When Pablo Osvaldo was purchased, it seemed one of the most ill-advised outlays in recent Roma history. Not that he wasn't a decent player even then, but perhaps the fee was a bit too high for someone still so seemingly unproven. He was a Serie A flop coming off a good 18 months in La Liga and, well, nothing else. Performing for Espanyol is nice, but for seventeen million euros? Too much.
With eighteen months of the Johnny Depp dress-alike in Rome now passed, we can cast an eye to assess his tenure in the capital: Flop? Or success?
The problem comes in that he's been both. The man can score goals, spectacularly so on occasion, and there's little doubt about that, if perhaps he should be scoring more than he already does. The issue is it has come at a very steep price; one which goes beyond transfer fees. He is, in effect, Roma's Mario Balotelli: an excellent footballer with all the decision-making skills of Antonio Cassano. His abilities on the pitch need be assessed with his behaviors both on and off it.
Osvaldo's numbers are solid. Eleven goals apiece in each of the last two seasons, 26 matches last year and 23 this year. Though he's not quite some nouveau Samuel Eto'o, those are very solid numbers for a striker; one goal every 176 minutes - so roughly every two matches. Score them in the right matches and that can win awards. Over the course of a season, given a modest rate of injuries and suspensions, that's roughly one million euros for every goal per year. In Serie A, that's a fair price because he's of the quality where it's a fairly guaranteed annual return. Put him in the box and he will score 15-20 goals per 38 matches per season, so yes, he's been a success in that respect. But he hasn't played 38 matches a season, or even 34. He is on pace to play 28 this year after having played 26 last year. That's 22 matches missed. Why? Some injuries, but three red cards, eight yellows. And he's a striker. Those suspensions are a rather substantial deal.
Now we begin to add in the little things. He hit Erik Lamela, which incurred a slap on the wrist, for stating the obvious: Pablo ain't Diego. Though it could've been a smokescreen for Erik's callous overuse of hair gel, which makes everything okay. He does seem to be liked by his teammates, no small matter, but the derby fiasco might be the final nail in the hipster coffin. Sure, he had a "right "to travel to London for the derby, but he's an imbecile for doing so - there's no other word to use. Yes, I do think that fans and pundits alike sometimes overstate the importance of sport to some of those who are playing it - just because it's your dream job doesn't mean it's theirs and it is, for so many, just that: something they're very good at which offers them a salary - but this is about those around him, those with whom he works nearly every single day. You're there because you're a part of something, because it's the right thing to do, because twice a year the occasion looms larger than your love for your job, not because it's mandatory. This isn't about Pablo, or Aurelio or anyone cutting checks upstairs; it's about one match played twice a year which stands above the rest. Unless there's a death in the family, you block off those dates in the summer for the men with whom you work. His absence is inexcusable.
But there are problems which are also tactical, highlighted by the play of Mattia Destro. Yes, Pablo can score goals, as he's very good at finding a spot in the box while certainly serving as Roma's only real aerial threat, but outside the square? Utterly useless. If he's not dumping a five yard pass, Roma is losing possession. He is, not unlike a Klaas Jan Huntelaar, fantastic inside the box, but a liability everywhere else. And his movement? Subpar. His positioning is often excellent, but traveling on the move is often ponderous and short-lived. The dynamic play of Destro serves to reflect poorly on just what Osvaldo's lacking. And Destro is by no means perfect - he is far too easily nudged into an undesirable angle by wily defenders, particularly to the left, which should come with time - but he's instantly proven to cause more havoc for the opposition, creating more chances in the process, than Pablo does; Osvaldo simply finishes more chances. This isn't to say that Destro is better than Pablo, but it means there is a viable alternative in-house, someone of youth and immense talent, ready and willing to replace Roma's enfant terrible.
There exists no shortage reasons to think that Roma simply does not need Pablo Osvaldo. And now today, this. His words, reportedly:
"I tifosi ce l'hanno con me. Qui non mi amano".
The fans have had it, he is no longer loved. Two things pop to mind, both equally telling.
If you told me that's a direct quote from Mirko Vucinic in the summer of 2011, I'd believe you. In fact it might be, simply ripped from the archives of an inconsequential Italian broadsheet. This leads one to believe Pablo might force his way out in the summer regardless of Roma's desire. The other recollection is a quote from Osvaldo when he was in Spain:
He's got plenty of attitude on the pitch but he also needs an arm round the shoulder. 'I play better when I'm happy,' he has said. 'In Italy I was not happy.
'There, unless you score 15 goals in three games you get dropped. Here I don't feel the pressure and I have fun. I need to feel important at a club.'
Beyond what is clearly a reliving of his Italian experiences (he was benched for octogenarian Simone Perrotta, after all), what we also forget is this is a man who forced his move to Rome by not showing up to Espanyol's training camp. He effectively quit on that club because he wanted to move on, shirking his responsibilities despite being under contract, and in the end, he got his way. Is it coincidence that the one club linked to him since those Espanyol days, Tottenham, is also in London? Who knows. But it certainly appears as though he is ever on the precipice of quitting on Roma as well, perhaps because he wants - no: needs - to be loved. The end is not nigh; it's here.
There's a lesson to be learned. They say that if he or she cheats on someone to be with you, then they're going to cheat on you too, and more often than not, it's not out of malice, but based on the more unquenchable fear and need. In the end, many were right: though he has performed, his cost is simply too high. What we didn't realize is it's not in euros.
Welcome to Pablo Osvaldo's world.