No matter how the remaining course of his career plays out, beit with Roma or anyone else, Giallorossi fans will always clutch Kevin Strootman close to their breast. From the moment he made his debut back in 2013, you know Roma would never be the same, that this was what the club was missing; a steely eyed, strong jawed, do it all midfielder, a player who was a perfect amalgamation of Daniele De Rossi and Miralem Pjanic. No matter who was calling the shots, Roma’s attack, their transition game, and even their resolve all coalesced around Strootman; he was the lynchpin we didn’t realize was missing.
What’s more, beyond his stellar play, Strootman endeared himself to Roma fans through his passion for the crest and the club; he may not have been born in Rome, but he damn sure understood why so many people flock to this somewhat chaotic club. And through all the trials and travails he endured over the past few years, he somehow remained optimistic (even though many of us were not) and though you were scared he’d never be quite the same player, you knew he’d fight like hell to get back, to give every fiber of his being to this shirt, this club and his teammates.
So when the Dutch Jesuus resurrected his career under Luciano Spalletti last season—making over 30 appearances while scoring four goals and contributing seven assists in league play—it seemed like we were on easy street. A healthy Strootman combined with a still effective Daniele De Rossi and the inimitable Radja Nainggolan gave Roma one of the game’s best midfields.
This season? Not so much. With that same trio all a year older and forced into slightly different roles under Eusebio Di Francesco, the midfield hasn’t had quite the same punch. Strootman, DDR and Nainggolan can strangle virtually any attack with their sheer size and tenacity, but with Nainggolan playing a more reserved role, De Rossi remaining the safety valve and Strootman serving as a link between Aleksandar Kolarov and Diego Perotti, their collective creative capacity has been sapped.
So whether it’s due to mounting fatigue after his first full season of football in several years, or the vagaries of EDF’s tactics, it pains me to say this: Kevin Strootman must take a back seat. Lorenzo Pellegrini’s time has come.
Besides having youth on his side, Pellegrini’s combination of skills—passing and creating in attacking positions—is precisely what this club desperately needs as we head into 2018. Let me be clear, none of this is to say that Strootman no longer has a role with the club, that there aren’t any circumstances in which he should start or that he should be sold, simply that, due to their comparative athletic abilities and his greater attacking acumen, Pellegrini should become a starter....like, today.
Strootman has played about 300 more league minutes than Pellegrini thus far, but as you can see (based on per 90 minute figures) Pellegrini has outplayed his Dutch counterpart. Granted, some of this disparity is due to their varying roles under EDF—Pellegrini has purposefully been brought on for a change of pace, so those numbers might dip a bit as a regular starter—and the level of opponents, but it does show one thing: Pellegrini has what this team needs.
Indeed, when we look at some of the actual match evidence we see a free-roaming, creative midfielder, one who can work his way into high percentage shot areas and even take set pieces. When we look at some of Pellegrini’s bright spots this season—against AC Milan, SPAL and Bologna—we see just that: Pellegrini created 12 scoring chances, took eight shots on goal (half of which forced saves) and completed 85% of passes across those three matches, all while filling a variety of roles in the midfield.
In fact, this may not even be the zero-sum game we’re making it out to be. In those three matches alone, Pellegrini started on the right and left side of midfield, playing opposite of left-leaning Strootman (against Bologna) and even alongside a centrally placed Strootman (against SPAL), so EDF has proven that he can field both of them successfully.
Rather than denigrating Strootman (he’s just the most obvious candidate to sit given DDR and Nainggolan’s respective roles), the point is simply this: Roma needs a spark, someone to make cutting runs, someone to dart to the point of attack, someone to create centrally and, you know, take shots from less than 25-yards-out, and that someone is the local kid, Lorenzo Pellegrini.
And while Strootman seems like the nominal man to sit down, the affair isn’t quite as black and white, especially not now that we’ve caught wind of Juventus reportedly gunning for his €45 million release clause this summer. Strootman remains a vital cog in this machine, but Pellegrini offers something the rest of the midfielders do not, and based on the quirks of EDFs rotations patterns, Strootman may simply be a victim of circumstance.
No matter who makes way for him, Pellegrini seems destined to etch his name into the local lore surrounding this club, the latest in a longline of citizens dedicated to preserving all that makes AS Roma special.