You needn’t be a Roma fan for decades to understand the club’s struggles in developing and retaining fullbacks; it has been, in a word, monumental. Due to this dearth of talent development, Roma has opted for the ad hoc approach over the past decade or so, and while they’ve had a few intermittent successes, John Arne Riise, Max Tonnetto, that one year of Federico Balzaretti, by and large it’s been a fruitless endeavor.
Which is why the rise of Emerson Palmieri was so astounding last year. Purchased from Palermo as a mere afterthought, the Karate Kid took off like a rocket last season, so much so that he became the subject of some very enticing transfer rumors, including the likes of PSG. Couple his marked improvement with the purchase of Bruno Peres and it looked like Roma had two competent fullbacks...at the same time!
However, since Trigoria was built on an ancient Indian burial ground and is therefore cursed, Emerson fell prey to the ACL fairy, rupturing these most fragile of ligaments in the season's final days, while Peres struggled to replicate his Torino form, leaving Roma once again wanting in the fullback department.
Of course, Palmieri never would have gotten a chance to play significant minutes last season had Mario Rui not torn his own ACL, thereby paving the way for Palmieri to get starter’s minutes. And now that the tables have turned, it should be open season for Rui, right? In an ideal world, sure, but Rui has a hard-on for Napoli, where he’d be reunited with his former Empoli coach Maurizio Sarri.
So, with Rui and his one good ACL out the door already, Roma have had no choice but to search high and low for a new left-back, someone to mind the shop until Palmieri returns. While we’ve heard some fleeting rumors of Lucas Digne returning to Rome, he seems resolved to make his name at Barcelona, leading Monchi to look at more obscure targets.
Enter Bayer Leverkusen’s young Brazilian, Wendell. At 23-years-old and not known to many outside of Brazilian and/or Bundesliga circles, he profiles as the typical Monchi hire—overlooked and underpriced. Despite his young age, Wendell has been a mainstay for Leverkusen, topping 2,000 league minutes in each of the past three seasons, including a career high of 2,529 this past season, one in which he also set highs in goals and assists with two each.
While he’s not exactly prodigious with the ball at his feet, Wendell is solid enough defensively, and in many ways represents the theme of this summer: signing depth players for starter’s roles.
So...yeah. Buy him, don’t buy him. Whatever. Just wake me up when Palmieri is back.