I’ve always been someone who struggles when there are too many great options available. When I was younger, it might have taken me a solid five minutes to choose an ice cream flavor. Now, scanning a wine list at a restaurant engenders the same result. Part of the reason behind this was definitely the idea that if I chose one thing, I was not choosing all the other options, and who knew how much I would be missing out on?
Eusebio Di Francesco and Monchi are now in a similar situation concerning the attacking playmaker role in Roma’s senior team. When the season started, it was rather clear what the hierarchy was for that particular position. Javier Pastore was the big-name signing straight from Paris-Saint Germain; right behind him would be Roman-born Lorenzo Pellegrini, who we all hoped could improve from his first season back at the Olimpico; Ante Ćorić would probably be the third string CAM, if EDF ever needed one. That was it. Sure, Roma had signed that 19-year-old from Inter, but since when has that young of a player made a splash with so much talent ahead of him in the pecking order? The smart money resigned him to at least one season with the Primavera, or perhaps loaned out to a Serie B side gunning for promotion.
Well, none of that happened. Javier Pastore’s injury bug followed him to Rome from Le Parc des Princes, allowing for the rejuvenation and continued growth of Pellegrini. When Pellegrini went down too, Di Francesco turned to Nicolò Zaniolo instead of Ćorić, transforming the youngster into one of the most talked-about names in Italian football. While Zaniolo’s emergence has certainly made the Radja Nainggolan transfer look like more and more of a coup for Roma, it now means that Di Francesco has too much of a good thing at the playmaker position, injuries notwithstanding.
Where Roma once had a star attacking midfielder, a promising-but-inconsistent Roman, and two very young prospects, there are now two attacking midfielders with star quality, a teenage wonderkid who could use every minute he can get to continue his development, and an incredibly-hyped prospect who is one of the biggest question marks of the season.
So, what should Roma do? Which flavor of ice cream will leave Romanisti the most satisfied?
It goes without saying that because of Roma’s perpetual battle with the injury bug, having too much of a good thing at any one position isn’t the worst problem to have. However, when three out of your four attacking midfielders need minutes to reach their full potential, things get trickier. The solution that appears to be taking shape is a loan move for Ćorić, bigger roles for both Pellegrini and Zaniolo, and a “just wait until you’re at 100% again, champ” approach to Pastore’s return from injury. Given the investment Roma (and reportedly Qatar Airways) made into Pastore, it’s highly unlikely that Monchi will cut bait on the injury-prone Argentine. Yet with repeated promises of Making Roma Italian Again, Monchi and Pallotta must know that Pastore will probably play a smaller and smaller role in the senior squad into the future.
Hopefully Di Francesco is able to balance the needs of each of these players with the goal of returning to the Champions League next season. Roma’s long-term success depends on giving Pellegrini and Zaniolo the space to continue their development, while easing Pastore back to the point where he can be worth even half of his annual salary.