It's been discussed, dissected, and analyzed many times over, but neither the poet nor the physicist can do it justice. When a born and bred Roman reaches center stage at the Olimpico, he carries with him the hopes, the pressures, and the very identity of the Eternal City. It's a uniquely Roman model, one which can make or break a career. For Alessandro Florenzi, his place within this paradigm is a unique one. Never burdened with the same expectations of greatness as fellow Romans Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, Florenzi managed to, despite being an impressive youth product for club and country, remain relatively unnoticed.
He is not Capitano Futuro, he may not even be Capitano Terzo, but he is a Roman nonetheless, and after breaking out of that relative anonymity last year under Zdenek Zeman, Florenzi is beginning to experience life in the fish bowl, where every move and every tactical decision is scrutinized through a uniquely Roman lens. What is he? Where should he play? Is he fit to wear the crown?
These are enormous questions for any 22-year old player, let alone one with the weight of a dynasty pressing upon him. With only 2,500 minutes under his belt, Florenzi should be focused on figuring out who he is as a player, forging his own identity. But this a luxury young Alessandro is not afforded. He is a Roman, therefore he is different. The pride of a city will rise and fall with every move he makes and every touch he takes (Sting reference not intended). It's unique, it's difficult, and its more important when you're a Roman playing for this club.
At this stage of his career, attempting to find himself and his place within a world sometimes bereft of perspective, and having done so under three different managers, no less, is a nearly impossible feat. But the fact that he has risen to such a prominent level, the fact that he's shown such resilience, should assuage any fears you may have that this club will one day lose its provincial roots.
However, because Florenzi is young, because he's so versatile, and because he's willing to sacrifice his glory for the good of the club, the manner in which he is utilized has a greater effect on his ability to influence a match, let alone the type of player he becomes.
So far, under the stewardship of Zeman, Andreazzoli and Garcia, Florenzi's place on the pitch and role within the broader tactical framework has fluctuated, resulting in some, shall we say, scattered results.
So, rather than fretting about if and when he'll done the arm band, let's take a quick look at Florenzi's young career.
Figuring Out Florenzi
First things first.
What is he? Is he a forward, a midfielder, or, as some have speculated, a fullback in the making? Even if you nail that down, is he better on the left or the right? Should he be a distributor or a finisher? What's his proper nickname?
If nothing else, let's be thankful that he ditched that #48, which was an eye sore. Roma's new #24 has played virtually everywhere in the midfield and front line through those 2,500 minutes, and, as one would expect, his performances have fluctuated in kind.
We'll limit most of this discussion to Rudi Garcia's utilization of Florenzi, but let's have a look at what he did under Zeman and Andreazzoli last season.
Under Zeman, Florenzi's was usually slotted on the left side of midfield, working with whomever ZZ felt was better than Daniele De Rossi or Miralem Pjanic on any given week, ostensibly serving as the link between the full back and Totti, the middle cog in ZZ's forward at all costs machinery, if you will. And that was really that; his role and the concomitant results were rather non-descript. He scored three goals, his passing was fairly precise, and he created more than a chance per game. These are all good numbers for a 21-year old, but there was nothing terribly memorable, though he did turn in a few notable performances after New Year's. You know what Disney World does to kids, after all.
Under Andreazzoli's brief stewardship, though he remained on the left by and large, it was in a more advanced role. Due to AA's smorgasbord of formations, he was either the third prong in a PDO-Lamela-Florenzi trident, or slightly withdrawn in support of PDO. Whatever the case was, Florenzi's performances, particularly his passing and chance creation, suffered under AA, despite his more advanced role, his minutes also decreased under Roma's interim man.
But, the past, as they say, is prologue. And with four goals through seven matches, good for third in the league, it's been all sunshine and rainbows for Florenzi, Garcia's found the key, right?
Flourishing Under the Frenchman
When it comes to Florenzi's place on the pitch, other than following Andreazzoli's lead and pushing him forward, Garcia's designs for Florenzi have been all his own. While still nominally a midfielder, Florenzi's role under Garcia has been more akin to a forward, both in place and purpose.
Florenzi is only 22, and the season itself is only seven weeks old, so drawing firm conclusions about the Florenzi-Garcia dynamic is a bit of stretch at this point--remember, Garcia is still young for his profession, too--so, instead, let's take a look at the early highs and lows of what promises to be a fruitful relationship.
First up, one of Florenzi's finer performances, opening day against Livorno.
In this, his first match at the helm, Garcia wasted no time distinguishing himself from his predecessors, switching Florenzi to the starboard side of the field, pushing him into an extremely advanced role. One can presume he instructed Florenzi to make that side his own, as, in this very same match, Totti, ostensibly serving same role on the left, drifted centrally and served as the primary playmaker, spraying balls left, right, and center. Spacing was the key, is what I'm getting at, and, as you can see, Florenzi did as he was instructed and did it well.
Now, look at Florenzi's passes in this match and you can see how Garcia's utilization of him complimented the freedom afforded to Totti. Rather than, as one might assume, working the ball inwards from his position, the majority of Florenzi's passes were backwards, holding up play and allowing both Maicon and Miralem Pjanic the opportunity to advance up the pitch, creating more chances for Totti to do what he does best, make plays.
Florenzi's worst performance through the first seven just happened to occur under the brightest of lights, the derby. To date, this was Garcia's biggest experimentation, as he placed Totti in the center of the trident, flanked on the right by Gervinho, pushing Florenzi to the left...the results, at least for Alessandro, were not good.
Florenzi played only 50 minutes or so on this evening, completing only 69% of his passes (compared to 77% on the year), and committing three turnovers. While it would be foolish to attribute all this to simply playing on the left, offensively speaking, he just wasn't particularly involved on this evening. As you can see from this particular graphic, though he gave way to Adem Ljajic in the 51st minute, Florenzi was all over the map on this one, seemingly lost and not able to gain any traction within the flow of the match, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
Granted, you can make the argument that casing this much ground is an asset (which it is), but against Lazio, his geographical coverage didn't reap any immediate rewards for Roma, offensively or defensively. His passing and touches were both below his usual standards, lacking accuracy, effectiveness, and even tactical sense. Defensively, surface area notwithstanding, his contributions were equally invisible, failing to make a single tackle, block or interception, while committing two fouls; which doesn't sound too bad until you consider he's only made five on the season.
He just didn't seem to find his place in this match, whether that was due solely to spacing is a matter of conjecture. Although, it is worth noting, that' he's been featured on the right in every successive match
Once again, we're dealing with a young player and a young season, so these results, good or bad, aren't indicative of what he is or may become. For a player still casting his own die, week-to-week fluctuations should be expected, but Rudi Garcia's methods--putting the onus on Alessandro's offensive game--appear to be easing Florenzi's maturation as a player.
When dealing with seven weeks' worth of data on a 22-year old player, you have to take what you see with a grain of salt. Again, getting this level of contribution out of any player that young, let alone one with the crushing weight of Roman expectations bearing down on him, puts both the club and player a step ahead of the game.
The early returns on Florenzi are fantastic; he's got a motor for days, he is capable of playing withdrawn or up front, he's a decent enough passer, and, for an attacking player, he's a solid defender. He is, as we mentioned a few days back, Simone Perrotta for the next generation. In fact, Simone was recently asked this very question:
Yes, but he can't miss the amount of goals that I used to. He has that ability to throw himself into space. He is a player with great potential, one who importantly can do well for the Roma cause.
Though Perrotta was being a bit self-deprecating, Florenzi's offensive output this year suggests that he may very well be a cut above Simone. His four goals this season--again, good for third in the league--have come on only 13 shots, giving him a conversion rate north of 30%, nearly four times more efficient than he was last year.
While that may be an unsustainable figure, both now and in the future, if nothing else, Roma have in Florenzi a glue guy, someone who does the dirty work, seeing the value in helping his teammates excel, while subverting his own ego. He may not have Totti's heaven sent skills, or De Rossi's strength, tenacity, and combination of offensive and defensive acumen, but his contributions, though they may go unnoticed by the untrained eye, are no less important to Roma's success.
In the immediate sense, Florenzi's contributions, his role, and his place within the club are secure; his sudden nose for goal is just the icing on top of an already complete cake. Really, the only question, as far as playing time is concerned, is how will Garcia distribute minutes along the frontline once Mattia Destro returns?
Should Destro regain full form, you have to figure he'll return to his preferred central role, leaving Florenzi to contend for minutes with Gervinho and Adem Ljajic. This is, of course, a huge assumption based (again) on Destro's cost, potential, and simple fitness. Furthermore, with De Rossi, Pjanic, and Kevin Strootman firmly entrenched, there may no longer be room in the midfield for Alessandro.
But these are good problems to have, especially for a side so beleaguered by a lack of true depth. Having three dynamic players to rotate among the outside forwards will surely be an asset during the dog days of winter, when injuries will surely mount and test the limits of Garcia's man management skills.
Whatever the future may hold, Roma has in Florenzi the perfect complement to its legacy of homegrown players. In any dynasty, there exists an icon to which all successors aspire, upholding the tenets and passions they espoused, while adding their own unique characteristics and changing the definition, the culture of that lineage.
For Roma, the standard to which all future rulers will be held is Francesco Totti. His unbending loyalty to the club, his love for the city, and his unparalleled talent on the pitch will eventually yield to De Rossi, whose strength, determination, and tenacity will change the definition of what it means to be a Roman leading this club. Should this line eventually lead to Florenzi, those same traits that evoke so much pride and aspiration among the fans--talent, loyalty, strength and determination--will be hued with a sense of humility, diligence, and dignity.
He may not be their equal in talent, but the city, the people, and the fans of Roma will exalt him just the same.
graphics courtesy of squawka.com