To our American readership, Giuseppe Rossi is a figure of both reverence and scorn. Lionized for his talent and maligned for his national loyalty, Rossi has been a divisive figure among American soccer fans since he chose the Azzurri over the Stars and Stripes, made worse by the two goals he scored against the U.S. in the 2009 Confederations Cup.
But this is a Roma blog, right? Fortunately for us, Rossi is also a divisive figure for Roma fans. You'll hear as many praises of his extraordinary talents, as you will cries of expense, injury, and utility when it comes to the prospect of Giuseppe joining the Giallorossi. No one denies what he could bring to the table, the question is will he get hurt on the way to the table?
But, as is often the case, things aren't that simple. The prospect of Rossi joining the Giallorossi raises many important issues: Can he even play? If so, how often? Where does he play? How would Zeman use him? Whose spot does he take?
Frankly, many of these issues arise when you discuss bringing in a new player. But when you're talking about a price tag still hovering around €10m for a player absent since October of 2011, these issues carry extra weight.
Beyond simple tactical and roster issues, a huge question of the club's fiscal policy is at play. Can they outlay eight figures for a player who is anything but a sure thing?
As is the case with many of the broader topics we discuss here, and given the infancy of the current club ownership, the decisions they make, particularly in terms of talent acquisition, in the first three to four years will tell us a lot about where the new Roma ranks among European heavyweights.
Nevertheless, onto the fictional transfer of Giuseppe Rossi.
Again, I'll remind you that this is an exercise in imagination, but given the rumors, connections and mutual admiration between Rossi, Roma, and Zeman, we can at least take a look at what Rossi would add to Roma, how they would use him, and how they would get him here.
We all know what Rossi brings to the table: supreme skill and versatility. Rossi, once heralded as the heir apparent to Andrea Pirlo, has featured as a deep-lying forward, winger, attacking midfielder, supporting striker and on occasion, lone striker. Rossi excels in all facets of passing: short, intermediate, long and link up, and with his nose for the goal (54 at Villarreal alone), one could say that Rossi has the unique ability to start, facilitate, and finish an attack. He's also skilled with the ball at his feet and solid defensively. In essence, he is the quintessential Zeman player.
So the reasons why Roma, or any club for that matter, would want Rossi are simple, when healthy, he contributes across the board.
But how would he fit into Roma's current roster?
Retrofitting Roma for Rossi
With his versatility, Rossi could easily fill or duplicate the roles currently played by any of Roma's midfielders, save perhaps DDR, if you view or would utilize DeRossi in an exclusively defensive/holding framework. Rossi has the ability to pick out long and short passes from both an advanced and deeper role, he's shown an ability and willingness to track back, and has experience on both the left and right. Similarly, given his goal scoring record and flare with both feet, Rossi could conceivably feature anywhere in Zeman's forward three.
So with regards to Rossi's role at Roma, the possibilities are endless. He has enough experience and talent (if healthy) to make an immediate impact, yet is still young enough to figure in future plans. The caveat, of course, is his health, but even if he's a fraction of his former self and comes at a commensurately cheaper rate, Rossi still provides tremendous value as a part time player-again, if the price is right.
Whether he's at full health or not, rotating the squad and keeping ego's satiated is far easier when your club is playing in Europe, but with word coming earlier this month that Rossi won't be fit until March 2013 at the earliest, the chances that he suits up for anyone before the close of the 2012-2013 season is remote, so the immediate psychological effect on the squad would be minimal.
However, given the lack of Champions League fixtures, finances, and the player's fitness, this imaginary move, and any corresponding real world transfer, is a long term speculative play, dependent upon the rather large assumption that Roma has Euros to burn and can take a temporary financial hit on a player not likely to contribute this season.
His spate of injuries and the uncertainty of his future have depressed his once enormous market (just 18 short months ago, the rumored price was north of €30m), throw in Villarreal's segunda status and you have a hopefully motivated seller thrown into the mix. So, if you, and more importantly the front office, can stomach that temporary loss, now is the perfect time to purchase Rossi.
Having a player of his caliber in your back pocket is undoubtedly an extreme luxury, and in the short term, he would pose no threat to anyone currently in Roma's ranks. But, and this is a huge but, if his troubles are truly in his rear view, Rossi suddenly becomes a relatively young weapon in an already impressive arsenal. If Roma manage to qualify for Europe next season, that suddenly means more minutes for more men.
So as you can see, a number of factors would have to go Roma's way in order for this best case scenario to occur, but if they do, it's a win-win. They can stash Rossi on the bench for the remainder of this season, using the summer to get him back to Zeman-level fitness, and if Roma continue their rise in the table and qualify for Europe, then there will be ample matches to go around.
Make no mistake, this move, no matter the cost, is a gamble. The best case scenario would see Rossi make a Lazarus like comeback, the worst case would be Rossi turning into a sunk cost; an expensive asset who failed to recapture the glory of his youth. The middle ground, in which Rossi becomes a contributing but not a ninety minute player, might even be the optimal scenario, but even that form of Rossi provides value, how much is another debate.
But these are precisely the sort of moves that can get a team over the hump, if Rossi comes at a decent price, read less than €10m, and reaches even 80% of his former capacity, he can be a key contributor to a title quest. Furthermore, if Rossi can resurrect his career, you have the potential to get €20m+ worth of production at half the cost. So it is most assuredly a high risk-high reward investment.
Unlike the other targets we've discussed (or will discuss), this one had a decent amount of press speculation over the past year and the admiration between Rossi and Zeman is evident. The leap of faith or suspension of reality required by the Roma fan rests with finances. While the front office has shown a willingness to spend on up and coming talent, sinking nearly €10m in a player with little to no shot at contributing immediately is a completely different story.
But in this make believe mercato, we are not bound by reality and gambles do pay off. The reconstruction of Giuseppe Rossi could be yet another shrewd investment added to the Roman portfolio.