Serie A legend Walter Sabatini: The face that launched a thousand footballing careers
When you look at the names that Walter Sabatini has brought into Serie A, the talent he has acquired for any of his employers or the money he has generated for them, it is an impressive feat. From Lazio to Palermo and Roma to Inter, he has always delivered. A man who has courted envy, jealousy and therefore criticism, ultimately, he developed the role of Sporting Director in Italy to a level that is artistic and yet methodical.
Sabatini has been instrumental in signing some of Serie A’s biggest names. To name but a few from each of his past clubs shows off an impressive portfolio. At Lazio, he brought in Aleksandar Kolarov, Stefan Radu, Stefan Lichtsteiner and Fernando Muslera. At Palermo, this was followed with Josip Illcic, Abel Hernandez, Matteo Darmian and Javier Pastore. At AS Roma, Erik Lamella, Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan and, Mehdi Benatia were brought in, and yet this only scratches the surface.
To understand the magnitude of Sabatini’s influence, it is best to take a case study and the most interesting is that of his time in Rome. It is because of this period that Inter employed him. They are desperate for him to work the same magic as they sail through the murky waters of FFP. The first thing to note is how much the Giallorossi actually managed to recoup from Sabatini’s ability to turn a profit on players. Calcio e Finanza ad calculated (after he left Roma) by using the club’s financial statements that the Sporting Director had generated net revenue of 142.51m Euros. When you think of the players that arrived at the club at that time, this sum seems incredible, especially as these figures consider both profit and losses seen from players sales, purchases and, loans.
Looking at how he did this is perhaps best seen by focusing on the 2015/16 season. Here he managed to move out Alessio Romagnoli, Miralem Pjanic and Gervinho for 64.16m Euro - this was mostly accrued through the sale of Pjanic to Juventus, but it resulted in Roma only making a net loss of 14m Euros that year, which is quite incredible. Admittedly, this was his best season in terms of the club’s profitability. His second most lucrative time was in 2014 when he made a profit of 30.71m Euros. Whilst less than half of 2016 in, he still impressed thanks to gains made on Marquinhos (27m Euros), Pablo Osvaldo (5.2m Euros), Erik Lamela (15.2m Euros) and Michael Bradley (5m Euros).
Sabatini’s main aim was to recruit well but ultimately, he needed to keep Roma as much out of the red as he possibly could and the money he was acquiring for players, whether they had prospered or failed, was impressive. In 2014/15 he did it again. Roma were 41m Euros in debt. This time he generated a profit of 7.9m Euros on Dodo and 14.2m Euros on Mehdi Benatia. It was an impressive feat and not always under the easiest circumstances as Rudi Garcia was not happy to part company with his players at the time. To sum it all up, just for these seasons mentioned, he created a whopping 122.47m Euros of revenue for the club. In the two seasons before his arrival, they had managed just 19m Euro of revenue. Sabatini was big business.
This does not mean that he is perfect or without criticism. He had (upon arrival) spoken about transforming the club and creating a cultural revolution that would help the Giallorossi to create history. The fact is that they didn’t win anything, and he felt that this was his fault. Blamed often by the fans for turning Roma into a selling club, Sabatini said that his aim was to make winning at all costs but it can be said that sometimes he let players go too early despite making a profit.
Sabatini would eventually leave Roma, not because of the lack of trophies, since after all, he was not the coach, but as a result of the change in philosophy at the club. He believed James Pallotta was looking at a ‘Moneyball’ approach, basing their scouting on statistics and this was not how Sabatini thought the game should go. He said instead that he was a man of instinct and that statistics were only a small part of bringing players in. He needed to remain on the human side of the situation and the Giallorossi were moving away from it.
Sabatini believed that if Juventus had not been in the picture and on such a resurgence then Roma would have won more. The 62-year old may be nearing hi final challenge but knowing his past achievements and caliber, he may yet be able to pull out some big coups and win that coveted silverware for a top club.