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Two in the Hand: Roma’s Impending Goalkeeper Crisis

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Considering how successful i Lupi have been so far, it’s only natural that I needed to find something to worry about.

Poland v Northern Ireland - Group C: UEFA Euro 2016
Woj versus the Beard: who will be Roma’s long-term solution between the sticks?
Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

Despite things looking continuously shaky on the Stadio Della Roma front, Roma’s actual performance on the pitch this season has at the very least met expectations. The Giallorossi have advanced past the Europa League’s Round of 32, they’re within spitting distance of Juventus in Serie A, and a double derby versus Lazio is on the horizon in the Coppa Italia Semifinal. So, considering how successful i Lupi have been so far, it’s only natural that your dedicated writing staff at Chiesa di Totti wants to find something to worry about. For me, that worry is a choice that Luciano Spalletti and the Roma board will be making this summer: Wojciech Szczęsny or Allison Becker?

Going into this season, not many people thought that there would be much of a decision to make. Szczęsny had played well in his first season at the Olimpico, but most expected the Pole would return to England to take back his No. 1 when his loan contract was finished. But lo and behold, Arsenal and Roma decided to extend his loan contract with the Giallorossi, and somehow Wojciech became one of the best goalkeepers on the Italian peninsula. In twenty-five league appearances, Szczęsny has kept eleven clean sheets – beating out Łukasz Skorupski, Roma’s other Polish goalkeeper (currently on loan at Empoli F.C.), for the top spot in Serie A.

A goalkeeper’s performance isn’t just judged by clean sheets, however – in fact, a clean sheet should be viewed as a complete defensive effort, especially considering how strong Roma’s overall defense has been this season (seriously, when was the last time the Giallorossi had this much depth in center-back?). A more personal stat for a goalkeeper is saves per goal, where Szczęsny once again shines with 3 saves per goal allowed. This once again ranks his goalkeeping performance this season as one of the best in the league. When combined with his ability to lead one of Europe’s most cohesive defenses (at least when Thomas Vermaelen isn’t on the pitch), it is not that hard to see that Szczęsny should be viewed as one of the best goalkeepers in Italy, if not Europe.

AS Roma v FC Viktoria Plzen - UEFA Europa League
Bearded Don Draper came to Europe to start. Will he do it in a Roma shirt?
Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Enter Allison Becker, the Brazilian national team’s starting goalkeeper and current backup to Mr. Szczęsny. When Allison was brought in from Internacional last summer for €7.5 million, many assumed that Roma was simply investing for the future, a future that probably wouldn’t include Wojciech Szczęsny. Yet Allison’s performances, as few as they may have been to date, have been of incredible quality as well. His eight starts in the Europa League have seen him keep three clean sheets, save 3.63 shots per goal, and provide stability to a defense that is often being rotated for mid-week matches. In my memory, there hasn’t been a game that Allison has started where he’s looked nervous or out of his league, which is quite impressive for a player recently imported from South America.

If Roma could just keep both Szczęsny and Allison on the books in perpetuity, with one spelling the other in case of injury, overuse, or just wanting to catch the next episode of The Young Pope, that’d be fantastic. Unfortunately, to quote an old nursery rhyme, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Allison has gone on the record saying that although he’s fine playing second fiddle to Szczęsny this season, he expects to be Roma’s starting goalkeeper for the 2017/18 season. Roma’s current No. 1, meanwhile, has said that he’s open to staying at Roma long-term, but the siren song of Arsenal will certainly be tempting him back to the Emirates – Petr Čech hasn’t impressed this season, and David Ospina looks to be on his way out of Wenger’s squad as well. Even if one forgets the weekly rumors that Juventus Borussia Dortmund Napoli Bayern Münich My Little Brother’s JV Soccer Team are heavily interested in the Polish keeper, Szczęsny’s future at the Stadio Olimpico seems to be in doubt.

What should Roma do? Should the higher-ups decide to go all-in on Szczęsny, pay a reported €16 million fee to Arsenal, ship Allison off to one of the many clubs originally interested in his services, and hope that they can ward off heavy interest from all over Europe into the future? Should Luciano Spalletti say goodbye to the goalkeeper he’s worked with for his entire second stint with Roma, promote a relatively untested but very promising Allison to the No. 1 shirt, and cross his fingers that the defensive integrity of the Giallorossi doesn’t disintegrate? It’s certainly a difficult question, and one that Luciano Spalletti, Frederic Massara and maybe even Monchi (knock on wood) are certainly thinking over. In this writer’s opinion, Roma should embrace the beard and promote Allison Becker – he’s already been paid for, he’s on a smaller salary than Szczęsny, he’s looked convincing in the starts he’s received and he’s not currently being chased by half of the European Billionaire’s Club. Szczęsny certainly has been quite the goalie this season, but Allison looks as if he could be an incredibly valuable long-term investment, a goalie who could be protecting the Giallorossi goal until the opening of the Stadio della Roma and beyond.

Only time will tell which goalie Roma ends up picking, but it’s nice to have an abundance of goalkeepers where we once had Maarten Stekelenburg, isn’t it?

Author’s Note: This article was written prior to Roma’s 3-1 victory over Inter Milan, where Szczęsny once again proved his worth as a goalkeeper. Regardless, the author stands behind his final judgement as written here.