Non-problems are the best kind of problems.
It’s early days yet, but we're already at a point where this is worth a look. Quietly, ever so quietly, he’s gone from punch line and a rushed foray into the January market, driving Sebastian Jung’s price skyrocketing, to a solid, occasionally excellent, member of the starting eleven – and an automatic one at that. He’s Bizarro Jose Angel in a way: in the same way Cote burst out of the gate and then flopped miserably, Piris stepped off the plane from Paraguay into a hole from which he’s slowly been climbing himself out.
Moreover, he’s done something no one’s been able to do in several years: he’s kept Rodrigo Taddei off the pitch. Obviously rightback is not Rodrigo’s natural position – his actual natural position is the one in which he’s making that surfer-dude gesture with a massive smile – but he’s spent his entire career in Rome finding any way to get onto the pitch. He’s adaptability personified. And suddenly, he can’t even get a minute.
LaRoma24 named Ivan Man of the Match against Chievo. There’s every chance naming a fullback who did nothing spectacular as MOTM says more about the performance of the rest of the team than the defender himself, but it’s an indication of how far he’s come. So far that we can now see what he brings to the table, not what he takes off.
Ivan’s quick. His burst beyond his man sees him able to put the ball into the box when Federico Balzaretti can only thump them off a jumping defender’s mid-air duff. That extra six inches is everything. He can run, which means he can both get back after his burst to the end line while also joining the attack on the counter. He can even hit a decent cross, and his assist totals are second to only that Totti fellow (a modest three, but it’s still second-best in a Zeman attack). He can cut into the box and even dribble a bit. He can, simply put, be a part of the attack in many facets. He’ll never be Maldini on the back end, but he can stay with his man – his quickness and speed work in both directions – and that, at the very least, means he’s rarely beaten when he’s in the right position. In some respects, he’s like Cicinho – though Cicinho would actually get beaten, he was just so fast pre-ligament snapping/bottles of Tanqueray that an attacker needed to beat him two to three times before finally getting past him, because he’d circle back so quickly.
Piris’ problem in the beginning was a big one, but fixable: positioning. The same could be said for a number of the defenders, which isn’t surprising when that starting defense is comprised of four entirely new bodies (not sure how much time Marquinhos and Castan spent together at Corinthians). Much of the issue with Ivan’s positioning has been rectified with time. One thing which I’ve also noticed is that the defensive midfielder sitting deep – regista, whatever – often has to help out on the left with Balzaretti far more often than on the right. This might speak to the speed difference between Ivan and Balza Bricklegs these days, but the ability to race back and at least force the opposition into a rethink or a second movement or...anything at all, makes no small difference. In a team mechanism, one shift and the side keels. Hell, WhoScored has him the 5th best player on Roma, if I think most stats in football are poppycock as their quantitative definability is too inherently subjective. (Okay, threading a pass four yards to a guy in acres of space who launches a 30 yard Howitzer into the back of the net is not a @#$%ing "assist." Totti no-look backheeling one through the defender's legs, off the goalpost, off the referee's head, off the building across the street such that it trickles across the goal line for a tap-in? That’s an assist.)
Piris has a better understanding with Erik Lamela, but that’s no surprise since they’ve spent the most time on the pitch together, not to mention they share a similar pace, which makes moving together that much easier. This, beyond any play he may offer with Erik, speaks something positive: he can learn. Not only that, but he can adapt, and when someone can mesh their inherent abilities with a capacity to evolve into a system mentally, there is every reason to believe he’ll do nothing but continue to improve.
The question now is where his ceiling rests. Despite the fact that he’s played well, he’s not exactly the level of talent one would just toss at rightback for the next several years and say, "Alright, done." He’s good, but he has his faults, and many of those faults come defensively in a defensive position. He’s a lot more than fallible, and his bread and butter is getting forward, while a lot of transfer purchases – and personnel decisions in general – need to be considered alongside the reality that Zemanlandia isn’t setting up shop in Rome for years and years. Perhaps the suits want to build a consistent, like-minded philosophy throughout coaching transitions, one of a brilliantly fluid, neutral-pleasing attack in order to grab fans and build the brand, but attacking well and getting results is a rare marriage in this sport, particularly in Serie A. At some point, the end trumps the means, and sometimes, you need to shuffle off a Spalletti to watch a Ranieri usher the team to a near miracle at the expense of the visual aesthetic.
So in a lot of respects, he reminds of 2011-12’s Marquinho: he’s done enough to earn a permanent purchase, if for no other reason than to see where this goes because he’s on the cheap (Ivan’s buyout is at four million euros, which is beyond reasonable, yet Saba can possibly get down even more), but nothing screams that he’s the type of guy who’s a lock for a starting berth under another coach, or at the expense of a more desirable commodity like a Sebastian Jung. The difference between Marquinho and Ivan is that Mr. Wide Right is a body in a position which demands depth and in which he’s one of three on the pitch at all times, while also providing an incredible amount of versatility in that he can play anywhere on the left. He’s a good Break Glass In Case Of Emergency. Piris, on the other hand, is a side-specific fullback. The end. So snap him up and he’s slotted one specific spot on the depth chart, where it’s him and another guy. Does he work as a backup? Sure. But then so does Taddei. And then there’s Alessandro Crescenzi, who, despite the fact that I’m the last person alive to claim anything but youth prospects are over-hyped, clearly needs to be looked at as a potential body for Rome – particularly if Zeman’s not one-and-done. He's young, talented, and Roman. Damn near a Holy Trinity.
And this all speaks to what has become a much greater non-issue: the January market. Things are, simply put, solid. What was once a need – a January purchase of a rightback – is now unnecessary; Ivan’s proven himself capable of seeing out the remainder of the season at the very least. The only question now is 2013 and beyond.
Of course, there is one problem: fan expectation. And…yeah, guilty.
Maybe, just maybe, Piris is good enough. Hell, it’s arguably football’s thinnest field position – leftback decidedly moreso than right, I think – and to get someone who works and works well should be the realistic gold standard, not hoping to unearth the next Philipp Lahm at every turn. This is, of course, a team which made a title run with Cassetti and Riise as its fullbacks.
Maybe, just maybe, finding that gem is no greater accomplishment than knowing what you’ve got is good, accepting it and moving on to the next item on the list.
Now once again, watch this whole thing disappear from the internets forever when he’s napalmed by El Shaarawy on the weekend.