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Totti Today #78: A Crisp Connection

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Manolas and Rüdiger. To be fair, it’s a far better Greek-German combination than Merkel and Tsipras or sausages dipped in feta cheese. The two CB’s featured heavily in Roma’s season so far, but can we dream/expect more of them?

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Mexes was sexy. Juan was smooth. Burdisso was consistent. Chivu had class. Marcos was an immense talent. Benatia-Castan was a match made in heaven. And now, Manolas-Rüdiger are making a name for themselves in the history books of AS Roma. It’s Roma’s umpteenth central duo in the new millenium. But can it reach the same heights as the aforementioned players, if not even higher? After all, one is 24, the other is merely 22. They’re still puppies compared Barzagli, Chiellini, Miranda, Albiol, Maggio, Rodriguez and other defenders from fellow big clubs. Jeesh, did I just call Roma a big club? Oh, silly me….

Before the season started, the starting CB’s in most people’s eyes were probably Manolas and Castan. Kostas because he was everpresent in the ‘14-’15 campaign, Castan because he deserved to make his comeback on the big stage after such a horrible surgery. He is left-footed and who can forget his amazing season in ‘13-‘14 alongside Benatia. A calm and physical presence at the back, a leader. Rudi Garcia had the exact same plan in mind, playing both of them against Verona, the first game of this season. It ended 1-1 and already there were the first signs of doubt. A bit too soon perhaps, but if there’s one department in which there is no room for doubts, it’s your defence. It’s called the backbone of a team for something.

Would Castan really ever refind his form from 2 seasons ago? Is it a mental thing? Isn’t he too afraid on a football field? Enter Antonio Rüdiger. A young and promising CB that left Stuttgart and went to Rome. An unusual transfer in my eyes, the days Stuttgart was a force in the German league are long gone (2007 champions, although I should shut up about Roma’s last title), they were even in relegation zone for most of the time since 2012. Getting a young and unproven defender from that particular team really made me frown my eyebrows, to say the least. I should’ve known better…

Ever since Tonio (let’s call him Tonio for now, typing that umlaut all of the time is killing me) walked into the first team, you feel there’s something special about him. He’s bursting with talent, oozes confidence and, like Manolas, has quite the physique for his age: 190cm, 85 kilograms. Now I think of it, Manolas-Toni combines a lot of the qualities of the earlier mentioned CB’s in Roma’s recent history. Manolas has the heart/hot head of Mexes but also the speed and strenght of a Benatia. Tonio has the talent of Marcos, the smoothness of Juan and also the brains of a (pre-injury) Castan.

Now, I don’t want to start a war in Church here, obviously Tonio is nowhere near the level of a Marcos or Benatia right now. But he COULD be. And maybe sooner than you think. There’s a reason why he has played so many top flight games at his age, even in the national team of Germany. Roma did a damn good deal if you’d ask me. And to think both he and Kostas are only getting started, they have at least 10 more years to give to Roma or any other club.

Yet, when I take of those giallo e rosso glasses, I still see some flaws. The usual brainfarts here and there (it’s in Roma’s DNA, that will never change) and the build-up from defence to midfield for example. But I’m nitpicking here. Which other Serie A team can brag with such a young yet talented CB duo? They’ll only get better after each game, and so will the chemistry between the Greek and the German. Good times are ahead of us… If Roma can keep them though.

I hope and pray both stay in Rome for as long as possible. Recently we had to say goodbye to too many good defenders: Marcos, Benatia, Romagnoli, Jedvaj … Superstars or future superstars, Roma can’t seem to keep them in the Eternal City. We desperately need a new Crockett & Tubbs. Manolas and Tonio are our new prized assets in defence, there’s always time to erase the past and finally start building a wall that is here to stay for years to come.

The first bricks are in place. Like I said, they’re only getting started.