Roma seldom go nuts in the winter transfer window, but every so often they knock it out of the park, finding the perfect marriage of price, need and fit. From Luca Toni back in the day to the more recent captures of Diego Perotti and Stephan El Shaarawy, who were instrumental in Roma's 2016 turnaround, the club's various executives have shown a knack for addressing micro-needs during the January transfer window, providing the club with the accessories they need to meet the objectives of the day.
During his first winter in charge of Roma, Gianluca Petrachi's main task was to provide depth to his suddenly beleaguered squad, particularly in attack, where the club was suffering fits and starts under optimal conditions. After losing Nicolo Zaniolo for the remainder of the season following his ACL tear on January 12th, Petrachi had a GIANT hole to fill in his squad, making any replacement he found a veritable band-aid on a bullet wound.
While I wouldn't say we were taking Zaniolo for granted, I'm not sure we truly appreciated just how instrumental he was to Roma's attack. His size, strength, and sheer audacity are essential to the proper functioning of Fonseca Football®; a lesson we've slowly (and painfully) been learning over the past month.
Cengiz Ünder has had a few brilliant moments since taking over as the starter, but Petrachi wasn't keen to rest all of Roma's right-wing hopes on Ünder, so he struck a near last minute deal for another young, athletic, and intriguing winger; Barcelona's 21-year-old Spaniard, Carles Perez.
Prior to arriving in Italy late last month, Perez's main claim to fame was his first half goal against Inter Milan in the Champions League in early December. Barcelona would go on to win that match while Perez would go on to play...16 minutes over the next six weeks, remaining on the outside of new manager Quique Setien's plans.
It's tough enough to crack a top flight rotation as a young player, but that task becomes monumental when a new manager takes over and won't give you more than a cursory glance. It's a sinkhole many fine young players have fallen into, but it presented an opportunity for Petrachi, who thought enough of Perez to make him Roma's biggest purchase of the winter; a potential €16.5 million when all the i's are dotted and t's crossed.
With only 57 minutes in a Roma shirt, it’s still way too early to draw any conclusions about who he is or what he might become, but his 33 minutes (plus stoppage) against Bologna last Friday may have laid the foundation for a role in this current Roma side.
Coming on for Cengiz Ünder in the 57th minute, young Perez got his first extended run in a Roma shirt, logging nearly 40 minutes on the pitch in Roma's ill-fated attempt to stem the tide on their 2020 down turn.
In those 40 minutes, Perez took 29 touches, and while his passing wasn't as crisp as you'd like, he was a menace with the ball at his feet, going a perfect five-for-five in dribble attempts, showing equal aggression throughout the middle and attacking thirds, dribbling past defenders as far away as 40-yards out and as close as 15-yards from the end line.
Here are a couple of illustrative example of the kind of agility, aggression, and close control Perez brings to the table.
Granted, these aren't exactly in-his-prime Ronaldinho style moves, nor did they directly lead to shots on goal, but I'm sure I wasn't the only one to let out an audible oooh when he dug his way out of those jams. This kid is nimble and has the presence of mind and spatial awareness to work his way out of trouble, maintain possession, and keep the pressure on opponents deep in the final third.
Even more impressive, with Roma pressing for a late goal, Perez completed four of his five successful dribbles after the 90th minute, showing the initiative and aggression Roma had lacked for much of the match, giving us a glimpse of a role he might fulfill down the stretch—the super sub.
Coming on somewhere between the 60th and 75th minute marks, Perez can provide Roma with an instant injection of pace, agility and aggression, traits he can rely on until he's fully absorbed Fonseca's tactics. If his run against Bologna was any indication, Perez can operate like a sixth man in basketball, entering the game with one mission: attack, attack, attack.
A year or so down the line, Perez might be an unquestioned starter for the club and star in the making, but after joining Roma on such short notice, and with their attacking options running low, Perez has the chance to create an important role based on his athleticism alone, and if he can turn those dribbles into genuine chances, we might have quite the second half weapon on our hands.