough seasons with injuries. This season he is in even better shape. He has never been an issue; he’s a young boy, he’s happy, he’s doing well and he brings a lot to the team.

“Right now the important thing is that he recovers from his injury. I am also young but I have a bit of experience now, and 30 minutes ago I called Vigorelli [Zaniolo’s agent] to tell him we needed to start booking in our meetings soon because otherwise we will give the newspapers a lot to write about. But there is no worry there.”

Are you worried about Financial Fair Play and UEFA sanctions? And are you worried UEFA might apply different sanctions to different clubs?

“On Financial Fair Play, there will be a right time for the club to talk about it, no? It’s a very serious topic. Even those of us working within it often talk about it without the depth and complexity that the topic demands.

“Financial fairply was brought in to help clubs, not to hurt them. But beyond the rules of Financial Fair Play, what I focus on is the plan the ownership have in mind. That’s the most important thing. And, in that plan, financial sustainability is very important. So that is the path we are going down. You can’t always tie quality to the amount of money spent – for example Dybala, who did not cost a transfer fee, has plenty of quality. And in every transfer window, as I’ve always said, we must simply focus on improving the squad.

“But we all know that Roma, from when the new owners bought the club, they inherited a messy situation. We have a journey to take in order to create a sustainable situation. I don’t think the Financial Fair Play framework is a problem. From Day 1 we knew what the situation was, that was our reality all along.

“What I always want to do is to find a way to make the squad better, putting in place a meritocracy with the squad framework, and then putting in some groundwork to create room for young players to progress to the first team squad as well.

“Obviously we hope that over the next few years the limitations put in place by Financial Fair Play can relax. That would mean that I have done my job well. The truth is that my aim is to ensure that the club’s next sporting director will have a much easier life than mine.”

So you are not worried about sanctions from UEFA...

“At the appropriate time we will talk about it.”

Is the work you have done so far enough to satisfy the first demands of Financial Fair Play? Because UEFA want the squad to cost at most 90% of the money a club makes.

“Look, I do not want this to become a press conference on Financial Fair Play because, as I’ve already said, it’s a sensitive and complex subject. I think we will have time to discuss it further. I will just say, once again, that Financial Fair Play is not an excuse – for me it’s something we have to do, it’s a target we want to reach."

“Clearly, given how we have gone about our business, we are closer to the targets. But it’s not over. Because when any club signs a settlement agreement we are talking about deals that cover three or four years. It’s a long process.

“But I think that, as we have shown this summer, it has not limited our ability to make the team stronger. We need to work well, we need to find the right solutions within the limits and framework that UEFA has in place and we need to do the best we possibly can.

“It’s not really normal for Roma, over the last 10 years, to have spent less on transfers than it has recouped in fees. If we have done it this time, that means we are closer [to the framework]. I have even heard people say that Roma have increased the wage bill: that’s not true, since I have been here we have reduced it by more than 20 million a year.

“We have a path to follow but I will never come here and tell you that we could have done better if it was not for all these rules. Because I was aware of what the situation was from the very beginning.

“In my opinion being a sporting director now is very different to what it was 10 years ago. Because now we are forced to adhere to legal and economic regulations that are completely different. But I cannot complain about that, it’s just the reality. I’m happy enough. I think we’ve done interesting things to help the sustainability of the club. And, whenever I do leave the club, I am sure Roma will have a more stable and sustainable situation than the one I found here when I arrived.”

It's not easy to bring in players on a free transfer after so many difficult years for the club. Is the fact you have done so this summer down to you, to Mourinho or to the ownership and the new dimensions they have brought to the club?

“In my opinion, it’s essentially down to the ownership and to Mourinho. The ownership because over the last two years they have made it clear that they are building something different here. They are an ownership that have not talked publicly much, but have demonstrated they have the right ideas for the club. Not just on the football pitch, but in everything that surrounds the club too. Today I think Roma has much more appeal.

“Then, of course, there is no doubt about the role Mourinho has in being able to attract players compared to any other coach. It would be stupid of me not to take advantage of that. He does not have any problems relating to different generations, either, unlike some other coaches who perhaps cannot relate to young players. But I have boys of 20 or 21 who dream of being coached by Mourinho.

“I think it’s a job that we all do together. But when it comes to making that final choice, I don’t have any doubt that for all the players this summer the fact they were going to work with Mourinho was an important factor.

“Clearly Mourinho was an active participant in the negotiations for all of them, because that is also the way I work. So responding objectively to your question, it’s ultimately down to the ownership and to him.”

And you, for conducting the negotiations.

“That’s my job.”

You were also very busy trying to offload players: which of the two parts was tougher for you? And then, what grade would you give your work this summer?

“You’ve hit on something important. Clearly the fans get more excited about the players coming in, but often our job is more focused on those that are leaving. I think that yesterday, while we were eating a pizza, we did about 57 deals or something. That means we worked really hard on the outgoing market.

“I have to say that – I don’t want to shy away from it – I am not completely happy with what we did in that regard, because there are a few players that went out on loan where there were, I think, the conditions in place for them to be sold outright.

“As far as the grade goes, I may be young but I am learning: last season I made the mistake of naively giving myself a grade and a few of you, when the results didn’t arrive on the pitch, had a laugh at my expense for it. But perhaps after Tirana that grade was about right. But this season I won’t make the same error.

“I don’t worry too much about my role in things, I’m more concerned about the ideas we have and the relationships we have with people. So I can tell you that I don’t need some sort of great grade to validate things. Football changes every single day; today we could be amazing and tomorrow the worst ever.

“I have my own opinions. There were moments this summer where you all thought I had pulled off some masterpiece and yet I was actually a bit unsatisfied, because I thought I could have done better. And there were other moments where you thought I had made a misstep but I knew I had done well.”

Maybe the squad still lacks an option in defence? And I just wanted to know if some of the pressure Mourinho put on at the start of the summer, with his posts and everything else, had an effect on you.

“Above all, as far as pressure goes, I might be young but I’ve seen a lot. There are only three people in my life who can put me under pressure: my mum, my dad and my sister. Those are the only ones.

“Jokes apart, even if some – maybe with good reason – say the opposite, I have a great relationship with Mourinho. It’s a family atmosphere for those of us who live and work here at Trigoria. And everything we need to discuss, we do so in the same way a family would.

“I don’t need to worry about what the coach might say, because even his job is very difficult – they have to speak to the press 150 times a year. It’s not always easy.

“But the strategy was clear and we always try to make sure we are aligned with the ownership as well. We tried to make sure we did things together, as I’ve already said. And as I’ve said, on many occasions we needed his help to bring things to a positive conclusion.

“I don’t really respond to pressure, to tell the truth. People who know me know that well and they know the only way to push things forward with me is with positivity, with motivation and collaboration. Applying pressure doesn’t work on me.

“And, don’t take this as arrogance, but believe me when I say I don’t read the press. It doesn’t put pressure on me. Clearly when I go to restaurants everyone asks me to buy Belotti or get Dybala – and that puts pressure on me. But that’s because I can’t eat!

“As far as the defence goes, I don’t want to hide anything on this either. Because it’s obvious and also a question of numbers: if we want to play with three at the back, it’s normal that perhaps we’d have an extra one to pick from. In the end we weren’t able to do that because of various things that ended up happening.

“But I think within the squad we have solutions that might not be perfect but can work: we have quality players who know how to play in more than one position.

“You talk a lot about Mourinho and his leadership and his communication, but I will talk about the Mourinho I know as a coach in training. Last season he helped Felix, Zalewski and others play a role because, in a moment of urgency, he found different answers.

“We have players in the squad like Matias Vina and Rick Karsdorp, and especially Bryan Cristante, who can play in a back three as well. It’s not the perfect solution and I know that. But it’s not like we can make all these little efforts to sign players and keep on endlessly making these ‘little efforts’.

“It’s not like that. Things are very complicated, more so than it might even appear.”

In June it seemed like Roma’s transfer market had stalled somewhat. Only Nemanja Matic had arrived and it seemed like the aim was to get Davide Frattesi in, paying a significant transfer fee. Then the approach seemed to change, with little spent on transfer fees. Why did that happen?

“It’s a smart question, because that’s exactly what happened. We have a sporting strategy and then there is also a financial strategy. The two go together. The primary objective is to understand what we need to do to improve the side. And then after that we need to have a financial approach that allows us to do that. And everything is affected by Financial Fair Play and everything else, it all goes together: incomings and outgoings.

“The transfer window is three months long, we have to be a bit patient. I realised pretty quickly that we were going to have a lot of difficulty reaching the targets we had for player sales in order to execute the strategy we had for signings. And then I realised that perhaps we would be able to make the squad stronger by following the strategy you are talking about, rather than waiting to sell players so we could buy the ones that we wanted.

“That always has to be evaluated, of course. By which I mean that all these situations are all intertwined – Wijnaldum comes in when Veretout leaves, for example, or Belotti arrives because Felix leaves. So things are always very complicated - but your general analysis is correct.

“When I realised that we were going to run into difficulties in terms of selling players, I did not want to create new problems for the club. That includes the fact that – and this is not a criticism – when you find a creative solution, like a loan with an obligation to buy, this might help you in the moment but someone has to pay for it in the future. And we have chosen to take a different path. The sporting strategy has not changed, just the financial one.

“On the subject of Frattesi, I will tell you honestly that he is my favourite non-Roma player in Serie A. I really rate him, he’s a great player. I think he will become one of the best midfielders in the league and for Italy. But this is the transfer market we are talking about.

“I go to the club and ask about the player. And the club tell me the figure they want. I have to respect that. There are two key things to mention here. One, I do not use the press to get deals done. This is the first time I have talked about Frattesi, none of you have heard me talk about him before because these are things you only discuss with the other club. Then, everyone puts their own value on a player: Sassuolo named theirs and we could not match it. That happens, there’s no problem there.

“What I dislike is that there were moments in which the deal seemed to have been done all on its own, because when only one side is talking [to the press] it becomes the case that everything is going as they say. The truth, once again, is that Sassuolo have a great thing going there, the people who run the club are very competent and that Davide Frattesi is a great player.

“We were not able to reach an agreement because I am a bit German in the way I do business. I do not like to spend a month negotiating over two or three million euros. They set their price and I decide whether I have the money or not. If I don’t, we move on. There’s no problem.”

Considering you aren’t spending money on transfer fees, then, does that mean Ola Solbakken could be another move that is back on?

“I told my guys there would be two questions we were definitely going to get – on contract renewals for players and who we are going to buy in January!

“There is one thing I want to make clear again: it’s not true that Roma have increased their wage bill. If we move Olsen and Fuzato and bring in Svilar, the wage isn’t going up. If we move Florenzi, Santon and Reynolds on loan to bring in Celik, we haven’t raised the wage bill. If Diawara and Villar go elsewhere and Matic comes in, the wage bill isn’t going up. If we don’t keep Mkhitaryan or Sergio Oliveira and Veretout is sold, then the wage bill doesn’t grow by bringing in Dybala and Wijnaldum.

“So I don’t want to be some sort of wage bill wizard, but it’s not true that we have increased the wage bill this summer.

“As for Solbakken, it’s a surprise for me because I thought he had signed for another team already. You guys said that he had already been here and done the medicals and everything. But if now you are telling me he still hasn’t signed, then maybe we’ll try…”

Before you mentioned the club’s next sporting director – does that mean you are planning to leave?

“No, no, I am very happy here. This is one question we hadn’t prepared for!

“I left the great love of my life [Benfica] to come here. That’s because I found a great understanding with the ownership and now the coach and that’s what motivates me, it’s not money or fame. What motivates me is the ideas and the people I work with.

“When I mentioned the club’s next sporting director will have an easier job it was simply because the work the ownership and all of us are doing right now is to make sure Roma has more flexibility and stability in the future.

“But I have a contract until 2024 and there’s no need to renew it now. I’m different to players in that regard, I’m not asking for an extension. Let’s leave things how they are. In terms of my future I do not have any doubts. Clearly every person has to make their own assessments about things and I will do mine too. But I am happy here.”

Which deal are you happiest about? And is there a regret that stands out from this window?

“My regrets are tied to the outgoing market. I try to be very methodical and prepared in what we do but in the end sport is about the only business in the world where the ones that really dictate things are the employees, and therefore the players.

“You could have an amazing plan in place to sell a player, but if they do not want to go there then there is nothing you can do. So in that regard I have a couple of regrets, because there were two or three situations like that. And that’s leaving aside what happened to Justin Kluivert, which was no-one’s fault. What happened happened.

“As far as the players we brought in, I am happy with all of them. Every negotiation has its own story and sometimes it is hard to look at things objectively or emotionally. I might be a sporting director, but I am also a person as well.

“When I have to stay three or four days in a Turin hotel in order to bring in Paulo Dybala, it’s something that stays with you. But it’s difficult for me to say which negotiation was my favourite, because I really got the feeling that every one of the players we brought in gave up potential money in order to do so. All of them. And I think that means something.

“That’s what I said to the ownership and to Mourinho, because outside the club people understand that something is happening here. And they are the principal builders of this project. So that’s why I can’t pick out one deal; all of them are important.”

There are still players out there who don’t have a new club yet, like Dan-Axel Zagadou. You’ve talked about lots of deals being done but what about two that haven’t happened – for Ante Coric and William Bianda?

“Don’t worry, I don’t give up! There are still transfer windows open in Belgium, Turkiye, Greece… my guys need to dig a bit deeper because we still need to sort out those two situations. Bianda and Coric are both lads who are victims of the past a little bit. We still have not found solutions for them just yet, but I am still hopeful we will do in this period.

“As for Zagadou, he is not the only player without a deal right now. I think this transfer window will go down in history a little bit, for the way some players have followed this strategy of running their contract down. But that’s something we’ll talk about in the future.”

For Andrea Belotti, his contract is one year with the option of two more. Is there a reason for that?

“The truth is that we have been really creative in how we’ve gone about a couple of deals. Creativity born out of necessity. The most important thing is that all players accepted the move and, if they did that, it means they were comfortable and happy with it.

“It does not matter if it is one year with an option for two, or two with an option for one more, or whatever – because there are details in the contract that you guys might see as a negative but the player does not. There are elements in the negotiations that I am not going to go into. But the truth is that I am certain Andrea will be happy and play for Roma for many years. He also made a huge effort in order to come here. Now my task is to make sure he is happy. The contract is not going to be an issue?

For the contract extensions for players like Bryan Cristante and Leonardo Spinazzola, are there already negotiations ongoing?

“If I’m right, I think last year we had a similar question about the difficulty getting renewals done after signing Tammy Abraham. Another year later we are getting the same questions. But it’s understandable that when contracts start to head towards their expiration we will need to talk about them. But that will happen when the time is right.

“In terms of Bryan, he knows exactly what both myself and the club thinks about him. He will stay at Roma for a long time because, aside from being a great player, he is a great professional and has the right attitude to continue here. From my side, I will do everything possible to ensure he stays here.

“But for now I need to recover a bit, because this period really has been very demanding. Because as soon as you bring up this idea the agents will be calling me telling me it’s time to talk about them, and then I can’t recover at all.”

 
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