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What Can We Reasonably Expect From Justin Kluivert This Season?

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Those 20 minutes in Torino were quite the glimpse...

Torino FC v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Last weekend’s opening round victory over Torino was notable for several reasons. Not only was it Roma’s maiden voyage with not one BUT TWO corporate sponsors festooned on their shirts, but Edin Dzeko saved the day with what is unequivocally one of the best goals of his career, and certainly one of his best in a Roma shirt. But, that slim 1-0 victory was notable for another reason, the contribution of Justin Kluivert, the centerpiece of Roma’s most clever social media transfer campaign to date.

In only 20 minutes of action, Kluivert was a revelation, almost single handedly rescuing Roma’s sputtering offense with his explosive pace and incisive passing. Never was this more evident than on his match winning assist to Edin Dzeko.

I love this particular clip because it shows the entire run of play, which started with Dzeko flicking the ball on to Kluivert to begin with (which I somehow missed in the run of play), and taking nothing away from Dzeko’s finish, which was legendary, the real beauty of this play was Kluivert’s run.

After taking the ball from Dzeko, Kluivert drives towards the edge, muscling off one Torino defender while completely juking around another to get into open space. What came next was (to fans of playmaking) simply breathtaking: he hesitates, does a little scissor kick/jab step, cruises to the by line and somehow lofts a PERFECT cross to Dzeko. To have the presence of mind to throw the defender off like that, and then play such a beautiful cross is astounding for a player of any age.

The impact this 19-year-old kid had on this match in only 20 minutes was stupefying, and stood in stark contrast to the performance of last year’s wunderkind, Cengiz Ünder, who was just a bit off the mark in his 70 minutes of action.

Certainly expectations for Ünder were high last year; despite his relatively unknown background, he came to Roma for a rather lofty price and was expected to snatch playing time from one of Diego Perotti or Stephan El Shaarawy at some point. Still, Ünder went through his ups and downs before emerging as one of the club’s best attackers in the spring, which got me to thinking: what is a reasonable expectation of success for Kluivert.

Being so instrumental in Roma’s victory, a well publicized one at that, Kluivert is already a step ahead of Ünder’s developmental curve from last season, but will his performance last weekend ratchet up those expectations, and for that matter what can one reasonably expect from an adolescent playing abroad for the first time?

If we use Ünder as a guide post, then we should expect a measure of inconsistency, particularly through the end of the calendar year. While Ünder grabbed a few earlier starts, there were multiple instances last season in which he was riding the pine for consecutive matches before really asserting himself in late winter; starting in February, Ünder went on a tear, scoring seven goals in twelve league matches.

Thanks to his slow start, expectations for Ünder began to temper, and while Roma wasn’t bowling people over their defense was holding firm and Roma remained in the thick of the hunt for the top four. Due to this confluence of circumstances, Ünder was able to acclimate to EDF’s tactics in a relatively pressure-free fashion.

Now, the very reason that Kluivert was brought to Roma despite the presence of Ünder, El Shaarawy and Perotti speaks to a need at that position, and in those brief 20 minutes against Torino, Kluivert looked as impactful, as dynamic and as effective as any wide player Roma has had over the past several years.

While we don’t know how many minutes he’ll get against Milan, we do know this: Roma fans (myself included) operate at extremes. To many, Kluivert has already transformed from a simple curiosity with a famous name to a potential savior; the kid who will makes us all forget about Malcom and Alisson and the litany of messiahs to whom the club was connected over the summer.

The challenge for Kluivert, and for those who sing his praises, is the management of those expectations. If Kluivert comes out swinging and bags a bunch of goals ala Mattia Destro only to hit the skids, how will he react, and more importantly how will we react?

One simply never knows how quickly adolescents will adapt to top flight football, but one thing is for certain: there will be times when Kluivert is better than those 20 minutes in Torino, but there will also be times when he’s worse.

Kluivert’s first season in Rome, much like Ünder’s, will exist on a sliding scale; the trick to surviving those 38 weeks is finding a balance.