Kostas Manolas was many things to Roma fans during his five seasons in the capital. At first he was a confusing replacement for the recently sold Mehdi Benatia, who had quickly established himself as one of the best defenders in Europe. In the summer of 2014, Manolas was little more than a passing curiosity; a young and imposing defender who featured for Greece in the recently completed World Cup but had yet to make a mark outside of Athens.
Despite his lack of top European experience, Manolas had no shortage of suitors that summer, with all the usual suspects chasing after the freakishly athletic 23-year-old defender. Roma won the day, eventually signing Manolas for €15 million.
With Benatia out the door, Manolas’ acclimation period was effectively non-existent; he had to come in and contribute straight away. And through sheer force of wheel, some blinding speed and a series of ferocious challenges, Manolas left no doubt as to why Roma fought so hard to sign him.
From curiosity to up-and-comer to one of the league's best defenders, Manolas’ journey really encapsulated the Roma experience writ large.
In five seasons with Roma, Manolas made over 200 appearances between the Serie A, Coppa Italia, Champions League and Europa League, starting all but five of those matches. While defensive numbers are hard to quantify, Manolas finished three of his five seasons with Roma with average match ratings over 7.0 (per WhoScored) and scored eight goals in all competitions, while also completing at least 87% of his passes each season.
Pairing with everyone from Davide Astori to Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa to Federico Fazio to Thomas Vermaelen to Juan Jesus, Manolas was Roma's rock at the back, keeping things tidy with his physicality and incredible closing speed.
Notable Achievements: The Manolas Miracle
Given the nature of the sport, we typically don't count or value defensive statistics in the same vein as attacking numbers, and since Manolas was remarkably consistent during his five years with Roma (which is a feat in and of itself), Manolas’ lasting legacy with Roma will be the Manolas Miracle: his glancing header that completed Roma's epic three-goal comeback against Barcelona in the Quarterfinals of the 2018 Champions League against Barcelona.
In case you'd forgotten, not only did Barcelona put a whoopin on Roma in the first leg—trouncing the Giallorossi 4-1 at the Camp Nou—but Manolas was complicit in Roma's undoing that evening, scoring an own-goal in the 55th minute.
But, thanks to Edin Dzeko's 80th minute goal, which seemed like an after thought, Roma had a chance to pull off the unthinkable—erasing a three-goal deficit against the biggest club in the world.
In the return fixture at the Olimpico, Roma wasted little time in mounting their comeback, grabbing an early lead in only the 6th minute. And with Daniele De Rossi's 58th minute penalty pulling the aggregate scoreline to 4-3, the stage was set for Manolas to play the role of unexpected hero.
In the blink of an eye and with a flick of his head, Kostas Manolas propelled Roma to new heights,sending the Giallorossi to the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time ever. This goal was so quick and so unexpected, I can't even quite remember how I reacted, but the look on Manolas’ face says it all—this was the biggest goal the club had scored in decades.
And what a goal it was. Cengiz Ünder's corner was played with the perfect weight and pace, and the perfect height, for Manolas to get a glancing shot at it, redirecting it just enough to tuck into the far post—the only conceivable place he could have scored.
I hate to distill his five year Roma career down to two seconds, but moments don't get more magical than that.
Where is He Now?
Sold to Napoli over the summer for a fee that could reach €36 million, Manolas’ Roma tale came to a rather sad end, but I'm not sure many fans would take a do-over. Napoli are currently mired in the middle of the table, while Roma's new central pairing, Chris Smalling and Gianluca Mancini, have made most of us forget about Manolas. And we can't forget that Roma landed Amadou Diawara in the same stroke.
But Roma's good fortune in his absence shouldn't diminish his achievements in the capital. Manolas, on both talent and longevity with the club, was perhaps the best defender the club had during the 2010s.