In securing the signatures of Thomas Vermaelen, Mario Rui and Bruno Peres, Walter Sabatini found the final pieces of Roma’s defensive puzzle. Although it took injuries to Rui and Antonio Rüdiger to force his hand, Sabatini has given Luciano Spalletti the ball playing central defender and dynamic fullbacks he so desperately craved.
Of course, all of those wonderful additions come at a cost; the uncertain future of Alessandro Florenzi. No one is doubting his place in the squad—he’s a Roman through and through—but rather how, when and where he’ll see minutes this season.
Back in the day, this wasn’t an issue. Florenzi’s athleticism, intelligence and ability off the ball made him an ideal wide forward; the perfect player to get on the end of many a through ball from Miralem Pjanic and Francesco Totti. However, due Roma’s previous inability to acquire a fullback, Florenzi was pressed into intermittent duty as the club’s right back, occupying the position full time starting in the 2014-2015 season.
And while it wasn’t always a smooth transition, Florenzi availed himself well enough as a full back, particularly when you consider he was still very much a shape shifter, making spot appearances as a left midfielder, right midfielder, central midfielder and forward, so it’s not as if he didn’t have other responsibilities on the pitch.
We harped on it many times over the past two-and-a-half years, but constantly toying with Florenzi’s position—as versatile as he was and is—was detrimental to his overall development. Jack of all trades master of none is a wonderful moniker to have, but it has a tendency to stunt a player’s overall progression.
However, now that Bruno Peres is in tow, and in the ever-increasing positionless modern game, that lack of mastery (so to speak) may be Florenzi’s saving grace. In the short run (depending on the formation), Ale may very make his home at left back—or, as we’ve seen so far, he’ll remain at right back with Peres moving to the left—but what happens once Mario Rui returns to action?
Given his skillset, it’s conceivable that Florenzi could still make 15-20 starts, while spelling everyone from Peres and Rui, to Kevin Strootman, Mohamed Salah and Stephan El Shaarawy.
While slapping adjectives on Florenzi has always been difficult, even before his unplanned shift to fullback, whether it was outrageous bicycle kicks, chipping keepers from midfield or simple tap ins, Ale has always produced. To wit: Since becoming a full time player in 2012, Florenzi has amassed over 200 appearances at several different positions and has provided 22 goals and 23 assists along the way; those aren’t contributions we should take lightly.
At only 25-years-old, Florenzi’s best days are still ahead of him, and while for a brief moment in time it seemed as though he was settling into life as a full back, Florenzi must revert back to his chameleonic ways. The challenge for Spalletti is figuring out a way to insert him into the rotation on a consistent basis because, although he’s slight of frame, there is no player that looms larger in Roma’s biggest matches than Florenzi.
Every club needs players as selfless as Florenzi, so you can doubt him and you can deride him, but you simply cannot do without him.