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GIANLUCA PETRACHI: THE MAN TASKED WITH HERALDING A NEW ERA OF SUCCESS AT AS ROMA

After a disappointing season, there is going to be a fresh start at AS Roma and leading the charge will be Gianluca Petrachi, the former Torino Sporting Director who comes in with a gleaming reputation.

When AS Roma appointed Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo, more commonly known as Monchi, as their Director of Football in 2017, there was an air of expectation around the Italian capital. Tasked with shaping the post-Francesco Totti rebuild alongside Eusebio Di Francesco, it was difficult to suggest he would struggle. He had done the same job at Sevilla, a club very similar to Roma, who were threatening to challenge the top hierarchy in their country and make an impact in Europe, all while not having the biggest of budgets.

Fast forward two years and both Di Francesco and Monchi were gone, with Roma in worse shape than when the Spaniard arrived. There were rifts aplenty, which saw Totti leave his directorial role at his boyhood club, and they were in disarray. The Giallorossi also failed to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since the 2013-14 season, and it was clear that a massive restructuring was needed once again.

Now tasked with leading the rebuild is a man that knows Italian football too well: Gianluca Petrachi, who joins the club from Torino on a deal that runs until 2022. There is very little knowledge about the man prior to his Granata days, but he has had a journeyman career in Italy.

The son of songwriter Bruno Petrachi, Gianluca started his playing career with hometown club, Lecce, making a handful of appearances for them in Serie A but failing to make an impact, before going on to play for several lower-league sides in his home country. This included the likes of AS Nola, Taranto, Venezia, Palermo, Perugia and Torino, who he would return to later on in a more significant role. The stand-out transfer, however, came in 1999, when he had a go in England.

David Platt, who was on a bizarre spell as Nottingham Forest’s player-manager, was no stranger to Italian football. In his tenure, he decided to spend half of his £12 million budget on players playing in Italy, so one of the players he signed happened to be Petrachi. Rather unsurprisingly, the move to England hardly produced any fireworks with the midfielder struggling to get time on the pitch due to injury issues. Amazingly, he got to share a dressing room with one John Terry, who was spending time at the club on loan from Chelsea.

He would return to Italy for final spells at Perugia and Taranto before pulling the curtains on his career, but his relationship with football wasn’t done there. A man who had transferred between 11 different clubs 13 times, he was a person who knew the business and knew it well. Having worked with agents, managers, directors, and owners aplenty, if there was a person who could do well in the directors’ box, it would be Petrachi. Unlike most retired players who head into the dugout, Petrachi would go upstairs, starting with lowly AC Pisa in 2006. He first signed as a Technical Director and then was promoted to a Sporting Director in the following year when they were promoted.

Petrachi enjoyed significant success with the club. Pisa were a club that were struggling to maintain their Serie B status in recent decades, mainly playing in Serie C and C1, but when they were finally promoted to the second-tier, little was expected of them. Petrachi, who was their Sporting Director in the 2007-08 season, achieved arguably his greatest success in football until that point. He appointed the now-notorious Gian Piero Ventura and the pair worked well together. Pisa made smart signings that season and had an emerging forward line of José Ignacio Castillo, Vitali Kutuzov, and Alessio Cerci, who was on loan from Roma.

The trio up front would form one of the best attacking lines in the league, as they would surprisingly challenge for promotion, finishing sixth in the league and qualifying for the play-offs. Heartbreakingly, Pisa would lose in the semi-final to Petrachi’s first club, Lecce, who would go on to achieve promotion, but there was still lots of pride to be taken from that season. He would leave soon after in the next campaign, and his lack of presence would be felt as Pisa were relegated once again that season.

Petrachi Torino
PETRACHI DID A FINE JOB AT AC PISA BEFORE MOVING TO TORINO

After a hiatus, he would return to football as Urbano Cairo, the Torino owner, would give him the task of helping them stabilise themselves and make a return to the first division. Despite garnering a decent reputation from his Pisa days, this appointment didn’t please many, who were eager to see their club return amongst the elite as soon as possible.

Petrachi came in at a hostile time. After a 2-1 loss to Crotone in November 2009, there were reports that three Torino players took bets on their side losing that game and that infuriated many fans. Two months later, they took their frustrations out at striker David Di Michele’s birthday party at a restaurant and that caused further disarray. Rino Foschi, the Sporting Director at the time, resigned from his role and two days later, Petrachi was appointed. Unshakable and looking to excel at his job, he made a few difficult decisions.

In an interview with Torino Channel later on, he would reveal: “On my presentation day [at Torino], there were fans outside throwing cherry bombs. They were immediately hostile towards the new face. That year was everyone for themselves and not a thing was going to plan. Torino had been three points away from falling into the Serie B relegation playoffs. Then something really unpleasant happened: our players were assaulted at a restaurant. I’d just been appointed and found myself in the middle of all this.”

He continued: “When I walked in to talk with the players who’d been assaulted, it opened my eyes to everything they said about how things really were at the club.” At the time, their managerial situation wasn’t too great as well. Mario Beretta, the man in charge throughout the betting scandal was under fire, so in his early days, he brought back the man he had replaced, Stefano Colantuono, and was unafraid to impose his authority, getting rid of the bad eggs in the team and letting everyone know that things were about to change.

The changes were evident. Il Toro slashed their wage bill, nearly halving it and bringing in players from the lower leagues as well as making some important temporary deals. He wanted players who were willing to give it their all for the club and many of them had never even played at such a high level. From the relegation play-offs, Torino finished the 2009-10 season in fifth place, amassing 42 points in the league since his arrival, thus, qualifying for the promotion play-offs.

Unfortunately for Petrachi, there was play-off heartbreak once again as they would lose the two-legged final to Brescia. There was controversy here as well, as referee Antonio Damato denied a crucial Torino goal for the most minor of shirt pulls. In the end, an irate Petrachi went berserk on the touchline and even shared a few harsh words with the referee in the tunnel after the game. This was a sour pill to swallow, but the work didn’t stop there.

The next season was another difficult one. Torino were fighting for promotion again, but it ended in disappointment. They finished eighth in the league, three points behind sixth-placed Reggina and would have to spend another year in the second tier of Italian football. That was when Petrachi resorted to a tried-and-tested method.

Ahead of the 2011-12 campaign, with all the management and fans adamant on a return to Serie A, Petrachi would turn to Ventura once again, who had just left Bari by mutual consent. Together, they would revolutionize the team, making low-cost shrewd signings and drastically improving the squad. The most prominent signing was that of Kamil Glik, who had worked with Ventura on Bari while he spent the previous six months there on loan from his parent club, Palermo. They would also add Matteo Darmian to their ranks. Both these players were still relatively young, and that would be complemented well by the other younger players in the squad such as Angelo Ogbonna.

At the first time of asking, Ventura would gain promotion as their excellent defensive capabilities would work a treat. They finished second, behind Zdeněk Zeman’s Pescara, and achieved automatic promotion. Torino had the best defensive record in the league, conceding just 28 times across the 42-game season.

Upon their return to Serie A, Petrachi and Torino would be busy in the transfer market, making more low-cost moves and temporary deals in order to ensure they can maintain their top-flight status for a long time. The most high-profile signing was that of Alessio Cerci, a player Petrachi knew well from his time at Pisa. Other than that, the likes of Matteo Brighi, Valter Birsa and Jean-Francois Gillet were all brought in and were frequent members of Ventura’s starting team-sheets. Torino would achieve survival by the skin of their teeth, finishing 16th in the league, having won just eight times all season. Nonetheless, Petrachi saw this as something to build on.

Now, Petrachi would make more smart signings and this time, they would all be at their best. Goalkeeper Danielle Padelli was brought in from Udinese, and he formed one of the best backlines in the league that season, having been assisted by Nikola Maksimović, who came in from Apollon Limassol. Torino finished seventh in the 2013-14 season with a decent defensive record, but it was their attack that caught the eye. To support Cerci, Ciro Immobile was brought in and he would score 22 goals that season, forming one of the deadliest attacking duos in Italy and finishing as the league’s outright top goalscorer.

Cerci Immobile
AT THEIR BEST, THE DUO OF CIRO IMMOBILE AND ALESSIO CERCI WERE ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING IN SERIE A

This was a historic season for the club. Since Petrachi arrived, Torino went from a potential relegation play-off to qualifying for the play-off rounds of the Europa League in less than four years, all while doing well in the transfer market and continuing to develop capable talent.

However, European football hasn’t come at a frequent since Torino have established themselves as a Serie A mainstay. Since their promotion in 2012, they have finished in decent positions in the league: 16th, seventh, ninth, 12th, ninth, ninth and seventh in their most recent campaign. Their signings, too, aim to get the job done whilst keeping an eye on the future: Bruno Peres, Andrea Belotti, Salvatore Sirigu and Nicolas Nkoulou, amongst many others.

They’ve also made some key sales that have helped the club’s finances in recent years. Davide Zappacosta’s move to Chelsea was the most beneficial of all, with the €25 million sale being of great value to the club, but he isn’t the only full-back who went for big money. Petrachi has developed a good eye for full-backs, and there was also the sale of Matteo Darmian to Manchester United and Bruno Peres to Roma that helped Il Toro. Before he left, Petrachi brought in Ola Aina from Chelsea, of whom big things are expected of having done well in his loan spell at the club.

Other than that, the likes of Cerci, Immobile, and Glik all came to the club in the Petrachi era as young, unpolished players and left as formidable footballers for huge sums. Glik moved to Monaco for €11 million in 2016, Cerci to Atlético Madrid for €15 million in 2015 and Immobile to Borussia Dortmund for €19 million in 2014. Other than that, there were also other key sales such as that of Marco Benassi and Nikola Maksimović. In short, Petrachi is a genius in the money-management business.

Petrachi goes far and wide in search for talent. Many of the players he signs are from Eastern European clubs or South America, and there has always been an abundance of players from those regions while at Torino. In his own words, he explained: “If there wasn’t a non-EU limit, I’d go spend six months straight in Brazil. There is so much talent that it seems like an oil field. We’re watching foreign leagues around the clock. It’s difficult to get a player who’s ready for Italian football from the Romanian or Bulgarian leagues. But the leagues to follow are the Serbian, Croatian, Polish and Swedish leagues.”

Fortunately for his new employers, AS Roma, this bodes well. Just days before appointing Petrachi, Roma roped in Paulo Fonseca as their new permanent manager and having worked with Brazilians at his previous club, Shakhtar Donetsk, this would be suitable. The Ukrainian outfit have a vast history with Brazilian footballers, having seen many of them grow at the club and go on to play for their country and under Fonseca, many of them enjoyed great success. The recently concluded season saw Shakhtar Donetsk bring in five Brazilian players with an average age of 19.8-years-old, and that trend seems like to continue in the Italian capital.

Above all, Petrachi commands control, without which none of his success would’ve been achieved. On Urbano Cairo, his former boss, he spoke of the adjustments that were made: “The President, having a big character and an innate ability in communications, thought that running a football club would be easy, like a business. Football is a very different reality. When I first arrived, Cairo has an open line with players and their agents. The players were calling the President directly, and that’s something that you should never say about a football club. The President should be like the Pope for them. I arrived and we had our differences, but [Cairo] always let me work with full autonomy.”

In his early days, he has already spoken of bringing some sanity back to the club. The season ended in turmoil following the quickfire departures of Di Francesco and Monchi from their respective roles, while Francesco Totti departed last month having had been disappointed at the way his club was run. In his introductory press conference, he made it clear he wanted to bring the togetherness back: “Last season there was a sense of belonging to the team that was missing. It’s up to me to bring discipline and that sense of belonging.”

Roma have been in tatters over the last 12 months. Since their historic comeback against Barcelona in 2018 and the subsequent Champions League semi-final they reached, a lot was expected, but they failed to meet them. Petrachi has a decent team to work with, an ambitious manager and a boardroom looking to rebuild its tarnishing reputation, but the pressure is still high. Having missed out on Champions League qualification and gone off their tracks over the last year, there is a huge task in Petrachi’s hands, but if his Pisa and Torino days are anything to go by, it seems likely that he will do well here once again.

BY KARAN TEJWANI

YOU CAN FIND MORE OF KARAN'S WORK FOR FOOTBALL CHRONICLE HERE