This part of the year is always tough, as we suddenly have a fortnight with no football, leaving us with ample time to ruminate about what comes next. With the winter silly season upon us, what better way to channel that misdirected hostility than to take a look at who may or may not be poppin' collars with Totti and caressing corner flags with Destro?
So over the next few days, we're going to unleash a barrage of transfer stories, a Winter Wishlist, if you will, well maybe not a ‘barrage', but several. Some will make sense tactically, some will be beyond the club's financial wherewithal, some are based purely on potential, while some are reclamation projects, and some are just personal preferences.
Translating personal preferences into public support usually requires a bit of cajoling, so if I have to go Steve Urkel on you, I will. Fortunately, the first dalliance into this make believe mercato is grounded just enough to seem feasible, but tinged with enough impracticality to make an immediate transfer (read, this winter) unlikely.
So with our further ado, first up on my winter wishlist, Davide Santon.
Before I explain my opining for a man who has steadfastly said he's not leaving England (He went and got himself an English girlfriend, which I would imagine for a young Italian living abroad is like shooting fish in a barrel), a few primers, which may or may not appear in the rest of this series.
1-My desire for this transfer is irrespective of our current manager's preferred tactics or clubs finances
2- What you are about to read is loosely grounded in reality, would he want to come here to sit behind Piris and Balzaretti? Probably not, but he fits the profile the club is building: young, athletic, versatile, and bursting with potential.
3- I can't stress this last point strongly enough, my desire for Santon, while admittedly driven in part by his passport, has softened some with the rise of Ivan Piris.
So if you'll indulge my fantasies, let me tell you why I want to see David Santon in yellow and red. First we'll take a quick look at Santon's particulars, then move the discussion onto what he brings to the pitch, how we might get him here and how he'd fit in with the squad.
Facts & Figures:
- 21 years old (soon to be 22)
- 1.87 m tall
- 82.5 kg
- 19 appearances this term
- 6.95 Who Scored rating (lower than Piris, higher than Balzaretti)
Santon The Player
The first thing you notice about Santon is his size, which is exceptional for a full back. Were he to make this imaginary move to Roma, he'd be the second tallest and third most massive outfield player on the squad. Santon's stature would bring obvious benefits to set pieces, both offensively and defensively. Similarly, his pace is sufficient enough where he can use his size to control/shield attacking players. Size, in and of itself, isn't an asset (see Loria, Simone), but Santon is undoubtedly a skilled player, making his stature an added and unique bonus for his position.
Beyond his size, Santon possess what every manager craves, versatility. Though admittedly a right footed player, Santon has featured at both the right and left fullback spots throughout his career, although this term he has been predominantly a left back. No matter what side he plays on, Santon is a gifted player, capable of taking on opponents and skilled in both the long and short passing game.
Additionally, looking at the data available, we also see a player with a developing defensive skillset. Santon's 2.6 tackles per game rank 35th overall in the Premiership, but place him just outside the top 10 if we limit the data to fullbacks and would place him second to Piris on the Roman roster. His interception and clearance numbers are among the top five on Newcastle and would reach similar heights for Roma.
So, once again, he's not yet a dominant defensive force, but the numbers are very encouraging for a 21 year old seeing his first full time action anywhere, let alone the Premiership. Santon's early returns portend an active and intuitive defender, capable of reading and dispossessing an attack.
Offensively, we see much of the same thing, a player very much in the works. Both his raw and per game totals in passing, key passing, and passing percentage are all top five for Newcastle, in some instances either first or second. When compared to the Roman roster, Santon's two successful dribbles per game would be second only to Erik Lamela, his key passing numbers would also rank in Roma's top ten, while his ability to place an accurate long ball (2.5/game) is well ahead of both Piris and Balzaretti.
While the book on Santon is still relatively short, it is very promising. Santon's passing and dribbling statistics show a player capable of both facilitating and contributing to an attack, while his defensive numbers are trending upwards-solid but not yet spectacular. He is very much a two-way player in the making.
Squeezing Santon Into the Squad
Okay, so he's young, versatile, and is just beginning to unleash the beast, so what? Neither Piris nor Balzaretti has done anything to warrant being replaced, particularly not Piris, who has been a revelation following his early troubles.
The irony is that those of us yearning for Santon did so in part because of Piris' early struggles. So what we once saw as a necessity might now simply be a luxury, as the emergence of Roma's fullbacks has been an integral element in Roma's late year run, keeping continuity on the flanks will be essential to maintaining this momentum. That doesn't mean, however, that we shouldn't look to the future.
While Balzaretti is by no means ready to be out to pasture, he will be 33 years old when his contract expires in two years, so he can only be relied upon for so much longer. Furthermore, the evidence on his nominal replacement, Dodo, is far too short to draw any conclusions and is compounded by his injury history. There is also the simple fact that our own Paraguayan prodigy isn't even 100% Roma's, so were a talented 21 year old fullback capable of playing on either flank to come available, finding a place for him in the squad rotation should be job number one.
While Santon, or the idea of Santon, makes sense in the long term, his immediate place in the squad would admittedly be a little dicey, especially with no European sojourns on the fixture list. But where there's smoke, there's fire and if the rumors are to be believed, a fullback of some sort will be purchased/loaned this winter, so why not an Italian international with the potential to be a first team fixture for a decade?
Financing This Fullback
Potential and ability are great, but how would Roma foot this bill? Santon arrived at Newcastle in August of last year for approximately €6.1m, signing a five year deal. For the sake of this argument, you have to make a leap of faith and assume Newcastle would be willing to sell. Like I said, this is a make believe mercato.
Given his age and his recent performances, his market value is believed to be in the neighborhood €7m-€8m, so he wouldn't come cheap and would most likely require some corresponding sales from Roma, both in terms of the transfer and wage budget, if one actually exists.
So the natural assumption would be to look at the expensive-yet-unused portion of the Roman roster; your Perrotta's, Stekelenburg's, Taddei's and Burdisso's. Between them, these four, well three, revered Roma players make approximately seven million and are either beyond the pale or have been completely usurped.
With Perrotta and Taddei's wages coming off the books in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and the glut of young midfielders Roma possesses, their places on the roster can be replaced readily and cheaply, leaving Burdisso and Stekelenburg as the most moveable assets. Although, in the case of Burdisso, any return would be minimal...really whatever Boca is willing to pay, if we're being honest.
Stekelenburg, meanwhile, came at a cost of €6m just a summer ago and is still young by goalkeeper standards. So while making a profit might be out of the question, Roma should have no problem finding a buyer to recoup some of that initial cost.
While the transfer record of the new regime is all of two years old, they have shown a willingness to spend and a proclivity for young players. So there is hope, Santon fans.
As I stated at the outset, my desire to see Davide Santon in yellow and red has been blunted somewhat by the emergence of Ivan Piris. However, given his age, versatility, and potential, Santon would be an impressive addition to Roma's portfolio of burgeoning young talent, who figure to spread the Roman gospel the world over throughout the next decade.
So while this move makes sense, particularly in the long view, it doesn't appear to be as likely as it was this past summer, for a variety of reasons, including the emergence of Piris and the simple fact that the squad, for the most part, is set.
For a sixth place club, there is very little room for augmentation. There is every chance that we simply see some of the youngest talent shipped out on short-term loans, with the only "purchases" being some current loan options being bought out. A relatively quiet winter market, if there ever was one.
If there is reason for hope, it rests in the fact that fullback is Roma's thinnest position, by far. Dodo is simply too unproven and too fragile to be relied upon, while Taddei is, at best, a makeshift defender.
So in terms of transfers tentatively tied to reality, I can think of few better or more practical than Davide Santon.
Plus I just have a hunch, so there's that.