It is hard to ignore the ache behind his broad smile as he responds to questions whilst surrounded by his usual cloud of cigarette smoke. Content yet morose, Walter Sabatini is your archetypical tortured soul who revels in the complexity of his character, complexities usually found within the pages of a dark novel. Fitting really as the man is captivated by the profundity of literary works, perhaps leaving many confused by his success within the footballing world. Yet finding the beauty within has led Sabatini to carve out a prominent career in which he plucks young youth and launches them to stardom, making a tidy sum of profit for the club when they are sold.
Forever mourning the death of his friend and once-upon-a-time teammate, Renato Curi, the tormented Sabatini took his first steps into football management in 1986. However, his first major role did not arrive until 1992 when he, amongst others, headed the Lazio youth system – the system that produced Alessandro Nesta. That particular experience taught him how to both recognise and nurture young talent and from there he decided to leave for Trieste to try his hand at becoming a Sporting Director.
Having gained crucial experience due to time spent with clubs such as Perugia and Arezzo, he began to put in place an impressive CV, one only blemished by his disqualification in the late 90’s due to the illegal transfers of young foreign talent. After dealing with the consequences, Sabatini found his way back to Lazio in 2004 – this time it was as Sporting Director. The discovery of players such as Aleksandar Kolarov, Fernando Muslera and Stefan Radu are down to him and he continues to insist it was he who found Mauro Zarate. All the above have either been sold off for a healthy profit or continue to play a crucial role in getting Lazio to fourth place and within a chance of playing Champions League football. Having done his duty, a new challenge beckoned, this time it was working alongside fiery president Maurizio Zamparini at Palermo.
Renowned for his critical manner, Zamparini was once quoted as saying: “The real purchase I made last year was Walter Sabatini who is formidable and respectable.” A relationship that bore fruit, Sabatini began to create a side possessing both creativity and pace in abundance. Spotting talent at the drop of a hat, Sabatini quickly moved for Josip Ilicic after coming across a DVD of the player sent to a number of clubs by his agent and the deal was initiated before the Europa League match against Ilicic’s then club, Maribor, had even been played. However, it was during that match that he made another discovery, Armin Bacinovic, and having reported his findings to Zamparini, the duo soon closed deals and moved to Italy. Nevertheless, it must be said Javier Pastore was his greatest coup. Sabatini flew over to South America and worked tirelessly to convince the player, then enamoured by European giants, to choose Palermo for the sake of continuity. A wise decision as el Flaco’s talent has flourished within a stable environment and the player is now valued at €60m and attracting remarkable interest.
Whilst Sabatini may be well versed in the art of identifying young talent, he has been criticised for his failure to create a balanced side combining young skill with experienced veterans and many have blamed this for Palermo’s shortcomings this season. Closing deals on older players is not his forte, as is his inability to plug key holes within the team. He eventually left Palermo with certain journalists such as Adolfo Fantaccini claiming the problem was Sabatini was simply a market man and not a team manager worthy of a directorial role.
However, discovering young talent is all the new Roma are likely to demand of him as they look to create a new winning cycle brimming with youthful prodigies.