Despite Radja Nainggolan's reported €45 million price tag, one can make a pretty easy argument that Miralem Pjanic is Roma's most important and potentially lucrative asset. While he has intermittently gone missing this season, there is no doubt, Pjanic is as good or better as he's ever been. With 11 goals and 11 assists in all competitions, Pjanic has already put together one of the best seasons we've seen in several years. His importance to this club cannot be overstated, nor is it misunderstood by the game's financial titans.
With everyone from Chelsea to Real Madrid hot on his tails, retaining Pjanic, or simply resisting those beckoning calls, may prove too hard for Roma. So, with that in the mind, the Gazzetta dello Sport offered up several alternatives should Roma choose to cash in on Pjanic this summer. Join us as we take a look at the pros and cons of each Pjanic replacement.
Hey, look at that the GdS led off with CdT's number one rated prospect! While we're honored, turning over the keys to a teenager with absolutely no experience in European football is a fool's errand. Forget for a moment that he'll probably be loaned asap, we simply don't know what this kid's proper role is--could be out wide, could be deeper or it could very well be as the last link in the attack; he's simply too young and too inexperienced to tell. While I hope he finds a role on the team next season, given those factors, putting him in such a prime positions sets up the player and the club for failure.
Verdict: Not yet
Giovani Lo Celso
Can't lie, never heard of this kid, but a quick Alta Vista search (have I beaten that joke into the ground yet?) tells me that he's a 19-year-old Argentine midfielder who plays for Rosario Central. Here is the requisite highlight reel:
While he's big (5'11") and looks like he has a delicate touch, take all the reasons we applied to Gerson and double them. I mean, I'll take the kid and add him to Roma's stockpile, but as an everyday starter from the word go? No thanks
Verdict: Definitely not yet
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Rabiot has been relentlessly connected with Roma over the past year, and were it not for his mommy changing his mind, he may very well have joined the club last summer. Rudi Garcia's French colored glasses notwithstanding, Rabiot would bring a lot to Roma, but, much like Gerson, in what role? At 20-years-old, he's certainly young enough to reinvent himself as a more traditional and/or playmaking midfielder, but to date he's been strictly a defensive midfielder.
So while I'd certainly welcome him to Roma, a Pjanic replacement he is not.
Verdict: Yes, but not as Pjanic replacement
Zielinski, a Udinese product currently on loan with Empoli, could join Leandro Paredes and Lukasz Skorupski in their exodus from Empoli this summer. Zielinksi is certainly a skilled and creative midfielder, but with only three goals and four assists in 28 league appearances, he offers only a fraction of Pjanic's production. However, at only 21-years-old, there's certainly room to grow (and indeed this is his best season to date), but this would be a gigantic step backwards.
Football Italia, the conduit for this story, proffered the Belgian as their own alternative. The connection is obvious--Witsel played for Luciano Spalletti at Zenit--and unlike many of the other names on this list, Witsel is already a finished product. While Witsel can play a variety of roles he is, much like Rabiot, nominally a defensive midfielder, and an expensive one at that. Witsel moved to Zenit four years ago for a whopping €40 million, so even if we factor in some depreciation, he'll probably still run us about €30 million, which would virtually erase all the benefits of selling Pjanic in the first place, right?
I wouldn't expect these sort of stories to abate any time soon. While Roma's cavalcade of executives aren't exactly the most popular men in the city at the moment, they need to come out and squash these rumors immediately. Either you're keeping Pjanic or you're selling to the highest bidder. The club simply cannot entertain these kind of stories either way. If Pjanic isn't a building block for the future than who is? And if they decide he's not, they need to move swiftly--any delay in this transfer reduces the time and the quality of his likely replacements.
I feel like we say this every summer, but this market is a make or break affair for Roma. Dilly dallying and taking half measures will only hurt Roma's chances to compete next season.