We've mentioned it many, many times in these spaces, but yet somehow words will never do it justice: when a Roman suits up for Roma, it matters...a lot. This bond between player, city and club complicates things—simple achievements become milestones while honest mistakes and temporary dips in form are met with demands for self flagellation. And while I'm certain there are scores of boys and girls who fulfill their dreams of playing for their hometown clubs in other cities, I can't imagine many of them are exalted and excoriated at the same alarming rate as Romans.
The same cocoon that keeps Romans safe can quickly be torn to shreds, leaving the player desperately searching for a warm embrace of any kind. Whether we're talking about Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi or Alessandro Florenzi, the equation remains the same: if you're a Roman, you're treated differently, which, as we just allude to, cuts both ways.
Alessandro Florenzi has always occupied a unique place in that paradigm. Back when Totti and De Rossi were running the show, Florenzi was seen as the precocious little brother. Sure, he'd make some mistakes, but he was young, and when he came good, he came good, delivering stunning goals and gutty performances in equal measure. He was the prince in waiting and could do no wrong, even when he did.
However, once Totti and De Rossi were gone, Florenzi assumed the full mantle and the full weight of Roman expectations; he was the man now, and if he wanted the adulation he had to deal with the scorn that so often followed it.
While this relationship was complicated somewhat by his spate of knee injuries, Ale has returned close enough to form to log over 2,000 league minutes in each of the past two seasons, bouncing back and forth between full-back, midfield and even as a wide player.
Without Totti and De Rossi to deflect the criticisms of the Roma faithful, and no longer having injuries to use as an excuse (not that he ever did directly), the full weight of Roman expectations has fallen firmly on his curly locks.
And so far, it's been business as usual for Florenzi: eight league appearances totaling nearly 600 minutes at three different positions. New season, new kits, new manager, same deal: Florenzi remains what he's always been, a plug and play utility player.
But, something strange has happened over the past month. With Roma suffering an epidemic of injuries in, well, pretty much everywhere, Florenzi's malleable skill set has remained untapped. Seemingly the ideal guy to plug any one of those gaps, Florenzi's absence has hardly been inconspicuous.
With Leonardo Spinazzola sidelined for yesterday's match against Borussia MGB, Florenzi seemed like ideal next man up, but Paulo Fonseca opted instead for the seldom used Davide Santon, and while Santon played quite well, Florenzi remained firmly on the bench, the same place he's spent the past five matches, leading many to connect dots that may or may not be there.
Prior to yesterday's Europa League fixture, Gianluca Petrachi tried to calm our Florenzi fears, assuring Roma fans their captain will return to "doing what he's always done soon.” While that's all well and good, and likely very true, today we were hit with a barrage of these stories:
According to La Gazzetta dello Sport (The original source in that link), Antonio Conte, who is, shall we say, dissatisfied with his Inter Milan squad is eyeing a winter move for Florenzi. Considering everything we just discussed, not to mention the summer rumors connecting the two, this rumor was bound to resurface sooner or later.
Expected? Sure. Logical? Maybe...
According to the GdS, Roma will not let their captain walk for anything less than €15 million, a fee Inter are reportedly hoping to knock down by including Matias Vecino, who would presumably help Roma's beleaguered midfield.
This is pretty standard rumor fare, but there is one critical fault in its logic. The very reason Inter would want Florenzi is the very reason Roma should keep him: his versatility. Unless Conte plans on turning Florenzi into an out and out winger to replace Antonio Candreva, Ale would very likely fill the same role for Inter as he does for Roma—play fullback on Sunday, midfield on Thursday, and then out wide the following weekend.
The simple ability to do that, and look even functional while doing so, requires a tremendous amount of talent, and it's a role into which Florenzi has been plunged for several years now with nary a complaint. Yet he remains vilified in certain circles.
I tried, perhaps in vain, to figure out why Florenzi is such a divisive figure to Roma fans, but I suspect much of it revolves around the weight of expectations and the pressure of being a Roman playing for Roma.
His two nominal predecessors, Totti and De Rossi, each had (for the most part) clearly defined roles and positions, eventually becoming masters of their respective crafts, but Florenzi never had either of those luxuries—the time to find himself and the talent to distinguish himself.
What I tried to stress last year—and what I will always emphasize with Florenzi—is simply this: take him for what he is, a talented utility player. Florenzi is the three-point specialist or defensive stopper on a NBA team, the guy who averages 10 points, 5 boards and 3 assists per game. He's the baseball player who has three different gloves and plays five positions and puts up a respectable .270/.360/.460 batting line. Alessandro Florenzi is more Danny Green than Kevin Durant, more Ben Zobrist than Mike Trout. Expect anything more and you'll be disappointed.
No one will confuse Florenzi with football's truly great players, but he can play four or five positions reasonably well, and he's proven that he can make huge and unexpected plays (his volleys, bicycle kicks, the Barcelona goal etc.). And sure, he has some noticeable flaws, but every team on Earth, including Roma, needs a guy like him.
Florenzi is going through a rough patch at the moment, and while he may not have world class talent, his commitment and heart have never been questioned.
Florenzi has been through worse and he'll get through this, and Roma will be better for it.