It sounds insane to say it, or even suggest it, but after a summer in which they purchased a dozen new players, Roma may already be in need of another house cleaning. From the very first summer of the American regime, in which the likes of Erik Lamela and Miralem Pjanic were brought in, to last summer's Javier Pastore/Bryan Cristante shift, Roma has seldom opted for continuity. Seemingly always fixated on finding the next big thing and/or being "forced” into player sales, Roma's roster experiences dramatic over turn nearly every summer.
So, why on Earth would we suggest doing the same thing this year?
Well, we're not, at least not directly. With all but club captain Daniele De Rossi signed beyond 2019, Roma are under no direct coercion to sell—save for the always looming FFP demons—but what we are suggesting is, you know, preparing for that scenario, however likely or unlikely it may be.
So, much like your standard doomsday prepper separates their possessions into necessities and luxuries, we're going to do the same with the two dozen or so men currently wearing the imperial red of Rome; for this exercise, players out on loan won't be considered.
And truth be told, Roma’s roster isn’t that bad, it’s just poorly put together, so we’re not suggesting that any of these players couldn’t contribute more if they were cast with a different lot, but, well, that's Monchi for ya.
We'll try to be as objective as possible, sorting and classifying these lads based primarily on current production, but given how young Roma is, we have to include the always nebulous concept of potential. Got it?
Okay, let's start with Roma's vestigial organs, guys who, for varying reasons, should see no part of Roma next season.
The Future Former Roma Players
The Likely Loanees: Daniel Fuzato, Ante Coric
Full disclosure: I had no idea Fuzato existed prior to last summer, and unless you were a member of his extended family, neither did you. The same cannot be said, however, for Coric. The Next Luka Modric was connected to Roma for well over a year prior to moving to the Eternal City, and while his star was already dimming a bit after being named one of the best U-20 players in Europe in 2017, his capture on May 28th last year was still cause for celebration.
But let's be real, neither one of these kids were served by a year rotting on the bench, and neither one seems set for first team action next season. Get ‘em out here...temporarily.
Cut Your Loss Candidates: Davide Santon, Juan Jesus, Robin Olsen
Santon and Jesus are fine for what they are, flexible and solid enough rotation pieces a manager can plug in during times of need, but clocking in at a nearly combined €4 million salary, Roma can get better bang for their buck. Between the two former Inter men, they've logged approximately 2,200 minutes, and with a collective benchmark of success akin to "please don't ruin the match," Roma can certainly find similar production at a fraction of the price.
As far as Robin Olsen is concerned, it's simply a matter of how much pride Roma is willing to swallow when he's inevitably sold for pennies on the dollar to a newly promoted Premiership side.
The Fringe Players
Take ‘Em or Leave ‘Em: Antonio Mirante, Ivan Marcano, Diego Perotti, Federico Fazio, Steven Nzonzi
Taken together, these five players are capable of contributing to a Champions League level club, but depending on how serious said club is about advancing and remaining in the Champions League, their level of importance wanes. If your goal is to simply finish fourth in the league and at least make it out of the group stage every year, then, yeah, go ahead and give these guys (keeper excluded) about 6,000 minutes a year; it won't hurt, but it won't necessarily help.
Mirante is fine as a backup keeper, a role he'll likely resume next year when Roma finds Olsen's replacement, while Marcano has actually been solid in his spot appearances but has by and large been a bit player. As far as the two Argentines are concerned, it's simply a matter of how much do they have left? Perotti can't stay healthy, and is inconsistent at best, while Fazio's effectiveness depends far too much on the players and tactics around him. I have a soft spot in my heart for both Perotti and Fazio, but Roma would be better served if neither are starters next season.
Nzonzi is the vanilla ice cream of midfielders, and while he's been better utilized under Claudio Ranieri, even at his best he's a replacement level player—not exactly the type of guy you want as your third-highest wage earner.
The Gray Areas
Talented But Time is Running Out: Patrik Schick, Rick Karsdorp, Javier Pastore, Edin Dzeko, Aleksandar Kolarov
There's a lot of variation in those five names, so let's start with the first two, Headband and Mr. No Knees. Rick Karsdorp has show flashes...intermittent flashes...of the player Roma thought they were getting before the Dutchman hurt his knee...you know, again. However, Roma is a notoriously fickle place, and to date he hasn't done enough to warrant continued faith. His youth and potential (not to mention a complete lack of other options) will likely garner him another chance, but beyond 2020 is anyone's guess.
As far as Schick is concerned, there are forty-two million reasons why they need to sort this out. No one doubts Schick's talents on the pitch, but his actual fit with Roma has been...uh...an issue so far. We're two years into the Schick experiment now, one that has produced only five league goals, and we still don't even know what his proper position is, to say nothing of how to unlock that preternatural talent. Roma have a lot tied up in him, both in actual cost and opportunity cost, but you have to wonder how they'd react if a face-saving offer came through.
Aleksandar Kolarov has had a remarkable year, as his eight goals stand among the best marks for defenders in Europe's five major leagues, but he has a lot of miles on those legs, and his days as an unquestioned starter should be dead and gone.
Pastore and Dzeko are different stories altogether. For El Flaco it's one part health and one part motivation. With only 500 some odd minutes under his belt, Pastore's return to Italy has been a complete wash. Yet, when he's managed to remain healthy, he's had quite an impact, scoring three goals and providing a creative spark sometimes missing from Roma's attack, but would it really surprise you if he closed shop and moved home this summer? Pastore was an exciting addition (and ironically one that seemed immune to the ravages of time given his playing style) but given his age, declining production and injury history, what can we even expect from him going forward? What would he have to do to justify that transfer fee? Would time to Pastore be detrimental to Roma's bevy of young midfielders?
Dzeko's future is even muddier. While Dzeko still does all the little things in attack well enough—eating up space, holding up play and creating chances for Roma's wide players—eight league goals in 30 appearances from your number nine just won't cut it. While Dzeko figures to have a few more serviceable years under his belt as a top flight player, it's better to part ways a year too early than a year too late.
The Captains: Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi
Our two beloved Romans fall in the gray area for completely different reasons. For De Rossi, it's all about age. While we've long assumed he's coming back for one final season with the only club he's ever known, there doesn't seem to be a ton of urgency coming from the club to extend his current deal. DDR can't play every single minute anymore, but for large stretches this season he was the club's best midfielder, providing cover for the defense and instilling a sense of calm among the chaos. De Rossi does, in every way, shape and form, deserve to dictate the end of his career on his terms, and I pray he's welcomed back with open arms next season; I can't bear another "retirement.”
While I am in no way suggesting Florenzi isn't a pillar of this team, the past few seasons have proven one thing; he's extremely limited as a right back, and continuing with this awkward experiment benefits neither the club nor the player. Florenzi is an intuitive attacking player, one capable of creating magical moments, but his defensive decencies have become too glaring to ignore. Make him a winger or a jack of all trades attacker so we can all enjoy some guilt-free Florenzi worship again—that Florenzi would be a lot higher on this list.
The Potential Posse
Intriguing Upside: Bryan Cristante, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Justin Kluivert, Cengiz Ünder
I'll be honest, I couldn't really separate these four, so I made an executive decision and lumped them all together! But if you were starting a club from the ground up and couldn’t select anyone over the age of 25, you could do a lot worse than this quartet. With their high floors and astronomical ceilings, Roma could very well be the envy of Europe if these kids fulfill their enormous potential.
Still, they've each suffered through their own fits and starts during their brief tenures in the Eternal City. For Cristante, it's simply been his inability to recreate his form from last season, which, while unfair, will continue to plague him until he finds some measure of consistency. Ditto for Pellegrini, who has been, in the eyes of many fans, chasing his Sassuolo stats for the past two seasons; a fact that belies how truly great he's been at times this season.
For Kluivert, his first season has been a lesson in patience, as it's taken nearly an entire season for him to carve out a small little niche as Roma's change of pace second half sub, while Ünder has dealt with the injury bug after his breakout campaign in 2018.
At minimum, these guys all profile as decade-long starters for club and country, but if they can live up to that seemingly limitless potential, Roma may be a force to be reckoned with on the European stage.
The Prime Time Players
Players at Their Peaks: Stephan El Shaarawy and Kostas Manolas
This probably says a lot more about Roma's roster construction than it does their individual talents, but if you take a long, hard look at Roma, Stephan El Shaarawy and Kostas Manolas are probably the only two players at the absolute apex of their careers. At 26 and 27-years-old respectively, SES and Greece Lightning are at their physical peaks and have been the club's best players this season and should be front and center in Roma's plans for the near future.
It may be hard to believe, but we’re coming towards the end of Manolas’ fifth season with Roma. Five seasons of blazing speed, tough tackles and throttling opponents when the need arises, and through it all Manolas has been a rock. When we close the books on this season, it will mark the fifth straight year in which Manolas has totaled at least 35 appearances in all competitions. Based on talent, tenacity, and sheer strength, Manolas is the best defender this club has had over the past decade, and while some have been quick to dismiss him as of late, I shudder to think where they'd be without him, a sentiment we can apply to this next man as well.
We've talked a lot about El Shaarawy's quest to recover the player he once was, the teenage sensation who took Europe by storm in 2012 with AC Milan, and through it all—the injuries, the changes in managers, the parade of wingers Roma have purchased—we cautioned that that kid was an aberration, and that we shouldn't expect to see that El Shaarawy ever again.
But then 2018-2019 happened. With 11 goals in roughly 1,800 minutes, El Shaarawy's goals per 90 minutes are on par with his breakout 2012-2013 season with the Rossoneri, suggesting that perhaps he really still is that player. At this point in his career, El Shaarawy has put his injury woes behind him and has seemingly learned how to cope with and/or ignore all the hype that accompanied his shining debut, and Roma are better for it—El Shaarawy is at once their best goal scorer and most dynamic attacking threat.
El Shaarawy is the man of the moment, but there is no debating to whom the future of Rome belongs...
The Future, The Franchise...The Kid
Roma's Next Number Ten: Nicolo Zaniolo
At this point, it's hard to add anything new to the Zaniolo dialogue; he's been revelation in every sense of the word, far exceeding all expectations since moving from Inter Milan as part of the Radja Nainggolan deal this past summer. From his unexpected professional debut against Real Madrid in September to his Azzurri call up shortly thereafter, one which came before he even saw a minute of Serie A action, Zaniolo has been worthy of all the praise heaped upon him.
While the numbers won't wow you yet, six goals in all competitions for a 19-year-old is quite an accomplishment. But numbers only tell a portion of the story. When dealing with a player like Zaniolo, particularly one so young, nuance and subtext matter more than numbers and statistics.
Zaniolo plays with the composure and intelligence of a man ten years older. His poise on the ball, killer close control, intuitive passing and finishing touch makes him a menace to any defender on the planet, and much like Roma's former franchise player, he does it all without blinding speed or an array of joga bonito-style step overs. That's not to say he can't make a fool out of you (look no further than this goal against Sassuolo), it's just that he reads the game so well and is seemingly always in the right spot that he doesn't have to—he's like Neo in The Matrix in that way; there is no spoon.
At 19-years-old, the world is seemingly Zaniolo's oyster, and while there is every chance he suffers some slumps and is forced to slog through some lean years like El Shaarawy before him, Roma hasn't had a player like him since...well, you know who.
Nicolo Zaniolo is not now, nor will he ever be, Francesco Totti, but he's the first player we've had who gives you that same feeling. The feeling that the club is in good hands, hands capable of magic, and hands that will someday lift Roma above the fray.