Whether you care to admit it or not, you probably fancy yourself as an armchair DS. The minute Roma signs a player, be it for €42 million or 42 cents (I don't know what coins are called in Europe. Sue me), we immediately slice and dice the transaction: Is this kid any good? Who else was chasing them? Did Roma pay too much? Was there a cheaper option? Will they have to un-retire the #6 again? Is he willing to get a neck tattoo?
There's nothing wrong with this approach, and quite frankly it's part of why we love sports (living vicarious existences we can only dream of), but how does one actually measure the success of any given transfer? Does a record-breaking signing have to actually break records on the pitch? Conversely, if a bargain signing spends most of their time on the bench, is that still a solid return on investment?
If this were baseball, and we could actually assign a monetary value to a single win and quantify a player's contribution therein, we'd be golden. Unfortunately, football analytics haven't yet reached that level of sophistication, so we still have to rely on the somewhat nebulous concept of intuition—does it feel like this player has lived up to they hype associate with their transfer?
It's not a perfect calculus, but let me throw some numbers at you anyway:
98 appearances | 8,526 minutes | 15 goals | 13 assists | Numerous Murderous Stares
Look at those numbers. Pretty good, right? Now imagine this mysteriously productive player was a left-back—a position Roma has struggled to solidify for years—and that he only cost €5 million in transfer fees and some €6 million (post-tax) in salary. Doesn't that feel like a successful transfer? Even if we estimate the gross salary, we're still talking a paltry €17 million investment; on appearances alone, Roma have extracted full value from this deal.
By nearly any measure, Aleksandar Kolarov has been a tremendous signing for Roma, but what about the numbers, what do they say?
Well, since arriving in Rome in the summer of 2017, Kolarov has run neck and neck with Juventus’ Alex Sandro as the top rated left back in the league (per WhoScored) each of the past two seasons.
While Kolarov is a steady defender, he earns his paycheck in the attacking end, a zone in which he's been unparalleled since returning to Serie A. With 116 shots over the past two seasons, Kolarov has nearly doubled his next closest competitor, Fiorentina's Cristiano Biraghi, while his 81 successful dribbles, 132 key passes, 10 assists and 10 goals are the high-water mark among Serie A left backs the past two seasons.
Let me say that again: he’s been the best left-back in all those categories in each of the past two seasons, and with three goals and one assist thus far, he's showing no signs of slowing down.
I'll be honest, when I started this piece I wasn't expecting to see that...that is remarkable. It's not as if Kolarov was in his prime when he came to Rome, he was over 30-years-old. Given his track record, it was always a safe bet he'd be a solid contributor, but with Luca Pellegrini waiting in the wings, Kolarov was presumed to be nothing more than a holdover, providing steady but unremarkable play in Roma's rearguard until Pellegrini was ready to assume the mantle.
But rather than receiving banal performances from Kolarov, Roma were practically gifted the best left-back in Serie A. Kolarov's leadership, experience and intensity were themselves probably worth the €5 million, but the 33-year-old Kolarov is the most dynamic, productive and effective left back in the league.
He won't solve Roma's perpetual inability to solidify this spot long-term, but the cost-to-production ratio on this deal is off the charts. You don't pay €5 million for numbers like those, you pay €50 million.
Any way you slice it, Aleksandar Kolarov is one of the best signings this club has ever made. And who knows, maybe he'll stick around a bit longer.
We should be so lucky.