AS Roma reaping the rewards after putting faith in misfiring talents
More often than not, in football, the cream rises to the top. If anything, there is so much money within the game now, signing for a big club is no longer solid evidence of a player’s ability to play at an elite level. Such are the hefty transfer fees these days; clubs are liable to spending heavily on talent never quite destined for greatness.
Clubs sign players for a variety of reasons but the scrutiny they’re under has also blurred the lines on which talent is measured.
No longer can players simply be called ‘world class’, because while some are good enough for, say, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City, three clubs well within their rights to call themselves Champions League contenders this season, they are not for Barcelona or Real Madrid, the dominant forces over the last decade.
It is natural for players to want to get the most out of their careers, playing at the highest level or for the most money. But clubs with the financial power and reputation to compete at the top often want to sign two or three supreme players for each position on the pitch.
So often have players made seemingly career-defining transfers, but struggled to assert themselves having been met with competition for places from even better players. Sometimes though, conditions of a specific league, usually the Premier League, affect their ability to perform. Rare cases have even seen clubs sign players just to weaken direct rivals.
When anything along these lines happens, players with previously impressive reputations, which allowed them to climb up the footballing ladder so to speak, are left stranded on the bench or in the reserves. Priorities swiftly change and they quickly become desperate for first team football; music to the ears of clubs slightly below the top level.
Someone like Roma, for example. The Giallorossi have had tough times so far in this century, winning their last Serie A title in 2001, but now they’re under the stewardship of Luciano Spalletti for a second time, who is making waves at the Stadio Olimpico.
Juventus may be the undisputed Calcio kings, winning the scudetto for the last five years, but Roma have made second place their own and could one day make their move for the throne. Europa League success isn’t out of the question either; they were given a last 16 tie against Lyon as a reward for putting Villarreal to the sword in the round of 32.
A demoralising 2-0 defeat to city rivals Lazio in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final has put a dampener on what started out as a very positive week after they beat Inter 3-1 at the San Siro on Sunday, but the club is still most definitely heading in the right direction.
Spalletti is a brilliantly versatile coach and risk-loving tactically. In the current side, Radja Nainggolan – one of Italy’s best midfielders, Kevin Strootman – a talented Dutchman ravaged by injuries but finally getting back to his best and Daniele Di Rossi – a homegrown legend from a similar school as Totti, provide a great base.
However, three players in particular show just how Roma, and other clubs, have helped resurrect some fantastic players’ careers.
Edin Dzeko, Federico Fazio and Mohamed Salah are well known to watchers of the Premier League, particularly Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea fans. They may have enjoyed differing levels of success in England, but upon their arrivals in the Italian capital, their careers have all reached new heights.
Dzeko won two league titles with Manchester City, scoring an impressive amount of goals during his three-and-a-half-year stint at the club after developing into a real star with Wolfsburg, but the Bosnian was often overlooked in favour of Sergio Agüero in the big games, eventually becoming frustrated with his lack of responsibility as a main man.
In 2015 he made the move to Roma, initially on loan. Just over 18 months later, he is already looking for his 30th goal of the 2016/17 season.
Mention Fazio’s name on the surrounding streets of White Hart Lane and the kindest response would squirm with horror. The Argentine joined Spurs from Sevilla in 2014, but he did so as something of an alternative option after the club missed out on Villarreal captain Mateo Mussachio.
Clichés don’t get much bigger than the physicality argument when finding excuses for players coming from abroad and failing to settle. In Fazio’s case, though, it rang true, and he was often off the pace whenever he played. Failure to impress back at Sevilla on loan saw him join Roma at the start of the season, and with his once impressive reputation in the gutter, he has stepped up to the plate this season.
It is Salah whose form is both the most pleasing and unsurprising. Flashbacks to January three years ago show the then 21-year-old Egyptian winger about to sign for Chelsea. On the face of it, the move made sense. Such a talented player was always going to attract interest, especially at his age, and his performances for Swiss side Basel, including against Chelsea in the Champions League earlier that campaign were turning heads.
His pace, trickery and close control were a reminder of a bygone era, but Salah had goals in his game too. Liverpool appeared all but certain to clinch his signature, but Blues boss Jose Mourinho stole in to secure a £16million deal. Yet it seemed as though the motivation behind the move was to stop their rivals gaining a quality player, and as a result, he was never high in the pecking order at Stamford Bridge.
A year and just 13 league games later with his confidence on the floor, Salah joined Fiorentina on loan. Suddenly, his form was back to its best and he was once again one of the most feared wingers around, alerting Roma, who secured a loan deal for 2015/16 before making the deal permanent in the summer.
He has nine goals to his name this season and could well be in the form of his life, all thanks to his Italian rehabilitation.
Most footballers make it their burning ambition to play for a Champions League contender, but their dreams can quickly turn to nightmares. It is important to rebuild if that happens, and few clubs offer that opportunity than AS Roma.