Last summer, Monchi presented Javier Pastore as his big purchase. He wasn’t the shiny new Maserati right off the assembly line like Justin Kluivert or Nicoló Zaniolo; the latest models with no miles on them.
Pastore was more like the early 90’s used Mercedes. A luxury car that was all the rage back in its day, but one that time had forgotten. Pastore, like that old car, still had a nostalgic value for Monchi. So, he took a kicker on him—an expensive one at that. There was plenty of mileage on the engine and a few nicks in the paint, but the underlying beauty was still there.
When Pastore arrived, he was presented as the game changer that Roma so desperately needed to break down opposing defenses. However, like a car that was beat on by its previous owner, he didn’t run quite so smoothly. The miles had taken their toll and Pastore broke down over and over again last season.
He looked destined for the scrap heap, or at least the less competitive leagues of the Middle East or Asia. That was until Paulo Fonseca arrived at Roma. He was the perfect mechanic to revive a timeless beauty. With that Pastore has found his old form and begun to contribute to Roma.
The season started slowly, but Pastore has stepped up in a big way when Roma needed him most. With the injury crisis in full swing, Fonseca had little choice but to deploy the oft-injured Argentine. It all began when Pastore replaced an injured Cristante just 8 minutes into the 0-0 draw with Samp. Pastore didn’t dazzle in his 82 minutes off the bench, but he did deliver six successful long balls from the deep lying midfield position.
The real Pastore revival began to show the following match against Gladbach in the Europa League. That was when Gianluca Mancini moved into the defensive midfield role, pushing Pastore into the trequartista position. Roma found some magic, despite Pastore playing just an hour on the rain soaked Olimpico pitch. There were flashes of the old El Flaco. Fonseca had something cooking.
Since that Europa League match, Pastore has marveled during Roma’s three match domestic win streak. And in many ways, he has played more like a Ford F350 than a vintage Mercedes. El Flaco has woked his tail off on both ends of the pitch. He hasn’t supplied as many goals or assists as you might expect, but his work rate has been unmatched.
Against Milan, he missed a couple of opportunities in front of goal and was called offside when he did score. But despite those woes in front of goal, Pastore contributed four shots, three successful long balls, and drew five fouls on the offensive end. Meanwhile, he was lauded by Corriere dello Sport for his nine recovered balls on defense, while he picked up four tackles, two interceptions, and three clearances.
As impressive as that performance was, the two performances that followed have built upon it. After a quick turnaround, Pastore started midweek against Udinese and was brilliant. Pastore again put in a solid all around performance with five tackles and two interceptions on defense. However, it was his assist to Justin Kluivert that really was the icing on the cake— his no look pass was simply sublime.
Le but de Justin Kluivert contre l'Udinese mais surtout la superbe passe décisive de Pastore. pic.twitter.com/bwOFrjn7jC— Footballista (@Footballista_10) October 31, 2019
His 70 minute performance was worthy of being named man of the match by most publications and EuroSport summed up his performance well.
A missile on the fly at 10’ of pure coordination was just the start of a magical evening for El Flaco. Technique and quality at the service of the team, mixed (finally!) with a physical condition that is acceptable. His central percussion and the assist to Kluivert on the third goal are to be seen and reviewed in all football schools
Perhaps most important in that summary by EuroSport is the line about his physical conditioning. At no point last season would it have been imaginable for Pastore to play five straight matches on 60+ minutes in a three week span. In a recent interview with the official team site, Pastore credited Fonseca for him finding his fitness again by starting in the pre-season.
During that period I spoke a lot with the coach and his staff. I was able to get up to speed physically by playing in all the friendlies, although for one we week we decided together to stop for a bit. It wasn’t an injury, but after double sessions every day, and knowing my body well, I asked to be able to recover for a little bit – to not play in a couple of friendlies and to train alone, because I was already starting to feel the cramps.
I was aware that during that period, during those friendlies, you could earn your spot and I knew that by not playing I was risking losing an opportunity. But I wanted to avoid getting an early injury, to avoid being out for the games that matter. The coach accepted that, he told me, ‘Train well this week, because you need to be ready to go for the first game’. The coach only used me for a few minutes, to allow me to get up to speed at the right speed. But now physically I feel like I did before.
That newfound fitness has allowed Pastore to play the game that he was always capable of playing, capped off by another sparkling performance against Napoli. Pastore had two key passes, and drew a decisive penalty by playing a ball into Mario Rui’s outstretched arm. Even with all that, Pastore's work rate on both sides of the ball was perhaps most impressive; highlighted by the following stat.
11 - Javier #Pastore made 11 recoveries in #RomaNapoli: only one time he made more recoveries in a single Serie A game (15 in Fiorentina-Palermo, October 2010). Regenerated. pic.twitter.com/brcoF7msHz— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) November 2, 2019
The improved fitness has allowed Pastore to star in recent weeks. However, almost as important is his rediscovered confidence, which he also contributes to Fonseca. It’s a confidence that Fonseca has seemingly instilled in the entire squad.
A lot, especially during the early months. We worked on a lot of different aspects. He wants his midfielders to always be facing the opposition goal, and never return towards our own box. I had to stay very focused during training, because I was used to having my back to goal, to play one-twos with my teammates. But the coach wants us to play facing forward, changing the play across the field from right to left regularly.
But the most important thing is the confidence that the coach gives his players, and the way he speaks to them. I have had a lot of coaches in my career and I have learned a lot from all of them – I can say that this coaching group has a lot of desire to do well and to win. They are all young guys, they have a lot of strong ideas and they know how to transmit that. For a side like Roma, that wants to aim high, that is absolutely crucial.
Zaniolo may be grabbing the headlines for his recent sizzling goal-scoring form and Mancini for his positional switch. Nonetheless, Pastore’s contributions may not always be as flashy, but they have been just as important. Eventually, Fonseca will get Pellegrini, Mkhitaryan, and his other horses back to full fitness, so Pastore will have more competition for regular playing time.
However, no matter who he decides to go with, having the option of a fit, in-form Pastore only makes Roma a more dangerous team. Eventually, Fonseca will have a good problem on his hands, but for now let’s enjoy the reborn Pastore. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a good classic?