Between Juan (RRRuan) Jesus, Thomas Vermaelen and Pablo Zabaleta, Roma is following Luciano Spalletti’s directive of finding a defender, they’re just doing it in the cheapest and most convenient way possible. Given the timing of Antonio Rüdiger’s injury and their financial restraints, we can cut them a bit of slack, but the latest name on their Dollar Tree shopping list—Real Madrid’s Jose Ignacio Fernández Iglesias, aka Nacho or JIFI—represents a new shift in their bargain shopping.
Where Vermaelen and Zabaleta can be found on the recovering from injury aisle, and Jesus is the end cap on the underachiever aisle, Nacho represents a completely different entity; the career backup looking for a new opportunity.
Nacho, who is a Real lifer, has only eclipsed ten league starts once in his Real career, serving as a reserve for everyone from Marcelo to Sergio Ramos. In fairness to him, you have to be a hell of a player to crack that lineup, so there’s no real shame in being a Real reserve.
Besides, it isn’t all bad news with JIFI. Nacho is a remarkably versatile defender, capable of playing anywhere on the backline. Furthermore, and more importantly for Spalletti, he’s adept with the ball at his feet—since the 2013-2014 season, Nacho’s passing percentage (in all comps) has never dipped below 89%, and while this might dip in a full-time role, he at least profiles as a defender capable of building play from the back.
Quite honestly, if we’re looking for a buy low, breakout candidate, Nacho seems a prime suspect. This past season, the first in which he eclipsed 1,000 league minutes, Nacho completed nearly 90% of his passes while averaging more than two interceptions and clearances per match. In fact, his 6.91 defensive actions per 90 minutes was good for fourth on the squad last year. Maintaining that level of accuracy and activity without the benefit of consistent playing time speaks to his focus and ability to rise to the occasion.
Does this make him a world beater? Of course not, but he may...may...just be a breakout candidate; the kind of guy who might benefit from a change of scenery and the chance at a larger role. Madrid are reportedly amenable to a loan with an option to buy, which would certainly benefit Roma and give Nacho ample motivation to prove his worth.