On a crisp summer day in July, 2013, a 23 year old Dutchman with great talent was signed by AS Roma, thanks to one Walter Sabatini. He was seen as a new heir to take the lead for the national team comparable to the Buffalo Bills (often in the final but never taking the championship home). So much so that he was given the captain's armband while not even being old enough to rent a car in the United States.
A reasonable Romanista may have been a bit weary. After all, our experience with Dutch phenoms led us to the eternal bust known as Maarten Stekelenburg (sorry for the bitter memories this name evokes). Alas, our blind faith to the colors left at least a glimmer of hope, but that blind faith would be repaid greatly once he stepped on the pitch.
Fluid, menacing, elegant and powerful, Strootman immediately left an impact on the midfield. He allowed Miralem Pjanic to have more space to create, as a Piccolo Principe/ Giotto should, while Daniele De Rossi was able to return to the peak form that brought about comparisons to Steven Gerrard, one that we had begun to fear would no longer return. And Kevin's left-foot had a potency that brought back glimpses of the best John Arne Riise or Adriano pre-rock bottom. He became an integral player for Rudi. His nickname, Er Lavatrice (the washing machine), was spot on, as he cleaned up like few midfielders in Europe could.
However, that all changed on a dark March 9th evening against Napoli in the Derby del Mezzogiorno. It looked bad from the moment it happened, and unfortunately it was. The dreaded ACL injury that has put so many careers across the sporting world in peril struck our very own washing machine. It is not a coincidence that from that day on, Roma's ability to challenge Juventus for the Scudetto deteriorated. It also meant that Kevin would have to miss the World Cup, which is always a tragic tale for a player of his caliber.
Kevin's warrior spirit did not allow him to give up, though. He rehabbed and fought through all the trials and tribulations such an impactful injury has on a player. Eight months later, he was back on the pitch. Already having started the season on a high-note, Romanisti everywhere thought he was the missing piece. With Strootman, Radja Nainggolan, DDR, Miralem Pjanic and Seydou Keita, the midfield seemed ready to challenge virtually any team on the continent. Sadly, this was not to be. A mere handful of games later, an injury to the same ACL led to yet another surgery.
We know how multiple ACL surgeries can change the career of a player. One need only look at the likes of the original Ronaldo, Fernando Torres, and even Robert Griffin III to see that their post-injury selves were a mere shadow of the original. With all these examples, what really destroyed them was the lack of speed they seemed to no longer have. Ronaldo maintained relevancy in the footballing world, though nowhere near at the great heights he had for Barcelona and F.C. Internazionale, while Torres and RG III have never been quite the same.
Kevin's case would be different; he does not rely on speed. Often with injuries like these though, the psychological impact is harder to overcome. One need only look back to Alessandro Nesta, who took over a year to get full form after his knee injuries in 1998. I say, if a sheep-shagger like Nesta can move past it, so can Kevin.
Kevin's return has been a long-one to say the least. We expected him to be back at a similar time-frame to Castan, 8-12 months. His return was arguably the most important new acquisition for the Giallorossi. Fabio Caressa said it best, with Strootman our midfield is one of the best in Europe. I have to agree. But that day has been delayed over and over again. Now we hope for a mid-October return.
The tale of Kevin Strootman is a tragic one. A good-guy off the pitch, a phenom on it; a tifoso of any color, flag or creed can only hope that he may return to wreak havoc, as was his plan. Forza Kevin, siamo con te! I am willing to wait for him, especially thanks to Naingo's addition in the time he's been away. But to Kevin I leave a message from the great Sam Cooke himself: "nothing, nothing, nothing can ever change this love I have for you."