With the entire footballing world on hiatus right now due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it was only a matter of time before the transfer rumor mill was up and running. Which is somewhat ironic because transfer season itself will have to be adjusted once play resumes, but at least it gives us something current to talk about. I don't know about you, but I've had my fill of UEFA rescheduling options, so follow me as I attempt to conjure my very own transfer rumor.
Along with the man he replaced, Akradiusz Milik was the talk of the Serie A transfer market in the summer of 2016, coming to Napoli on a €32 million move from Ajax, after a season in which he scored 21 goals and provided seven assists for the Dutch club.
The expectations for Milik were high enough given that price tag, but consider the circumstances in which he arrived in Napoli. Signing on barely a month after Gonzalo Higuain made his €90 million move to Juventus, Milik had gigantic shoes to fill. With 91 goals during his three years with Napoli, Higuain was in the process of re-writing the Napoli record book and was a central player in their recent successes, helping steer the club back into the upper echelon of Serie A.
Despite those sky-high expectations, the early returns for Napoli were outstanding, as the then 22-year-old Milik scored seven goals in nine appearances (all comps) before tearing his ACL in October of 2016. Milik would make a pretty quick recovery, returning to the pitch in February of 2017 but managed only one goal in 14 appearances (all comps) through the end of the 2016-2017 season.
With his injury nearly a full year behind him, Milik was front and center for Napoli at the outset of the ‘17-’18 season, making five appearances and scoring two goals through the end of September. All was well in Milik-land until another knee injury sidelined him through March of 2018.
And so it went for Milik. Through his first two seasons in Napoli, Milik missed a total of 55 games before rediscovering good health and good form in the 2018-2019 season, scoring 20 goals and providing five assists in all competitions. For the first time in almost three years, Milik looked like the €32 million player he was in the summer of 2016.
That fine form has carried over into the 2019-2020 season, with Milik bagging 12 goals in 22 appearances between Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League. Playing for two managers this season, Carlo Ancelotti and later Gennaro Gattusso, Milik has spent most of his season sitting in the middle of a 4-3-3 or playing alongside Dries Mertes at the tip of a 4-4-2.
Okay...so, why are we talking about him?
With Napoli signing Andrea Petagna from SPAL earlier this year, Milik's position isn't quite as secure as his numbers may suggest. While his contract runs through 2021, the Gazzetta dello Sport suggests that if Milik cannot extend his deal this summer, he will be free to explore his options on the transfer market.
Enter Roma. Edin Dzeko may have two seasons left on his deal, but he turns 34 this coming week and, regardless of what you think of his current performance levels, Roma need to think about the future. With no viable center forwards coming up the ranks (sorry, Zan Celar fans), grabbing a 26-year-old forward with something to prove could be a bridge to the future for Roma.
Say what you will about Dzeko, but he has every chance to close out his Roma career as the club's third all-time leading scorer, while his play-making from the striker spot remains as integral to Roma's approach as ever, but he will have to be replaced eventually.
Dzeko and Milik have pretty similar scoring records over the past two seasons, but how do they stack up in other areas?
As you can see, outside of actual assists and Dzeko's slightly bigger stature, this is almost a like for like swap. Cobble all those scoring and passing numbers into npxG+xA (non penalty expected goals + expected assists) and the comparison still stands. In 2018-2109, Dzeko finished with 0.65 npxG+xA to Milik's 0.69, and through the first two-thirds of this season Dzeko has maintained 0.74 npxG+xA to Milik's 0.76.
So, if Roma are looking for a way to phase out Edin Dzeko over the next two years while maintaining (and hopefully improving) the same style of play, there may not be a better option out there than Milik.
He won’t come cheap, as Transfermarkt suggests he’s worth €40 million, but if his injury woes are truly behind him, which his numbers this season suggest they are, Roma should absolutely put in a call to their friends in Napoli.