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Season Preview: The Goalkeepers

Roma made a mint on Alisson and then rolled the dice on Robin Olsen. Smart move or foolish gamble?

Mexico v Sweden: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

While not quite on the same level as fullback, Roma woe’s with goalkeepers are damn near legendary, and no, we’re not talking about their penchant to make opposing keepers look down right Herculean. Over the past ten to twelve years Roma has run through a host of keepers, from the combustible and unreliable Doni to the world’s best third keeper in Julio Sergio to Mauro Goicoechea, to Wojciech Szczęsny, to Maarten Stekelenburg to Lukasz Skorupski to Gianluca Curci, the club’s approach to finding a keeper was, in a word, haphazard.

That was, until, Alisson Becker entered their lives and showed them how easy this sport could be when the man with gloves inspired confidence instead of absolute terror. For the first time since Francesco Totti’s absolute peak, Roma had arguably the best player at their position in the entire world. Not only could Alisson dribble and distribute like an outfield player, his positioning, reading of the game and understanding of angles were all first class. By some estimates, Alisson saved/earned Roma as many as 13 points, which, if true, earned Roma millions by keeping them in the Champions League.

However, in keeping with Roma tradition, they sold him. While we’ll never truly know the actual impetus for this move, if there is one axiom of Roma’s American ownership group, it’s this: there are no sacred cows. So you can bet your bottom dollar that once the €60+ million offers started rolling in, Alisson’s days in Roma were numbered. No player is as exciting or as meaningful as a healthy bottomline.

So, how then does a club replace a world class keeper?

Why, by overpaying for a World Cup standout that’s how! Nevermind the fact that Monchi, during his time with Sevilla, publicly decried the practice of overpaying for World Cup heroes, and nevermind the fact that Alisson’s replacement had never played above the Danish league, and nevermind the fact that Monchi overpaid for Alisson’s replacement by some ten million, Roma decided to throw caution to the wind when it came time to find their next keeper.

So are we completely doomed, or will this exceedingly tall Scandinavian make us all forget about the Brazilian Don Draper?

The Starter: Robin Olsen

Mexico v Sweden: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Age: 28

Roma Appearances: 0

Serie A Appearances: 0

Robin Olsen could have pitched seven straight shutouts enroute to a Swedish World Cup victory and still entered Trigoria under a cloud of suspicion; that’s how excellent and transformative Alisson was last season. Given the weight of those expectations, what hope is there for Roma’s new #1?

Well, let me throw one (well, two) numbers at you: 1.98m or 6’6”. Any way you slice it, Robin Olsen cuts an imposing figure. However, rather than simply being a collection of gangly limbs and awkward steps, Olsen is actually quite intuitive in his positioning and movements.

As you can see, Olsen’s greatest strength is perhaps the manner in which he uses those aforementioned limbs. The first thing that strikes me when watching highlights of Olsen is precisely how good he is with his hands and arms; he makes your standard in-your-face-parry-saves, but he’s also remarkably adept and picking the ball out of the air, beit stretched out in front of him or making some sort of Dominik Hasek-type save, where he’s flailing on his back yet can still reach behind or above himself to stop the ball.

Given those abilities and his height, the sheer amount of space this man can cover is astounding; he’ll have no problem controlling the air in Serie A. However, lest you think he’s a plodding behemoth like Stekelenburg, Olsen can actually drop to the ground pretty quickly, and again, given his length, he can wipe out anywhere from eight to nine feet of lateral space when fully stretched out.

That’s not to say he’s immune to the ocassional gaff, you can find several online, but perhaps his biggest weakness, at least compared to Alisson, is his distribution. As we saw last year, having Alisson drop dimes from the back was an added luxury to Eusebio Di Francesco’s attack. Thanks to his precision punts and quick throws, Roma could move from defense to attack in the blink of an eye; Olsen won’t be able to do that with nearly as much accuracy or efficiency, so Roma will suffer in that regard.

Roma massively overpaid for Olsen, there’s no debating that, but despite all the doom and gloom, he’s a solid gamble; at the very worst, he’s a replacement level keeper, but with a solid defense in front of him, Roma shouldn’t be too worse for the wear.

The Backup: Antonio Mirante

SSC Napoli v Bologna FC - Serie A Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Age: 35

Roma Appearances: 0

Serie A Appearances: 339

Unlike previous seasons, Roma have gone the experienced route for their reserve keeper, which, if nothing else, should provide some solace in the event Olsen stumbles. Now that Gianluigi Buffon is loving life in Paris, Mirante stands (I believe) as the league’s most experienced Italian keeper, which is precisely what one wants in their backup; a steady, experienced hand to guide the ship in case of an emergency. Odds are Mirante won’t see much action outside of the Coppa Italia, but he should nevertheless serve as a mentor for Olsen and this next kid...

The One for the Future: Daniel Fuzato

AS Roma

Age: 21

Roma Appearances: 0

Serie A Appearances: 0

Fuzato joined Roma from Brazilian side Palmeiras this summer for the tidy some of half a million euros; a paltry sum, even for a keeper as young as Fuzato. In addition to their shared nationality, Fuzato and Alisson have additional similarities. They both stand roughly 6’3” and both have a flair for the dramatic. While the levels of competition were, to say the least, different, Fuzato looks every bit as explosive as his countryman, which, when coupled with a few years of seasoning, could give Roma another intriguing option at the back.

Predictions

Given his age and the investment they made in him, Robin Olsen is the unquestioned starter between the sticks, and unless he absolutely loses the plot, he’s good enough to keep Roma in the top four once again. If, however, his performance in Russia proves an aberration, Roma could be in trouble; Mirante would only be a short-term bailout, so if Olsen flops, Roma will not only be €12 million in the hole, they’ll have to start all over again.

In the end I expect Olsen will be a league average keeper, making spectacular saves one minute and cockups the next. The real dividing line between the top of the table and the vast wasteland that is anything below fourth place is the quality and consistency of one’s defense. Kostas Manolas, Federico Fazio and Aleksandar Kolarov should provide enough quality to paper over any cracks in Olsen’s facade.

If Alisson was a flashy new Maserati, an object of envy for all your neighbors, Olsen is at least a Honda Civic Sport; better than a POS beater but nothing to get too worked up about. He’ll get you from point A to point B, and at the end of the day that’s enough, right?...Right!? Someone hold me.