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Speed, Power & Miracles: The Legacy of Kostas Manolas

JonAS waves goodbye to Kostas and writes his own Greek Tragedy

AS Roma v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Leg Two

Well, this player is automatic, it’s systematic, it’s hyyyyydromatic… Why, it’s Grease Lightning!!

To be fair, in Roma’s entire history there probably is no nickname better suited than this one: Greece Lightning. Kostas Manolas was just that: The Greek embodiment of powerful thunder, dazzling stamina, and pure speed.

Born on the Island of Naxos, the biggest one of the Cyclades, Manolas played for Greece’s biggest clubs, Olympiakos and AEK, before joining Roma in 2014. Five seasons later he’s seen as one of Serie A’s best CB’s and arguably one of Roma’s better defenders since 2010: An athlete. A force of nature. Power, speed and, yes, a bit of craziness. A perfect fit for Roma.

Well, for five seasons at least. Our dear Kostas recently signed for rival Napoli and will form a formidable partnership with Koulibaly, hoping to win at least one trophy in Italy. Maybe Napoli can snatch the Scudetto away from Juve next season, get another Coppa Italia or who knows, even go far in Europe (an EL final against Roma?). One certainty is this: Manolas won’t win it in the red and yellow of the Eternal City but the blue colors of Naples.

And that’s a shame. Still, life goes on. Sure, there will be other CB’s that come and go in Rome. New, shiny CB’s. After all, we survived the sales of Benatia, ‘Hos and Romagnoli. But I really thought Kostas would prolong his Roman career until his 30s. Yet no one can blame him for moving away from Rome. The whole circus around Totti and De Rossi, all the drama that happened, perhaps Kostas was fed up with the management and the direction this club was going.

At Napoli there’s an intriguing project, a renowned coach, exciting players. They’re ready to finally break Juve’s hegemony together with Inter. AS Roma, on the other hand, is once more starting a new project with a new DS, coach, staff and another overhaul of its roster (Year Zero). Enough for Manolas to call it a day and find a new home. At the age of 28 it’s finally time to reap the rewards and Rome’s not the right place to do so. Or so he thinks.

Ironically, at Napoli Manolas will suddenly be seen as the number two of the defence, after leader Koulibaly. After being Roma’s wall in defence for five years and the status of a sure starter, Koulibaly is the first real star he gets to play with in the centre of the defence. Just look at the guys Kostas had to team up with in his first season at Roma: Astori, Mapou, a broken Castan and Balzaretti, Spolli. Decent, yes, but not the same caliber as him and definitely not in the same category as Koulibaly.

The next season he welcomed two new and dubious partners: Gyomber & Zukanovic. Thank God Rüdiger turned into a stud and Captain Caveman Fazio would come in the year after that. But still, Roma had the bad habit of picking players who would obstruct Manolas instead of giving him a boost: Vermaelen, Jesus, Moreno, Marcano, Capradossi. The inconsistent flanks (Karsdorp, Peres, Cole, Digne, Torosidis etc.) didn’t help either.

In the end we cannot ignore the fact Manolas is no Roman, not even an Italian. He’s a professional who wants to win and win big. Roma can’t afford huge salaries or realistically aim for the Scudetto next year. Kostas has no real bond with the club. Affection, yes, but true love? Meh. The temptation was too much for him. And like I said, the time is now, as a footballer he’s at his peak. If he stayed in Rome well into his 30s, the big clubs would think twice before signing him.

But how could you describe Kostas’ peak anyway? If he was THAT good, surely he was already playing for Chelsea, Bayern or Barcelona by now? And why does Napoli buy him and not an elite team like Juve, PSG or Man U? Aren’t they prepared to spend more money? Maybe he already reached his ceiling and we are blinded by our giallorosso glasses, thinking he’s worth far more. Perhaps Manolas, in the end, is just a more than decent CB, but not world-class like Romanisti like to think.

Who knows.

Yes, maybe Marquinhos had more talent. And Juan was more smooth. And Benatia scored more goals. And Chivu had more brains. And Samuel was tougher. And Mexes’ hair was more attractive. But Kostas will always be remembered as THE man who sent Roma to the Champions League semifinals after scoring that magical third goal in the comeback against Barcelona. Without a doubt Roma’s most important achievement since the Scudetto in 2001. And that’s why I’ll be forever grateful to Kostas.

That goal will remain in our hearts and minds ‘till the end of time. For me it ranks up there alongside historic goals like Ronaldo’s bicycle kick against Juve, Zlatan’s lob vs England, Messi’s solo vs Getafe, Totti’s volley vs Sampdoria or Maradonna’s one in the World Cup 1986.

Kostas was no Maldini or Cannavaro but he didn’t need to be one. He was the defender Roma deserved. Sometimes less is more. And that’s the reason I was madly in love with Greece Lightning. Grazie, Kostas.

Now excuse me, I have to watch those YouTube highlights of Barcelona again.