The 2014 rendition of the World Cup has been fantastic, there's no debating that, but it has also served as a distraction to more pressing matters, Roman matters. While the world delights in the heroics of Robin Van Persie, Neymar, Lionel Messi and a host of others, there is a tough talking, calculating man back in the Eternal City, patiently working the phones and jetting to every port of call in an effort to round out Roma's roster ahead of next season's European campaign.
While Roma fans the world over may be clamoring for someone flashy to lighten the scoring load, Walter Sabatini seems hell bent on cancelling the endless parade of fullbacks Roma has employed over the past decade. And, yes, we'd all love Ricardo Rodriguez, but his brilliant performance in Brazil has already pushed his price tag over €20m, and that's after only one match, if he continues on this path, it may very well move towards €30m, which is just a tad beyond Roma's reach.
Enter Domenico Criscito.
The latest in a long list of would be Roma fullbacks, Criscito, 27-years-old, is in the middle of a five year Russian sojourn, having signed with Zenit St. Petersburg in the summer of 2011. Despite being surrounded by the best talent lots and lots of money could lure to Russia, Mimmo may be longing for a return to Italian football.
While his star may have dimmed since his Genoa days, Criscito is an intriguing name nonetheless, so let's take a look at the pros and cons of bringing Domenico Criscito to Roma.
It may seem like ages ago that Criscito was the next big thing in Italian football; a tall, strong fullback as gifted on offense as he was tenacious on defense, one with the physical tools and mental acuity to play a number of positions, but his career has seen so many peaks and valleys, we tend to forget that his club career is only seven years old.
After winning the Campianto Primavera for Juventus in 2006, alongside Claudio Marchisio and Sebastian Giovinco, Criscito seemed destined for stardom when he made his debut for the Old Lady in 2007.
While the start to his Juve career was innocuous enough, one fateful September day saw his nascent career take a turn for the worse. After being torched for two goals in six minutes by none other than Francesco Totti, Criscito was soon pegged as "too soft" to be a Serie A center back. But, hey, Totti has made bigger fools out of much better players, so perhaps this label was a bit too harsh.
In any event, whether it was due to Totti's vivisection of him, or simply because he was miscast as a center back, Criscito was not long for Turin. Eventually, Criscito recovered from this early embarrassment and put in a successful spell at Genoa, making over 100 appearances and scoring five goals for Genoa between 2007 and 2011.
From there, Crisicto made the move to Russia, penning a five year deal with Zenit St. Petersburg following his €11m transfer fee. Criscito, as tends to be the case with players moving to Russia, was largely forgotten on the global stage and, let's be honest, even in St. Petersburg, as he's played little more than 4500 league minutes in over the course of three seasons.
Criscito certainly seemed poised for stardom at one point in his career, but for a variety of reasons, some tactical, some psychological and some legal, he hasn't quite reached his once preordained peak, so why should we want him at Roma?
Why it Makes Sense
Despite his trials and travails, Criscito is still only 27 and has put up some decent numbers in Russia. While Criscito only made 18 league appearances last season, he proved to be an effective and active defender, ranking in Zenit's top five in terms of blocks, tackles and interceptions per match, while ranking top 20 league wide in the latter category. Generally speaking, Criscito is known for his strength on the ball, ability to read the game and offensive touch, as he was among Russia's most creative defenders this past season, ranking top 15 in key passes per match.
At 27-years-old, Criscito is just entering his physical prime and should have several years of peak production left, and while he hasn't entirely lived up to expectations, a return to Italy, and on a team as cohesive and talented as Roma, might be the final piece to his puzzle.
Then there is the simple matter of economics. Whether it's due to the World Cup or Walter Sabatini remaining tight lipped, we simply don't know how much Roma has or are willing to spend this summer, and at a reported cost of €12m-€15m, Criscito could be substantially cheaper than the Ricardo Rodriguez's of the world.
When you're a club the stature of Roma, even in a growth phase, you have to pick and choose your spots. Where can you go wild and where must you remain frugal? Chances are we won't see Roma spend anywhere close to twenty million on a full back.
But, even at this reduced rate, is Criscito a smart buy?
Why it Doesn't Make Sense
I'm far from an expert on the Russian Premier League and, as always, defensive statistics must be taken with a grain of salt, but when narrowed to per match and per ninety minute metrics, Criscito begins to simply look like a bulkier and blonder version of Dodo.
Whether we're talking about interceptions, tackles, blocks or key passes per 90 minutes, Dodo and Criscito are separated by mere one-hundredths of a point, though Dodo holds significant advantages in clearances and take-ons. Once again, defensive statistics are subject to many external factors, but perhaps there's a reason Criscito hasn't enjoyed greater success, perhaps he's simply not special, and perhaps he's more of a big player on a small club kind of guy.
When weighing the merits of Domenico Criscito, all we really have to go on was his time in Genoa, which, though solid, can't compare to life in Roma.
In the case of Dodo v. Criscito, the verdict may ultimately rest upon choosing the least objectionable alternative. Remember, the world isn't exactly ripe with full backs, so regardless of the flank, Roma's options may be thin.
Dodo may have been a hair better (no pun intended) than Criscito this season, but he's hardly a finished or consistent product himself. Maicon's renaissance, for all we know, may be a one off affair, while Vasilis Torosidis is best used as a reserve and Federico Balzaretti? God only knows what he's got left, though we're all certainly rooting for a happy ending to his Roma career.
So, given those factors, might a €12m or €13m gamble on Criscito be worth it? Is the potential return to Italy enough to cure what has ailed Criscito thus far?