Steven Nzonzi and Roma. It never really was a match made in heaven. It all starts with his shirt number. I mean, #42? Seriously? Who wears such a number? If you’re a midfielder, then 6, 7, 8, 10, 11 or 23 should be on top of your list. If those are already taken, fine, take it like a man, don’t cry and choose something else but below 30. This isn’t hockey or basketball.
Speaking of basketball… Nzonzi always looked more like a professional basketball player than a football player. Standing at 197cm (approx 6.6 ft) and about 75 kg, Steven is tall but rather slim. He actually looks a bit clumsy. A French Peter Crouch if you’d like. Ironically, Steven felt right at home in Rome alongside other towers like Olsen, Fazio, Dzeko and Manolas.
Anyway, how it all began: Last Summer Monchi had his eyes set on Nzonzi, his former pupil at Sevilla. ‘The Spanish Traitor’ paid around €30 million (including bonuses) for his services. Not exactly small change for a club like AS Roma.
Now, let me get this clear: Nzonzi at the time was a fresh World Cup winner with France and a recent Europa League winner with Sevilla (2016). A lot of current Roma players would be jealous of those achievements. So his arrival meant a lot of experience and a winner’s mentality. At least we hoped it did. It was an almost impossible task to replace Strootman and Radja (almost ten years of Roman experience), but he could try. The expectations were high.
However, a lot of things weren’t right with this move. It didn’t tick all the boxes, by far. The transfer sum, the timing, his age—Strootman was younger and already a fan favorite. Radja is as old as Nzonzi but a Serie A veteran and madly deeply truly in love with the city and its crazy fans. Yet, both men left in the same window and Nzonzi was brought in because Monchi was an admirer and thought he was suited for Di Francesco’s system. Cristante was also a newcomer but he’s better higher up the pitch. De Rossi needed a breather and Nzonzi would allow Dani to rest from time to time. Or EDF could use both to block the midfield and pull up a wall in front of the defence.
Ironically, Roma desperately needed Dani more than ever this season to save its ass, not Nzonzi. The combo Nzonzi-Cristante didn’t click as much as we wanted to. Throw in Zaniolo, Pellegrini and Pastore and Roma practically used every midfield combination of them in the last 7 months, without a lot of success.
Meanwhile, the ‘prodigy’ Coric is getting more and more frustrated by the lack of playing time. Zaniolo is courted by Juve and Real. Pastore was more injured than fit and could move back to Argentina. Florenzi is struggling this season and I never liked those ‘Pellegrini to ManU’ rumors in the first place. Yeah, Cristante showed some promising things but can’t carry an entire midfield on his back while Dani will be 36 this summer. Oh right, there’s also a soon to be 18-year-old Riccardi to save the day. Yaay. In short: The Roman midfield is a mess.
To top it off, Nzonzi himself has his mind set on a return to England, where he played between 2009 and 2015. Great, another one of our midfielders who could abandon the ship. But unlike the names I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t mind Steven leaving. I could still see Pastore, Zaniolo or Pellegrini in a Roma shirt after 2019. Even Coric if the new trainer believes in him. But Nzonzi? Not a chance.
The click just isn’t there. The coup de foudre, like with Pizarro, Perrotta, Strootman or Nainggolan, is missing. It’s best for both parties to go their own way in July or August. Otherwise this will end in a painful soap. Too bad Monchi isn’t here anymore to clean up his mess. I highly doubt Roma’s current/new DS (Balza? Massara? Totti? Seriously, I don’t know who’s pulling the strings right now) can avoid a loss of his €30 million investment this summer.
To end on a positive note: I will never put Nzonzi in the same list with other ‘legendary’ Roman midfielders like Faty, Wilhelmsson, Barusso, Pit (pronounced ‘Piz’) or Kharja. That would be too harsh. He’s more in the category of Bradley, Greco, Gago, Simplicio, Marquinho. He has skills, his height is a weapon on corners and he can undoubtedly be an asset for a team on the pitch. Rome’s just not the right atmosphere/environment for him. They tried, it failed. No shame in denying, just move on.
Besides, if the biggest contribution of Steven in our Chiesa was the debate whether his family name is spelled with or without an apostrophe, then clearly something was wrong.