Despite his baby face and his 21 years of age, Ante Coric is no youngster anymore. He has been a professional football player since he was 17, still holds the record of the youngest scorer in a Europa League competition and has more than 300 minutes of Champions League time in his legs (that is more than Lorenzo Pellegrini and twice more than Bryan Cristante). You could see glimpses of that maturity during the US tour in which he impressed observers and fans alike, particulary against Tottenham, giving many reason to believe that Coric has what it takes to be a starter at least against weaker Serie A teams.
Now the question is the following, really: why wasn’t he considered as a first option in the first place? Well here is where economics come in the equation. Based on a limited sample, it increasingly looks like Monchi’s cheapest acquisitions are the ones which deliver best while his most expensive buys deliver worst (think of last year: Kolarov, Pellegrini, Under vs. Schick, Defrel and Karsdorp). If this hypothesis is true, we might, in time, see that Zaniolo, Coric and Fuzaro will be the real deals of this summer transfer.
Only time will tell whether this reversed curve thing is valid or not. For now, however, it is a very bad idea to assume that price tags should give some players priority over others and dictate the choices of the coach. Point being: it is time to bench Pastore and Cristante a little as they have shown that they need more time to adapt than we all had thought (and meanwhile we can only hope that they will have a better season than Schick’s last season).
So having said all that, what makes me think that Coric would deliver better than other team mates in the mid-field? And where should Coric play?
While it is beyond the scope of this piece to go very deep into Coric’s skills (see NicoT’s excellent CdT analysis on this here), suffice it is to say that Coric is genuinely gifted and can virtually play everywhere on the pitch, a versatility that could well benefit Di Francesco in current times.
While EDF used him as a left-winger, Coric inspires a confidence and a serenity on the ball and in his passing choices that would be highly valued in Roma’s current midfield. Coric has often been compared to Modric but I personally see him as a more dynamic – and smiley – version of Pirlo (is it me or there is a small physical resemblance too?). He has a great vision to find the right trajectories, doesn’t miss many passes and is good at protecting the ball.
What is fascinating in his style of play is the speed at which balls literally spurt out when distributing the ball around (you often wonder: hang on, when exactly did the ball leave his foot again?). Also, despite his lightweight, he is rather good defensively and can be a real pain to the opponent (something that Pastore still needs to learn). Lastly, he seems to have a grinta that is sorely missed in our midfield those days.
Where should he play though? First as a tre-quartista, playing between the lines and replacing Pastore. Relying on Coric would give El Flaco more time to adapt to the Roman piazza and to EDF’s tactics. Frankly, it would also give Pastore a good kick in the ass to step up his play. Being positioned close to the goal would also help Roma leverage on Coric’s expert foot to turn shooting chances into shots on target.
Once the Roma mid-field finds its marks and will be able to play only with one Defensive Midfielder (i.e. either De Rossi or Nzonzi) – I guess as of November/December– Coric should play as a left mezz’ala (as also advocated by NicoT) in tandem with Cristante or Lorenzo Pellegrini. In the longer term, nothing prevents him, in my view, from becoming a deep lying playmaker such as Verratti, Torreira or, indeed Pirlo.
For now, my call for action to EDF would be to move Coric up on the squad hierarchy. Coric is much more than a younger version of Gerson or Uçan. I am sure that investing in him and entrusting him with the task of balancing out Roma’s offensive midfield will be worth a try. Coric has what it takes to become a true leader of the giallorossi.