In talking about the Francesco Totti-Luciano Spalletti feud, we've spent an inordinate amount of time attempting to predict Roma's future based on past performances and relationships. We can't calmly or rationally discuss a future without Totti, or imagine that a relationship steeped in so much success could sour so quickly, that logic and objectivity tends to be devoured by emotion and nostalgia.
Well, today we're going to flip the script completely and focus on two kids who've barely made a dent in Roma lore and who are, quite frankly, not fit to carry Totti's jock. However, just as Roma fans are haunted and inexorably tied to club's past, we tend to place an inordinate amount of faith in the unknown, in the future, assuming that Roma will always be okay simply because she has always been okay. The bitter irony in all of that is that the very men embroiled in this feud were instrumental in keeping Roma afloat over the past decade, though Totti obviously factors larger into that equation, but that's just another delightful wrinkle in our collective psychosis, isn't it?
The problem now, as we're starting to see, is that the club must plan for a future without Totti, a fact Spalletti seems willing to face head on. No longer can the club hope, pray and assume that Totti and Daniele De Rossi will bail them out; they can still be viable parts of the machine, but they are no longer the driving force. Roma simply must start envisioning, planning for and living in a world without their two pillars.
So, what do we do? Where does Roma turn? How can they keep the ship afloat without their omnipresent oarsmen?
While they may never represent the same standard of excellence as Totti and De Rossi, Roma fans will catch a glimpse of their future when the club takes on Empoli on Saturday. Led in part by impressive performances from Roma loanees Leandro Paredes and Lukasz Skorupski, Empoli has managed to remain firmly in the middle of the Serie A table, an impressive feat for a club short on home-grown talent and low on funds.
We chronicled Paredes' rise early this month, which has now drawn the eyes of Liverpool and Manchester City, among others. While Paredes' counting statistics aren't eye popping, he's shown an almost innate understanding of how to run an attack from deep in the midfield. Look no further than his stellar performance against Frosinone two weeks ago, during which he completed 93% of his passes, pumped in 13 crosses and even took five shots on goal. It was a window into what the 21-year-old Argentine could become; a creative and steadying force in Roma's midfield.
If all goes according to plan, Paredes can either supplant or augment Miralem Pjanic in the near future; their skill sets are so similar, you can interchange them match-to-match or even minute-to-minute. Paredes won't be the club's poster boy, nor the name that puts asses in the seats, but he represents, in form, function and development, Roma's best plan of action in a post-Totti world.
Paredes isn't alone in Empoli of course, Roma sent their brick shithouse of a keeper, 24-year-old Lukasz Skorupski, for some further seasoning in Florence this season, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. Goalkeepers are hard to objectively analyze for a host of reasons, doubly so for one's as young as Skorupski, but the mere fact that he's played each and every minute for Empoli this season is a victory in and of itself.
However, Skorupski's success this season resonates beyond simple minutes played. By most measures, he's been a top ten keeper this season, falling among league leaders in claims, punches, saves and distribution. His understanding of the position, his anticipation and his simple execution appear to be finally catching up with his considerable physical tools.
So while we continue to fret over Francesco's future, let's not forget how stocked Roma's cupboard remains. Paredes and Skorupski will never be the flashiest players, but they occupy such critical positions in the spine of a club, that their contributions will go a long way to sustaining success in the post-Totti world. But more than that, and more to the point, their development represents Roma's best way forward once their legends start calling it a day.
In the absence of another free spending summer, Walter Sabatini or his presumed successor, must fill out the fringes of the squad with young, cost effective talent, and while that approach won't always work, the patience they've shown towards Paredes' and Skorupski's development bodes well for the future.
Let's face it, Roma struck gold with Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi. Their talent was only oustripped by their loyalty, and that's the really salient point going forward. We may never see that scenario again, two otherworldly talents eschewing fame and fortune to bring even a shred of glory to their hometown club.
Roma is in the midst of a phase transition, gone soon will be the days when they were propped up by two incredibly loyal superstars, and the club has never nor will never pay top dollar for an in their prime superstar. Instead, the club must recruit and develop a cadre of young, cost effective talent and simply hope they show a fraction of Totti and De Rossi's talent and fealty.
Their handling of Paredes and Skorupski is a solid first step, let's just hope they don't torch us on Saturday.