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A Review of Roma's 2013-14 Midfield

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A Tale Without Depth

Paolo Bruno

2013/14 was an overwhelming success. Not only were there limited effigies of American executives burning in the stands, Roma got their on-field swagger back. Gone were the confused lateral passes, so too the hopelessly exposed defensive line.

This year flickered the nostalgia for the days where Roma passed and ran their way with a rhythm that not only overwhelmed scrambling defences both Italian and European, but brought a smile to the face of the true believers. No matter where they stood on the table, our team was the one to watch and viewers both neutral and tifosi were rewarded with terrific team interplay blended with flashes of sheer individual brilliance.

Ladies and gentleman, Roma is back. And they’re going places (European ones!).

Whilst it goes without saying, Roma’s defence was nothing short of superb this year, it was the renaissance of the midfield that splashed Rudi Garcia’s mark on 13/14. Cast your minds back to the Zeman experiment and the Andreazzoli catastrophe.

The link between attack and defence was shakily unconvincing at best and utterly hair wrenching at worst. Pjanic could barely get a game, that greek kid with the first name that starts with P was kicking balls into the stands while De Rossi sulked on the bench and the bald Captain America ran up and down the pitch passing the ball to the opposition at the critical moment of most attacks. Florenzi was the only shining light in a bleak, bleak landscape.

This was a team sans happiness. When the starting midfield was changing every other week and teams like Cagliari were carving them up at the Olimpico, change was needed.

Fortunately the American owners weren’t too shy about approaching the free market to address the situation. And with the backroom of Rudi Garcia and Walter Sabatini dictating the ebb and flow of the cheque book (yeah, Americans still use cheques, can you believe that shit!) this was the perfect opportunity for Roma to hitch a ride on the freedom bus of capitalism.

What do those colourful metaphors actually mean?

Pjanic’s Roman future was secured, Rudi Garcia took firm control of a problem area and Sabatini brought in the Dutch goliath, Kevin Strootman to set this team up for success. The rest, as they say, is mere detail.

Daniele De Rossi

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Daniele De Rossi. Il Capitano Futuro. A dynamo for the Italian national team, a troubled shadow in giallo e rossi. This season, the rebirth of Roma’s midfield coincided 100% with the renewal of a hungrier and firing DDR. I’m not sure what Rudi told him over the summer, but whatever it was bottle that shit and sell it to Google, because damn it worked.

Patrolling in front of the strengthened back four, DDR turned the clock back to his LE era domination. Quite simply, he was Roma’s Marvel Superhero (I wanted to say Batman, but that goalkeeper guy sort of owns that). Whenever trouble lurked, particularly following a turnover higher up the field, DDR was there with his crunching challenges often winning the ball back and throwing the opposition back on their heels with a 89.5% pass completion average for the season.

Daniele De Rossi32 AppearancesOne goal, one assist

De Rossi also brought the flair back to his game, regularly performing sombrero’s over the top of attacking mids in the heat of battle. He was also a solid threat on goal. I lost count of the amount of times he had headers cleared off the line from corners or shots from distance (I’m not Bren so count them yourself). And of course, who could forget the first game of the season when he blasted that screamer into the net against Livorno for the first goal for Rudi’s Roma. The one where Sabatini threw his head into his hands, cuing fits of panic amongst the skittish tifosi that this was surely a sign of an imminent departure of our bearded warrior. Naaaaaaahhhhhhttttt!

And now of course, the annual tsk tsk tsking of the DDR temper. This year we saw him lose it away to Juventus after that swine, Chiellini made a run down the wing, beating him for pace. What’s a man to do? Well if you are DDR you try and break that guy’s leg. Red card, suspension and widespread condemnation ensued.

Overall, DDR was a big factor in Roma’s points record season. He repaid the faith of the backroom staff and was a powerful figure in protecting the back four and ensuring Roma remained one of the toughest Serie A sides to score against. Give or take the occasional brain explosion.

Grade: 8/10

Miralem Pjanic

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After an impressive first year at Roma under Enrique, 2013/14 was a breakout season for Miralem Pjanic. The diminutive Bosnian was arguably Roma’s most important player (excluding Totti and maybe Benatia), carrying the creative burden of the Lupi midfield.

Like De Rossi, it was far from certain whether Pjanic would start the season in Roma colours after a frustrating year under Zeman and AA. That was until Rudi came along and started humming those sweet, sweet Andalucían tunes into his ear.

Miralem Pjanic35 AppearancesSix goals, six assists

As a matter of fact, Miralem loved those tunes so damn much he started dancing. Flamenco-ing his way to six goals including three absolute top shelf screamers, Miralem drew the attention of all the European powerhouses.

Pjanic was the perfect first violin alongside De Rossi’s crash cymbals and Strootman’s timpani. Under the composition of Rudi, you had Flight of the Valkyries football.

This is normally the part in the story where we lament the bidding war that is about to take place but Mira took care of that as well, signing a new contract that will take him to 2018. This kid’s ceiling is high, watch him light a fire in the middle of the Bosnia Herzegovina side that will turn heads in the next few weeks in Brazil.

Grade: 9/10

Kevin Strootman

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Kevin ‘the jaw’ Strootman. There is a good reason a lot of people in the Roma camp started getting nervous when Luis Van Gaal was appointed Manchester United coach. The acquisition of the Dutch midfielder from Ajax Amsterdam was an absolute masterstroke, especially as he was seemingly plucked from the Red Devil’s clutches.

In the days of grossly overvalued players, thanks to the ludicrously spend happy Premier League (QPR anyone?) and the new generation of Oil Baron play things, Strootman was worth every last denaro. Already commanding a starting midfield spot for Holland, Strootman appeared the most sensible of Walter’s summer splurges.

Kevin Strootman25 Appearancesfive goals, six assists

Kevin possessed a tough, no compromise attitude that complemented perfectly his genuine poise on the ball and a footballing brain second to none. His presence gave Roma a genuine box-to-box midfielder that could assist with DDR’s defensive duties but also bomb forward on runs or arrive late into the area in time to blast a cut back into the net.

Strootman took next to no time to adapt into his Italian surroundings and soon became one of the dominant hard men on the Italian peninsular. His industry was the perfect foil for Pjanic’s creativity and was a key component in Rudi’s ability to stiffen the resolve of the team as a whole.

Grunt and guts on its own is simply not enough, (Scottish Premier League, MSL and A-League has it in spades). But when those qualities are found in a world-class ball winner your midfield and team as a whole has that firmer edge to it. Strootman was a vital cog in ensuring Roma did not ‘happen’ for most of the season.

Add to this, 5 goals and 6 assists from his 25 appearances and it becomes clearer that despite that determined jaw line and terminator-esque death stare, Strootman was hardly just a blunt instrument. For me, his season highlight was encapsulated during the breathtaking third goal away to Inter Milan. I won’t insult you by describing the frame-by-frame breakdown, but the length of the field run and inch perfect assist to Florenzi was a breathtaking example of what Kevin adds to the team.

His winning personality made him as popular with the Olimpico crowd as he was in the dressing room. And it was nothing short of a gosh darn tragedy to see him go down clutching his knee, in the match away to Napoli. Players like Kevin Strootman deserve world cup matches and the tournament will be poorer for his absence.

The focus this summer now turns to keeping the odious Red Devil’s grubby mitts off our Dutch messiah. Whatever happens, Roma’s participation in next season’s Champions League can largely be attributed to big Kev, and for that we are eternally thankful. Get well soon mate, we want to see that jaw on the big stage.

Grade: 9/10

Radja Nainggolan

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Radja the Ninja Nainggolan had been linked to Roma for some time. The Belgium / Indonesian midfielder started the season with that strange Cagliari side over in Sardinia who somehow manage to remain in Serie A year in, year out. During the January window, Walter decided the team needed more tattoos and bizarre haircuts on the field and that Radja was the man who best filled that criteria.

From his first game for the club, Nainggolan proved himself an excellent addition to the squad and an obvious upgrade on Michael Bradley. Similar in characteristics to Strootman, Radja was adept at winning the ball and making dangerous forward runs.

Radja Nainggolan17 Appearancestwo goals, three assists

The unfortunate injury to Big Kev made this transfer a godsend as Roma was able to field a respectable midfield for the remainder of the season.

Within two games the scalp molested Ninja became one of my favourites in the team. Put simply, the man is a winner. And the fact those stupid, stupid, stupid Belgium team managers, coaches or whatever chose not to include him in their squad for the World Cup makes me so mad the only way I can get over it is by knowing whatever pain I feel, Jonas is feeling it times a thousand.

Terrific purchase, terrific attitude on the field and terrific set of talents that will be well utilised in the upcoming Serie A tilt and Champions League run.

Grade: 7/10

Rodrigo Taddei

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This is not an obituary. So why do I feel like crying? Rodrigo Taddei has been an integral part of the Roma fabric for just under a decade. The sexiest face in the known world has appeared in pretty much every position on the field over the years apart from goalkeeper, and referee.

Rodrigo Taddei19 Appearancestwo goals, one assist

In the beginning of the season it didn’t look like the Hot Rod would be getting much of a look in as the midfield 3 hummed along nicely. Late in matches he was subbed on to provide a calming effect and to protect the lead whilst displaying a dazzling set of hamstrings to the female fans in attendance.

And then of course, the Kevin incident happened and subsequently a few players felt compelled to get suspended at different times during the back half of the stagione.

He mightn’t have the zip of old, nor the swashbuckling runs down the flanks, but Rodrigo manfully battled in the midfield, always putting in a solid shift for Rudi when called upon. These performances culminated in his headed goal against Parma and the inspiring celebration with the Curva Sud that followed.

Is it enough to sit back and be sentimental about Taddei’s services to our beloved club? Perhaps its time to draw a line through that name and bring in the next bolt from the blue who will earn our love and respect. Either way, I for one am glad Rodrigo got some quality playing time this year (not at right bloody back!) and an opportunity to salute the fans and his teammates before sailing off on his hookers and blow yacht. Tiamo, sexy face!

Grade: 6/10

The Dearly Departed

Michael Bradley

Michael ‘Lex Luther’ (or that %^%&!!) Bradley. This man sure did fill up some column space on CDT and greedily dominated the comments section during his brief stay at Roma.

The church seems divided on this guy, he can either do no wrong or do no right. The reality of course, lies in the grey.

Michael Bradley is absolutely below par of the standard required to start on the field for a champions league club. But it isn’t really fair putting him into the categories of Julio Baptista (I’ll never forgive you for that miss against Arsenal), Adriano or that Argentine dude LE got that used to play for Madrid.

This season Bradley scored a very, very important goal. You all know the one. Away to Udinese, it was a fitting contribution to a team he was never quite able to make his own. Then again, he was rather culpable for the Sassuolo equaliser at the Olimpico.

His departure however, was both fortunate and necessary. The cash from his sale to Toronto helped wrangle Naingollan, a man that even the most ardent USA chanting, star spangled of Romanistasses would agree was a fine acquisition.

So long Bradley, you made this little hole in the internet interesting and I wish (along with most our readership, I’m guesing) you great success and limited embarrassment in Brazil against the Germans and Portuguese.

Grade: 5/10

Marquinho

Some Brazilian guy without an S at the end of his last name, used to play for Roma. This guy was kind of a dick. He never really set the world alight at Roma. He runs a lot and then loses the ball, a bit like Gervinho, but slower and without any goals or assists. He was loaned out to Hellas Verona in January.

Grade: 3/10

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, last season’s midfield. The talent of our top 4 provide an excellent summary as to why the team performed so well, while the players in depth were not quite of the calibre required to win the scudetto.

On a personal note, this concludes my first year writing for CDT. As I’ve lived in three different continents during this time it hasn’t always been easy to find the time and headspace to put something legible down on paper. I’m grateful for the feedback and good humour everyone brings to this place.

Next year is going to be a serious championship tilt. It is a very exciting time to be a Roma fan no matter what corner of the world you lurk. Enjoy the World Cup and silly season and Forza Roma!

Cheers.