AS Roma enter a new era following the retirement of club legend and Italian icon Francesco Totti after a 25-year career at the club where he defied modern football and epitomised loyalty.
The former forward is now expected to take up a directorial role at the club he spent all of his playing career, where he will oversee his club’s progress alongside their new sporting director, Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo, commonly known as ‘Monchi’ and newly appointed manager, Eusebio Di Francesco – his teammate when they last won Serie A in 2001.
Monchi and Di Francesco will hog most of the spotlight in the upcoming season as Roma look to end the current Juventus dynasty in Serie A and make further progress in the UEFA Champions League, where they have underperformed since their return to Europe’s premier club cup competition in 2014 after several years of struggle.
Both played a significant role in the rise of their respective previous clubs, Monchi at Sevilla, where he is a Totti-like figure having spent all of his playing and directorial career in Andalusia; and Di Francesco at Sassuolo, where he took the club from Serie B to the Europa League in three years.
But while they share the common objective, both have a different task on their hands, completely dissimilar to the those they faced at Sevilla and Sassuolo.
Roma have a squad brimming with talent having finished no lower than third in each of the last four seasons – ending in second for three of them. At Sevilla, when Monchi took over, they were struggling for form on the pitch and in huge need of cash on the pitch.
His work in Seville has been nothing short of incredible. He was appointed as sporting director in 2000, just after they had been relegated to the Segunda division, in a move that was intended to cut costs.
But what followed was spectacular as his astute knowledge of the footballing world helped him make Sevilla a super club in Europe.
Hand-in-hand with the club’s policy of wanting a vast scouting system, he also helped take their own youth system to the next level and develop players that would help them progress on the pitch.
His shrewd transfer dealings have also created cause for optimism amongst Roma fans, with names such as Seydou Kieta, Christian Poulsen, Carlos Bacca, Sergio Ramos, Alberto Moreno, Renato, Jesús Navas coming in for a fraction of the fee they commanded when they were later sold.
Monchi’s influence extended further than the balance sheet – In the 110 years of existence before his appointment, Sevilla had just four trophies to their name, but in the 17 years that he was in charge, they won 11 – including five UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League titles, whilst achieving top-half League finishes in 16 of his 17 years at the helm.
No sporting director in history has had so much hype as Monchi and in his farewell at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, he received befitting a man rightly regarded as a club hero.
His work alongside his new manager Eusebio Di Francesco will be under the microscope.
Di Francesco, who previously worked at the likes of Pescara and Lecce, had the legendary Zdeněk Zeman as his mentor and has often shown off several of his traits in his own career, including the pragmatic use of the 4-3-3 which has been so successful for him over the years.
He took over Sassuolo at the start of the 2012-13 season and his blistering brand of football blew away the competition in Serie B that season. Di Francesco’s enthusiasm is always visible on the pitch and he is often seen jumping and running up and down the touchline to boost his team.
On the final day of his first season in charge, Sassuolo scored a dramatic late winner to earn promotion to Serie A and prompted jubilant celebrations from fans, staff and players alike. His style was garnering attention from the biggest in Italy, but his loyalty remained with Sassuolo.
While with the Neroverdi, he had a tough start to life in Serie A, often flirting with the relegation zones, but managed to steer clear of it in the end, although he did get sacked midway through that campaign, but was subsequently reappointed as they couldn’t find an able replacement.
It has only been upward since, and Sassuolo have gone on to finish sixth in Serie A in 2015-16 – ahead of traditional giants AC Milan and Lazio, thus qualifying for the Europa League. Similar to Monchi, Di Francesco is keen on developing what he has with the likes of Mateo Politano, Simone Zaza and Domenico Berardi amongst many others working and progressing as footballers under his tutelage.
Roma’s former midfielder oozes class as a manager and together with Monchi they enter a new era at the club, one that is expected to be successful based on their past experiences.
Now minus Totti, the Roma faithful can expect the excitement to continue off the pitch with smart signings and pragmatic management as they look to return to the top of the pile in Italy.