Whether it’s Ricky Massara or Walter Sabatini before him, Roma’s penchant for scouring the globe to find young talent is pretty well known in the football world. Now, there are a multitude of reasons Roma invest so heavily in youth, but when they connect on one of these prospects, they knock it out of the park. The fees paid to secure the services of Erik Lamela and Marquinhos, among others, looked downright quaint when they were flipped for a tidy profit several years later.
When you tow this line, relying so heavily on youth to outfit the fringes of your squad, the rousing success of the Lamelas and Marquinhos of the world is often counterbalanced by sunken costs like Juan Iturbe and Salih Uçan, among others, but at which point do you call a transfer, or the player in totality, a bust? One season? Two season? After a loan?
While there is no correct answer to this question, it didn’t stop the folks at the Gazzetta dello Sport from naming Gerson among the league’s top five worst purchases/most overpaid this summer (the exact title was lost in translation somewhat). To paraphrase GdS, Gerson, all of 19-years-old, and, by their accounts, admittedly underutilized has been a horrific flop for Roma thus far, garnering only 401 minutes in all competitions, which, when viewed in light of his €16.6 million transfer fee, amounts to some €41,000 per minute of action.
In each of the past two seasons, Gerson has fallen in the top two of our U-23 prospect countdown, so we’re obviously high on him, but the GdS article got me to thinking, is he already a bust or is there more to this?
With that in mind, let’s take a look at both vantage points.
Why They’re Correct, He’s a Bust
Aaliyah may have once told us that Age Ain’t Nothin But a Number, and yes Gerson is only 19, but there is another number here that does matter: 16.6, as in million, as in the amount it cost to appease his dad/fend off Barcelona. While that isn’t a ton in the grand scheme of things, it is quite a lot by Roman standards, particularly for a player so young, and for that kind of dough, you’d expect more production.
Gerson’s reticence and lack of confidence on the pitch are the sole reason for his struggles. Too often he looks lost and uncertain where to play the ball or even where to receive it. And while these may be products of his youth, we can only go to that well so many times before it runs dry; there are plenty of 19 and 20-year-old kids making names for themselves in other countries. If you don’t have it, you don’t have it, and no amount of seasoning will change that.
So perhaps the GdS is right, perhaps Gerson can’t cut the mustard and is truly among the five worst signings this summer, joining Nikola Maksimovic, Gabigol, Marko Pjaca and Marko Roj on the list of ignominy.
But is he really?
Why They’re Wrong, He’s Worth It
I’ll contradict myself here, but remember I’m merely playing Devil’s advocate to both sides, Gerson IS ONLY 19!
Furthermore, with Kevin Strootman, Daniele De Rossi and Radja Nainggolan ahead of him—each starting midfielders for their respective national teams when fit—what chance did he stand of making a mark this season, let alone in the first six months? It would take a Herculean effort from the skinny Brazilian to supplant any of those three, not to mention Leandro Paredes, on the pecking order, who is nearly as young but infinitely more experienced in Serie A.
Expecting anything other than a slow burn and a chance to shine in the non-league competitions was probably unfair, and yes, he hasn’t looked spectacular in those 401 minutes either, but we’ve seen brief glimpses of what may lie ahead; of the Paul Pogba-lite we all envisioned when Roma snapped him up almost a year ago to the day. You just have to give him time, you invested sixteen million in him for a reason.
Wrapping it Up
If you’ll allow me to break the fourth wall of this exercise and give you my unfiltered opinion, it’s simply and confoundingly this: for reasons beyond his control, we simply still have no idea what or who he is. For all the reasons I mentioned, expecting this kid, one who has never played a second outside of Brazil, to hit the ground running and make any meaningful contribution straight away was probably a fool’s errand.
However, and by the same token, the preternatural talent is there—there’s a reason he was so expensive after all—so we should have gotten more than this; more than a few piddling appearances against the minor clubs on Roma’s docket, more than a series of unassertive passes and confused looks.
Ultimately, the reason listicles like the GdS published, and subsequent analysis such as these exist, rests with Luciano Spalletti, Walter Sabatini and Gerson’s father. Presumably Sabatini knew that Gerson would have tremendous difficulty getting minutes in Rome, no matter who the manager was, and his inability to manufacture a loan and/or convince Gerson’s dad that this was the best course of action, has been incredibly detrimental to the kid’s still nascent development, while Spalletti’s limited use of him, largely in the already decided Europa League fixtures and the inexplicable start against Juventus, has only exacerbated that issue.
At the end of the day, it is far too early to judge Gerson’s time in Rome, but let Juan Iturbe’s move to Torino serve as a warning: ignore youth at your own peril. There comes a time you simply have to give the kid a chance to prove his worth. Iturbe only got that intermittently, being jerked in and out of the lineup, replaced and pushed down the pecking order time and time again, all of which came at a cost: wasted time and wasted money.
Let’s not repeat that mistake with Gerson.