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Antonio Mirante's Resurgence Key to Roma's Early Successes

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At 37-years-old, Antonio Mirante is playing some of the best football of his career and has been a critical component in Roma's early successes this season.

Antonio Mirante of AS Roma looks on during the Serie A... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Way back in the summer of 2018, not long after former Roma owner James Pallotta boldly and proudly claimed that Roma had no intention of selling Alisson Becker—who by that point, even after only one season as a starter, was arguably the best keeper in the world—Roma did just that: selling the then 25-year-old keeper to Liverpool for a world record fee (at the time) for a keeper—€72.5 million.

It was a crushing move for a fanbase that had quickly grown enamored with the Brazilian keeper during his short stay in the capital. However, in a sick twist, his sale, and our subsequent struggle to cope with his absence, has been exacerbated by the moves Roma made in the immediate wake of his departure.

Almost immediately after the conclusion of the 2017-2018 season, one in which Alisson had by some estimates saved and/or earned Roma 13 points on his own, the writing was on the wall. Despite Pallotta's protestations otherwise, Roma's finances were screaming for a sale of this caliber, and with clubs like Chelsea, Real Madrid and Liverpool hot for his signature, it was only a matter of time before Roma capitulated to those greater economic forces.

With the World Cup dominating the headlines in the summer of 2018, it wasn't long before Roma were connected to some of that summer's standouts, including Real's Keylor Navas, Leicester City's Kasper Schmeichel and Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois. All fine keepers, but each likely to command a salary out of Roma's reach.

So Monchi, in his infinite wisdom, turned to Robin Olsen, keeper for FC Copenhagen and hero of Sweden's run to the quarterfinals of the 2018 World Cup. In order to land Olsen, a man who never played outside of Scandinavia barring one disastrous loan in Greece, Monchi forked over €12 million for a player valued at roughly one-sixth that figure.

Needless to say, this move was a disaster as Olsen, after conceding 58 goals in 35 appearances, was removed from the starting lineup in the spring of 2019 by Claudio Ranieri, who by that point had taken over the managerial duties from Eusebio Di Francesco. And of course, Olsen's failure in goal beget another similar (albeit more expensive) disaster in the form of Pau Lopez, Roma's €23.5 million mistake from last summer.

This might be a bit glib, but one could say that the Alisson sale was the proverbial straw that broke Roma and James Pallotta's back. In addition to the €35.5 million they've since wasted on two subpar keepers, part of Roma's Alisson windfall went towards another multimillion dollar mistake: Steven Nzonzi.

Those three transfers alone constitute nearly €60 million in bloat, but when you consider the rest of Monchi's ill-fated 2018 purchases (Patrik Schick, Gregoire Defrel, Javier Pastore, Justin Kluivert, Ante Coric and Bryan Cristante) and the subsequent managerial changes (EDF to Ranieri to Fonseca), Roma's struggles on the balance sheets, on the pitch, and in public perception aren't hard to comprehend.

Given the sheer depth and breadth of those mistakes, one do-over wouldn't remove us from the darkest timeline, but Monchi actually made a pretty shrewd under the radar move in 2018 that would have, at the very least, saved Roma €35.5 million in keeper expenses.

On June 22, 2018—a full two weeks before the club sold Alisson to Liverpool—Roma signed Antonio Mirante from Bologna for €4 million, while also sending keeper Lukasz Skorupski the other way for €9 million.

It was a pretty non-descript move at the time—I'm not sure we even dedicated a full write-up on his official unveiling—but Mirante fit the bill as an experienced backup for Alisson and/or whomever Monchi eventually deemed his worthy successor. And that's exactly how it played out: Mirante played second fiddle to Olsen for the bulk of the 2018-2019 season, taking over the job in April of 2019 for the final nine matches of the season.

Despite going undefeated in that nine-match cameo (5W, 4D), Mirante bore witness to another managerial change (EDF to Fonseca) and another epic transfer mistake (€23.5 million for Pau Lopez), all the while twiddling his thumbs and presumably wondering what more he had to do to earn the job.

By the time he reached Roma, Mirante was already 35-years-old and had well over 300 league appearances under his belt, so we could forgive EDF and Monchi for considering him nothing more than a solid backup, but considering what Mirante is currently achieving for Roma, it's hard not to wonder what if.

With his more expensive teammate, Pau Lopez, losing Fonseca's faith during Roma's shortened pre-season, Mirante has not only seemingly turned back the clock, he's arguably playing as good, if not better, than he ever has before.

With six starts (including two clean sheets), Mirante is shaping up to be one of the surprises of this unusual Serie A season. In addition to those two shutouts, Mirante is keeping some stellar company so far.

Check out his league rankings through six weeks:

  • Total saves (tied for 10th)
  • Save % (6th)
  • Saves in the box (tied for 3rd)
  • Saves outside the box (tied for 8th)
  • Goals allowed (tied for 7th fewest)
  • Goals allowed per 90 (4th fewest)
  • Clean sheet % (tied for 3rd)
  • PSxG +/- (5th best)
  • Completion % on passes >40 yards (5th)
  • Actions outside of penalty area (tied for 2nd most)
  • Successful run outs (tied for 1st)
  • Punches (4th)
  • Goal creating actions (1st)
  • Rating (5th per WhoScored and SofaScore)

Now, unfortunately we can't offer a historical comparison for some of the more advanced statistics (they're not generally available for seasons prior to 2018), but Mirante is arguably having his finest season since 2007-2008 when, as a 24-year-old, he helped guide Sampdoria to a sixth place finish.

At 37-years-old, Mirante obviously won't figure into Roma's long-term plans, but, as we're seeing through six weeks, he's still a master of the fundamentals, he's made several highlight worthy saves, a couple of quick succession saves on rebound/scrums and he's even managed three goal-creating actions; third most on the squad (tied with Pedro and Carles Pérez), the best mark in Serie A among keepers, and the most...let me say that again...the MOST of any keeper in Europe's Big Five leagues.

Indulging in revisionist history is always a risky proposition, but when you consider just how well Mirante is playing right now (the fifth highest rated keeper per multiple sites), it's hard not to wonder how differently things might have gone for Roma over the past two summers.

Replace Olsen with Mirante for the balance of the 2018-2019 season and perhaps Roma make the Champions League, earning the club money in the process while also preventing them from sinking €23.5 million into Lopez. And if Fonseca made the switch to Mirante earlier in the 2019-2020 season, who knows, perhaps Roma could have closed that eight point gap on fourth place Lazio?

Since we can't rewrite history, those are largely rhetorical questions, and while Roma are likely facing a bitter fight to the end for Italy's final Champions League place, if Antonio Mirante can sustain this pace, we'll at least have one less what if rattling around our brains come the end of the season.