After welcoming both Diawara and Veretout, Roma’s midfield is as crowded as ever. Gerson is sold but he hasn’t been a vital part of the team since...well, ever since he stepped foot into Trigoria so that doesn’t change much. De Rossi left which still f*ckin hurts, but Gonalons returned from Seville and Nzonzi is still here. Yet Roma bought two shiny new toys for Fonseca’s 4-2-3-1 formation in Diawara and Veretout. Add young guns Coric and Riccardi to the mix and our midfield looks as stacked as the centre of Tokyo on a Monday morning during rush hour.
However, I’m gonna focus on one midfielder only: Bryan Cristante. The 24-year-old had a rather hot ‘n cold debut season at Roma but he did feature in 35 Serie A games, scoring 4 goals along the way. Not quite the same Cristante we saw at Atalanta 2017-2018, but a good and helpful player nonetheless. Obviously the entire team struggled when EDF was in town, Cristante wasn’t the only one who disappointed. There were some slight improvements under Ranieri, but I reckon we all expected more of Cristante after his transfer.
Now he’s in his second season at the club and it could make or break his Roman career. Another mediocre campaign and Roma might be tempted to shop Bryan around in the summer of 2020, hoping to recover a large sum of Cristante’s fee. It would be another chapter in the Great Roman Book of Transfer Failures, probably somewhere around Carew, next to Kjaer and after Michel Bastos. There’s a blank page already waiting for Schick.
For now let’s just hope Bryan can somehow find his way into Fonseca’s starting line-up. Which quite frankly doesn’t look too good for him. Cristante isn’t exactly tailor-made for playing in the double pivot in Fonseca’s 4-2-3-1 while Diawara and Veretout are much more suited for the job. He could thrive in the hole, ala Perrotta, but there’s also the likes of Zaniolo, Pellegrini and Pastore to compete with (yes, I still believe Roma can bring Pastore back to life and relive his Palermo days). Sadly, he would be a very expensive bench player.
The problem with Cristante is that he is good in a lot of things, but not great in any if them. He can run, he can pass, he has heart, he can shoot at goal, he can tackle and dribble, but he can’t run like Cafu, he can’t pass like Pizarro, he can’t shoot at goal like Totti, he can’t tackle like Radja or dribble like Amantino Mancini and he lacks the leadership of a De Rossi.
Don’t get me wrong, Cristante is a more than decent player, but he only had one great season until now. In a totally different system under Gasperini. Maybe the expectations were a bit too high after his transfer to Rome, but selling him right now would be very illogical and a downright mistake.
Firstly, he cost Roma a lot of money; never easy to play with a huge price tag on year head. Secondly, he’s still young and he deserves more chances before we can even consider him a ‘failure’. Finally, imagine Nzonzi and Gonalons are sold, who’s gonna replace Diawara or Veretout when things go wrong? Coric? Riccardi? Zaniolo is no DM, just like Pastore or Pellegrini. Cristante is more versatile and has already played in that position a lot in the past season, with two different trainers.
I’d love to see Bryan in a more advanced role, higher up the pitch. But for that to happen, we probably need to bench Pellegrini. Ugh. Choices, choices. Luckily for Fonseca, Roma are automatically qualified for the Europa League and that gives the team a lot more minutes to share. And I believe Cristante can and will be an important piece of our puzzle.
For example, when Diawara has troubles adapting to life in Rome or Veretout gets suspended, or when we need to hold a lead so Fonseca can swap Pellegrini with a more defensive minded Cristante. Having a guy like Cristante on your team makes the life of a coach a bit easier.
The hardest part? Cristante will need to perform every time he’s called up, and in a shorter time span. He won’t be seen as a sure starter anymore like last season. One month until Serie A kicks off and Bryan can’t afford to slow down.
Just like Tom Hanks in 1998, Cristante is on an important rescue mission. One that could end very well... Or very, very bad.