I'm not certain ironic is the correct word, but if you take a trip back through our recent archives, particularly our winter transfer section, you'll notice a bit of handwringing over the prospective signings of Stephan El Shaarawy and Diego Perotti. Surely, Rudi Garcia had enough wingers at his disposal; Roma wouldn't be crazy enough to add two more to the mix, would they?
Yours truly couched these moves as a worthwhile gamble (El Shaarawy) and innocuous signing (Perotti) at best. While El Shaarawy grabbed the early headlines with his back to back goals, we all knew what he was capable of, it was just a matter of finding a new home and settling in, but Perotti's hot start has been far more surprising, particularly in terms of how quickly he's settled into a crucial role in Luciano Spalletti's attack, leading some to proclaim this as the signing of the year for Roma.
But could that possibly be true? Could a man so lightly regarded possibly be the transformative figure in Roma's turnaround?
I originally planned on doing a detailed tactical analysis of Perotti's positioning and utilization through his first handful of matches under Spalletti, but, well, Squawka beat me to the punch, and at the risk of reinventing the wheel, here are the salient points:
Against Sassuolo, the theoretical benefits of the false nine were put perfectly into practise by Roma and Perotti. Where previously the team's attacking play had been static, there was now plenty of movement off the ball. Perotti drifted horizontally and vertically, searching for pockets of space and dragging his marker with him to free up room for his teammates. He worked particularly well with El Shaarawy, roaming to the left to link up with his fellow new arrival and setting up the Italian's goal in injury time. Against Sampdoria El Shaarawy repaid the favour, assisting Perotti for his volleyed strike.
In both games, Perotti's natural inclination to wander, along with his technical brilliance and intelligence, served Roma's system well. The performances were a relief for Spalletti, who now has the possibility of playing without a striker, an option that looks all the more viable given the poor form of his only experienced centre-forward, Edin Dzeko.
While Dzeko's goal, and really his overall performance yesterday, brought some much needed relief to the squad, the broader point from that piece remains: Perotti brings a previously unseen level of versatility to Roma's attack--unseen in the sense that it's been missing during Totti's extended absence from the pitch, and damn near rendered moot under Garcia for the past year or so.
Perotti's ability to play out wide on the left, when combined with forward runs from Lucas Digne or Ervin Zukanovic, allows Roma to double up the pressure on opposing fullbacks, while his composure on the ball and dribbling ability allows him to create from deep and operate in tight spaces. Simply put, he's a shapeshifter, enabling Spalletti to change tactics and approaches on the fly, simultaneously reacting to the opponent's defensive shape while also taking the initiative to shift the focus of attack
Over the past few summers we've spoken at length about how Roma could possibly cross the bridge to their post-Totti existence. Much of that discussion revolved around finding a suitable replacement for Totti, not in class, of course, but rather in function. If Roma could replace even 50% of Totti's production and intelligence, they might stand a chance at surviving. They needed a man to keep things moving, capable of creating and maintaining attacks deep, out wide and in the hole; a strong presence on the ball who can sustain and switch an attack at will.
While this pseudo-Totti was initially Erik Lamela and later Adem Ljajic, Rudi Garcia flipped the script and presented a new paradigm; a post-Totti Roma without a Totti-type player, replacing the free roaming central playmaker with a fast and loose 4-3-3 that focused on speed and exploiting wide spaces. Whether it was the players he was given or his own managerial shortcomings, this model soon went bust. Without a central fulcrum, Garcia's offense became too wing oriented, too static and too predictable--once the wide players were effectively removed from the equation (or more appropriately, ran themselves out of the equation), there was no backup plan. Roma was stuck, plain and simple.
They needed balance, they needed fresh blood, they needed a solution.
But could it really be all that simple? Could a player on the wrong side of 25, one who flamed out at Sevilla and put up hit or miss numbers with Genoa, possibly be the cure to all of Roma's ails?
While I stand by my initial claim about Perotti's age relative to his remaining career progression--he's 27 and unless he's an extremely late bloomer, we may be seeing peak Perotti right now--the real genius of this move rests in the marriage between Spalletti and Perotti. They are, in so many ways, the perfect match, with the player being ideally suited to the tactician and vice versa.
It may be too early to proclaim this signing a coup, but I shudder to think how Perotti's talents would have been wasted under Rudi Garcia. In Perotti, Spalletti has his magic eraser--he player who can fix any mess. While Perotti has found the ideal tutor to maximize the remaining years of his career.
And all for the low, low cost of €10 million. Sometimes we just have to trust Walter Sabatini, right?