The Summer Of 2013

Paolo Bruno

Give yourselves a big round of applause, as that was one hell of a summer. How many players came in? I can't count that high. Of the starting eleven from last year only Totti, Balzaretti, Castan, and DDR remain, and the latter had all but played himself to the bench. Hell, Michael Bradley feels like a seasoned veteran of Rome and Miralem Pjanic might as well have a plaque somewhere. He's been here, what, two years? Is that gold watch territory? And does Walter Sabatini get paid per deal? Because that would explain a lot.

The final day brought nothing but outside of maybe a few loans going out, but then, Roma didn't really need anything. They wanted things, but didn't need them on a pure numbers basis. Maybe an upgrade would be nice, but it wasn't necessary nor are they bustling with funds to just flip around Europe and grab a thirty goal striker or upper tier third central defender. They have 38 matches of importance this year, now down to 36 with impressive results. They're not fighting on three fronts because they need only one: the money. Forget the Coppa, they need to maximize Serie A this year in an attempt to get back into the Champions League. So if they want to pick up some of Rome's homeless population to play in the Coppa Italia early stages and rest some legs for the weekend run out against Chievo, be my guest.

A rundown:

The Good

Kevin Strootman: The second giant Dutchman to grace the streets of Rome wasn't cheap, but he's a cut above in the position of most desperate need within the club. Beyond his quality in the middle, he's a leader and one of three names, along with Robben and Van Persie, guaranteed to be on the back of an Oranje shirt come the summer of 2014 in Brazil. Immense purchase from an individual perspective.

Adem Ljajic: The kid is, for lack of a better term, legit. And for a max of 15 million? Extra carton for Walter this week. There are concerns over the potential existence of a buyout clause, but if anyone feasible was going to make Roma forget about Erik on the pitch for the time being, this was the move.

Mehdi Benatia: The year before last, he was the best CB in Serie A. Last year, he was hurt yet still excellent. The first two games, despite the - sorry, sorry - relative lack of upper echelon quality in the opposition's attack, he's proven to still be the same Benatia of Udinese. Despite the quality above, he may turn out to be Roma's best signing as lock-down defenders are fewer and farther between these days, it seems.

Maicon: As was said in the beginning - he was one of the best rightbacks to ever play for Roma before he even sweated (swatted?) a minute in the shirt. He was once of the utmost quality and though he's not quite what he was, he's still clearly of a higher class.

Marquinhos: That was a ton of money for a defender on a club which was scored upon like a sorority party with Marco Borriello in attendance. He had a wonderful year but not a sane soul alive is turning down twenty-five million in profit.

Marquinho: He has value. He is, while Simone Perrotta is still on vacation (shut it), Roma's best mover into the box on a club which is sporting Marco Borriello's 12 goals for Genoa last year as its high number. Flipping him up north for three million or so seemed insane considering this side doesn't bustle with high quality depth anyway.


The Indifferent

Morgan De Sanctis: The best thing about the move is he's cheap, and while he's been fine against the likes of Hellas and Livorno, he's far from a guarantee in net. A deal in the middle: for 500k on a limited, non-European budget, he's decent enough - but don't think he's a savior. Far from it. Oh, and if Palermo was dumping Viviano on loan...

Gervinho: He is what he is: fast, good dribbler, completely lacking in the other departments. There's a damn good reason he's a punchline beyond whatever the hell is going on above his neck. The hope is he becomes something of a supersub because Florenzi, Destro, and Ljajic - the youngsters - make themselves unbenchable and paint a glorious portrait of the future.

Pablo Osvaldo: Less indifferent and more, "He had to go." There was no choice - he sold himself. The downside is he is a good goalscorer, but a very static one, which was always the knock as far as his pitch performances were concerned, and certainly a hard fit within the current system. This edges toward the good, though they didn't exactly make a profit on him.

The Goals: The bad news is they lost 31 Serie A goals between Erik and Pablo. That's not good. But they brought back 23 in the form of Borriello and Ljajic. That's not so bad. Especially when the 31 have the ol' Zeman asterisk.

Nico Lopez, Valerio Verre: Co-ownerships are good as they offer an incentive to the team with the other half to advance their development and thus value. They're also risky. Thus here we are.

Alessandro Crescenzi, Junio Tallo: Ligue 1 loans? Maybe they'll get more playing time but Serie A is such a unique beast one hopes they'll be kept within the country. We'll see.


The Bad

The Annual Trigoria Turnover: The year might be brilliant. Cool. There are still a ton of names here for one summer - too many. Individual names are less important than a cohesive philosophy and forming a team. Brilliant teams build a core; they don't pawn their assets for profit on an annual basis. They look good now, but the season is long, they lack quality in depth - that defense behind the four starters...oof - and Livorno and Hellas are hardly stern tests. Both, after all, were in Serie B last year. The jury is still out on the team as a whole.

Marco Borriello: Not failing to get rid of him, no. Yes, Fabio Quagliarella would have been a better fit for the system Rudi has run out in August. Yes, part of it is Marco's fault for wanting to see out those contract terms (most people...). The problem is they so publicly made a spectacle of trying to rid him, even leaving him in Rome Stek-to-London style for the American trip, then dragging him along in the aftermath. With Mattia Destro still out and appearing as though he will be for some time, Marco will have to play a role in this team somehow. The good thing is Marco's a mercenary, a hitman - throw him on the pitch and he doesn't care too much. But you have to imagine most players would be a bit peeved at that kind of treatment. This is twice now. Other players, prospective signings, will figure this out.

Alessio Romagnoli: Why is he still in Rome? Tin Jedvaj couldn't be loaned and he looks all kinds of talented, while Benatia is the second or third name on the teamsheet, with Castan clearly his partner at this point. The angle for another Marquinhos sneaking in behind an aging Nico Burdisso seems slim. Alessio could use the minutes, be it in Serie A, B or Z. If one of your talented kiddies has to stay, then it would follow...

Erik: The great tragedies are often found not in the past but in things once promised never to be known.

Erik was different from anyone on the squad, and he was different because his role was different. There is a space in Roman lore when the day arrives which Daniele De Rossi will fill, but with all due respect, he's a thirty year old defensive midfielder, the bulk of his brilliance lying in movements unnoticed by the casual fan. Discussions and dreams of the Ballon d'Or and mass marketing appeal were never in his future. But the Roman a little further up the pitch...well he's got a little something extra. People know who he is. They buy his shirts. And if he'd gone to Real Madrid, he'd have sold some shirts there, too. He is the face of Roma even to those who don't know he grew up on the city streets, bleeding part red, part yellow. And he had an heir.

Erik Lamela wasn't supposed to be a right wing or a trequartista or another generic athlete. Not just, anyway. He was supposed to be a superstar, and he's likely on his way there. His most important role with Roma had a number beyond the tally of his goals: the number ten. He was vice-Totti in ways which extended far beyond the pitch, beyond any numbers in a column or at the bottom line of a transfer offer. Yes there were concerns but he's twenty-one - give him an extended chance. For fuck's sake Francesco was almost sold to Sampdoria as a kid. Erik was the face of Roma, his generic likeness easily spotted in marketing and Brand Roma propaganda. He has the skill set to attract the casual fan or that dude in the bar who's never even seen the sport simply by virtue of his dazzling abilities with a ball at his feet. And he's likable. Hell, he was lovable. Fan favorite. Great kid. Role model. Credit to the sport. Everything, for all his genius, Francesco is sometimes not. He was, quite simply, the precocious face of this new Roma. An image to match the indescribable ceiling of his ethereal talents. The icon with which to open up their precious new stadium. The one player they could build everything around and say, "Erik and then everyone else."

And they sold him. They sold Totti's heir. They sold the future.

The money for Erik Lamela the footballer was good. There is no guarantee he will become anything more than what he is, though you'll certainly not find me taking the bet we'll look back on this in twenty years as his zenith. But they've lost face and they've been exposed: it's about the money. They put his face on everything and then shoved him out the door, even though he didn't want to go. That doesn't mean they're pocketing the profits and buying Zanzi more of those giant suits he's always sporting, but it's a business first, second, third and fourth - then we'll talk about the identity of the club. It's every American stereootype thrust forth when they first arrived.

Adem Ljajic is a brilliant footballer and if I may so boldly say, more of a like-for-like with Totti should that day come. On the pitch, the move is lateral at the moment, though may not always be the case. Coco is a more physically gifted specimen while Adem seems to have a touch of that intangible genius; the ability which can't be pinpointed, unlike Erik creating vast gaps of space between he and the rest of the mere professional athletes he called teammates during a sprint. But Erik was just different. Adem Ljajic is another footballer who will be flipped to Manchester or Paris or Milan if he comes good - so too will Kevin Strootman. Ditto for Pjanic next summer. But Erik was supposed to be it. The one they'd chosen to replace Francesco. The face of a future Roma. The boy who wanted nothing more than to be that face and didn't want to leave. Everything that kept the soul of this club linked to the future the new owners wanted. A hand from the future holding the hand of its past. You could sell anyone else. Anyone but Erik. He was more than Erik Lamela, footballer. He wasn't just another financial asset under the umbrella of all things AS Roma x Unicredit. If he fails over time, fine. You ride it out. You make your money in other ways. You sell anyone but the Romans. You leave the big Dutchman in Eindhoven. But he was the one, perhaps even The One. The heart he used in celebration wasn't designed for the club but perhaps it served to remind us that he was holding Roma's for when the end comes. It would appear that has a price too.

When the rumors of a bid came in and it was quite clear these were not simply journos attempting to fill column inches, I said to someone whether or not they sell Erik will define Roma as a football club from here on out. Whether or not it would still be Roma or just another business under the guise of a football club.

Welcome to Brand Roma. It's just laundry and the names wash right off the back.

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