As an American obsessed with European football, there is one aspect of the player-club relationship that still astounds me after all these years—free agency. In the NBA, NFL or MLB, reaching free agency is a goal for players, not a last ditch resort. “Shackled” by their rookie deals, players and their agents are almost immediately planning for the end of their contract, wheeling and dealing behind the scenes, forming super teams behind closed doors with other impending free agents and, in some extreme cases, even sitting out or holding back in their final seasons with their current clubs to secure their impending mega deals.
In fact, the term limits of contracts are often front and center in labor negotiations between players and management, with service time prior to free agency popping up in nearly every collective bargaining agreement in my lifetime.
But never in European football; top players seldom reach the ends of their contracts like their North American counterparts. There are certainly some structural reasons why this exists; European football is free market economics run amok, so players can earn higher salaries earlier in their careers and are more likely to lock-down their prime years as soon as possible; American sports, meanwhile, are (ironically) dripping with socialism, where wages are suppressed in favor of league-wide parity, so getting out of one's contract is an end goal not the worst case scenario.
While you'll never see a 25-year-old Leo Messi hit the free agent market, it can still be a viable way of adding experience and talent to one's roster. What's more, removing the barrier of club-to-club negotiations not only makes the transaction quicker, but, without the burden of transfer fees, infinitely cheaper. As Roma fans, we've certainly seen clubs like Juventus exploit this market in the past, most notably with Andrea Pirlo in 2014, but it still somehow remains an overlooked avenue to team building.
But maybe not this summer. With a handful of talented veterans set to be free agents come June 30th (or, you know, whenever reality resumes), Roma has a golden opportunity to add some experience to their up and coming roster.
So, with that in mind, here are a few free agents Roma would be wise to woo this summer.
Mario Götze (F/M): Borussia Dortmund
We'll start with perhaps the most intriguing name on the market, 27-year-old Mario Götze. If you've been following European football for the past several years, you're no doubt familiar with Götze's story. After bursting onto the scene with Dortmund, Götze made a big money move to Bayern Munchen, and while the early returns were somewhat promising—19 goals and 10 assists in his first two years—he ultimately returned to BVB in 2016.
Since then, Götze has suffered through some ups and downs, to the point where Dortmund reportedly have no interest in renewing his deal come June. One year removed from a seven goal, seven assist season, Götze likely still has a lot of football left in him, meaning Roma would face stiff competition for his signature.
With the Gazzetta dello Sport reporting in recent weeks that Götze is intrigued by life in Serie A, expect all the usual Italian clubs to check in with Götze. With Roma suffering through several offensive droughts this season, adding Götze to the mix would enable the club to replace the likely departing Henrikh Mkhitaryan and hopefully push Lorenzo Pellegrini to find more consistency in his game.
No matter how you view him, Götze is likely the hottest name on this summer's free agent market.
Thomas Meunier (RB): PSG
Meunier, a 28-year-old Belgian international, is set to hit the free agent market after a four-year stint in the French capital. Although he was initially hesitant to make the PSG switch from Club Brugge, Meunier was able to carve out a consistent role in Paris, logging at least 1,500 minutes in three of the past four seasons. In four years with the club, Meunier has scored 13 goals and chipped in 18 assists despite playing roughly half as many minutes as he did with Brugge.
At roughly 6’3”, Meunier has exceptional size for a full-back and is right in the thick of his prime athletic years, so he wouldn't come cheap to any club. While he was initially linked with a move to Dortmund, Meunier has been quick to downplay those links, claiming he wants to return to PSG.
Coming from an oil club, meeting his wage demands would be tough (to say nothing of fending off larger suitors), but I can't think of a better fit of talent and need than Roma acquiring Meunier. This could be a game changer for the new ownership.
Jan Vertonghen (CB): Tottenham Hotspur
Jonas’ childhood neighbor finds himself without a contract after an incredibly successful eight-year run with Spurs, for whom he made well over 200 appearances. With his playing time dwindling over the past few years, due largely to the emergence of Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sanchez, Vertonghen is your proverbial aging Premiership defender looking to move to a more tactical league.
I wouldn't go so far as to suggest Vertonghen could replace Chris Smalling, but depending on his wage demands, he could be a useful addition to Roma's defensive core, assuming the minutes normally occupied by Juan Jesus or Federico Fazio.
Layvin Kurzawa (LB): PSG
Kurzawa, once the jewel of the left-back market, made a €25 million move to PSG in the summer of 2015, indirectly opening the door for Lucas Digne to move to Roma. Kurzawa has been a solid player for PSG but hasn't quite fulfilled his prophecy as an all-world left-back, splitting playing time in recent seasons with Juan Bernat.
Still, despite that work-share program, Kurzawa has been effective, scoring 13 goals and contributing 17 assists during his five-year stint in Paris. Still just 27-years-old, many, many clubs will be lured by his potential, including the likes of Arsenal and Barcelona.
Roma will likely need two new starting full-backs next season, and nabbing Kurzawa on a free transfer would be a tremendous start to their defensive retooling.
Edinson Cavani (F): PSG
Man, PSG certainly burns through players, don't they? Cavani is no stranger to Serie A fans, having made his name with Palermo and Napoi before PSG scooped him up for a cool €64 million way back in 2013. All Cavani has done since then is score 193 goals in all competitions while winning 18 trophies along the way. Prolific; there is no other way to describe Cavani.
At 33-years-old, his time in Paris is about to end, but don't assume he's completely washed up as a striker. Last season, in only 1,675 league minutes, Cavani netted 18 goals, good for 0.97 goals per 90 minutes, a figure that fell to a still impressive 0.60 goals per 90 through his first 602 minutes this season.
Scorers score, and with that kind of record he's likely to have his fair share of suitors, including his former club Napoli. Edin Dzeko is no slouch himself, but even at his best he wasn't as scary as Cavani. But let's face it, Roma have been operating with a Dzeko or nothing approach for far too long, and even as a complement to Dzeko, Cavani would be a massive upgrade to anything Roma has had over the past half-decade.
Cavani is in an interesting spot. His numbers over the past 18 months prove he can still score with the best of them, but father time isn't exactly on his side, so what will he do: Take the larger role with a small club or integrate himself with a bigger, more motivated side?
Keep an eye on this one.
Dries Mertens (F): Napoli
We've poured over this rumor a few times over the past year or so, but with contract talks stalled before the pandemic, it's looking increasingly likely that Mertens could hit the open market. While he'll likely never repeat his 28 goal binge from the 2016-2017 season, Mertens has still produced, on average, 0.54 goals per 90 minutes over the past three seasons. Furthermore, with 22 Serie A assists over that same span, his play-making abilities haven't dulled either.
If Mertens is allowed to walk this summer, expect clubs like Inter, Atletico and Chelsea to be sniffing for his services. Adding Mertens to his attacking mix would give Paulo Fonseca practically unlimited lineup permutations as Mertens can slot in at center-forward, right wing and even attacking midfielder.
Squeezing even just 18 months of production out of Mertens could be a huge coup for Roma.
Giacomo Bonaventura (M): AC Milan
Talk about a precipitous drop. From his halcyon days with Atalanta and Milan, when he was a lock for 30 appearances every year between 2012 and 2018, Nick from New Girl has been plagued with a spate of injuries over the past few years, missing large stretches with knee and hamstring issues.
When healthy, Bonaventura was a plug and play midfielder, one who produced 52 goals and 30 assists in 289 career Serie A appearances. Given his injury history, this would be a bit of a gamble, but if Bryan Cristante and Roma part ways this summer, Bonaventura would be a tremendous depth move for Gianluca Petrachi.
Pedro (F/M): Chelsea
With Paulo Fonseca reportedly requesting him during the January transfer window, we're obliged to include Pedro on this list. Once a mainstay for Barcelona and Chelsea, Pedro has informed the London-based club that he's intent on leaving Stamford Bridge this summer. With offers from Qatar, Pedro has to decide if he wants to remain in a top European league or accept the ludicrous pay the Al-Sadd typically offers to players of his stature.
While Pedro hasn't done much for Chelsea this season, he's only one year removed from a 13 goal and five assist performance (all comps), and would give Fonseca a versatile and technically gifted piece he can mix and match throughout the midfield.
Other Free Agents: Olivier Giroud, Adam Lallana, Jose Callejon, Willian, David Silva
Roma don't take advantage of the free agent market too often, but with such a young squad at their disposal, Fonseca and Petrachi would be well suited to bring in any of these talented veterans. And if they (and whoever owns the club next season) really want to flex their muscle, they'd make a serious play for Meunier, Götze or Kurzawa.
At this stage in the game, we can only speculate what Roma will do, but if we read the tea leaves, it seems like they may only go to bat for Chris Smalling, meaning Mkhitaryan will likely return to Arsenal if Roma can't strike a bargain with the Gunners. If that is indeed the case, expect the club to focus on malleable midfielder/forward-types in the transfer market—particularly if they also part ways with Diego Perotti—which would seem to put Götze or Mertens in their cross-hairs.
What do you think? Do any of these free agents tickle your fancy?
You can only sign one for Roma, who ya got?
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