While many of us are still busy dreaming of Paulo Dybala in Roma colors, that rumor, as exciting as it was, was never really grounded in reality because it was precisely that: a dream. In the prime of his career and desperately chasing that elusive Champions League title, Dybala probably never seriously considered playing for Roma, José Mourinho's reputation and Francesco Totti's gentle persuasion notwithstanding. Even considering the spate of injuries he's endured recently, Dybala would have been an ideal signing for Roma as they look to skip a few steps along their developmental curve.
However, just because one dream is dashed, doesn't mean Roma fans should simply pack it in and accept their fates. In today's increasingly positionless game, hybrid attacking midfielders/wingers/strikers aren't that hard to find. Truly exceptional ones are rare, sure, but if you're willing to accept a few dings and scratches, there are some genuinely intriguing options on the transfer market.
Like this man...
My friends, you're looking at one of the more productive attackers in all of Europe: Dušan Tadić. The 33-year-old Serbian jack of all trades has made the Eredivise his personal playground over the past several years. Since signing with Dutch powerhouse Ajax in July of 2018, Tadić has put up numbers that would make Dybala blush: 79 goals and 77 assists in 166 appearances in all competitions, cracking the double-double (goals and assists) every season since arriving in Amsterdam, and he’s done it all while playing five different positions in attack, including attacking mid, striker and winger.
But those are only numbers. How and where would Tadić fit in with Mourinho's side and what would it take to bring him aboard?
Let's take a look!
How Would He Help Roma?
Roma’s defensive resolve was on full display this season, with players like Chris Smalling, Roger Ibañez, and Rui Patricio restoring faith in the Giallorossi backline. Unfortunately, despite the combined heroics of Tammy Abraham and Lorenzo Pellegrini, Roma's attack never truly seemed to hit on all cylinders, at least not for very long. With only 59 goals scored, Mourinho's attack was decidedly mid-table, as the club relied a bit too much on Abraham and Pellegrini, frequently looking weak and ineffective when either of those two had a rare off night.
What the club needs is an experienced, versatile, and productive forward that can simultaneously lift up the likes of Lorenzo Pellegrini, Nicolo Zaniolo, and Tammy Abraham while also bringing something unique to the table.
Enter Dušan Tadić.
He may be on the wrong side of 30, but on tactical flexibility alone, Tadić would provide a shot in the arm for Roma's attack. While he spent most of the past season on the left side of Ajax's 4-2-3-1, nestled just behind striker Sébastien Haller, Tadic saw time at four other positions during 2021-2022: attacking midfielder, right-wing, left-wing, and center forward.
Given his ability to play multiple roles (and play them well), Tadić could slot in at either wing spot, providing Pellegrini with an additional outlet in the final third while also taking some of the scoring pressure off Abraham in the area. And his ability to cut in from wide areas and link up with Pellegrini, Abraham, or whomever, would keep defenses off-kilter, creating more time and space for Mourinho's men to operate in the final third.
Let’s put it in even simpler, bullet-pointed terms. Tadić could conceivably do the following:
- Start at LW next to Tammy Abraham and opposite Nicolo Zaniolo with Lorenzo Pellegrini in the hole
- Start at RW next to Tammy Abraham and opposite Nicola Zalewski with Lorenzo Pellegrini in the hole
- Start at attacking mid, giving Pellegrini the day off
- Start at center-forward, giving Abraham the day off
- Start at center-forward in false-nine formations
- Start at attacking mid, allowing Pellegrini to play deeper (depending on the formation)
- Play as a second striker immediately behind Abraham and just ahead of Pellegrini
- Start in the hole behind Abraham and Zaniolo in a two-striker formation.
And those are just a few, off-the-cuff suggestions. With Mourinho flitting between a variety of three and four-man defensive formations, Tadić could make the already malleable Mourinho ever more difficult for opponents to decipher.
While that's all well and good, versatility means sweet F.A. without the production to back it up. Fortunately for us, Tadić has never failed to meet his production quotas for Ajax.
Production, Production, and More Production
Across his 14-year career as a professional footballer, Tadić has been an absurdly productive player, maintaining a level of dynamism you seldom see from players not named Lionel Messi. Starting off with Vojvodina in the Serbian league way back in 2008 and all the way through this year with Ajax, Tadić has scored 164 goals and chipped in 175 assists in 521 career matches, cracking the double-double an astounding six times along the way.
And it's not as if he padded those stats early in his career and is simply coasting into retirement; Tadić remains incredibly productive, turning in 27 goals and 37 assists across the past two Eredivisie seasons. Over the past year, Tadić has ranked in the 80th percentile or higher among attacking midfielder/wingers in Europe's five major leagues in a host of categories, including expected assists, key passes, progressive passing distance, passes into the penalty area, crosses into the penalty area, passes under pressure, shot-creating actions, and goal-creating actions, to name a few (figures courtesy of Football Reference).
While there is always the “why is a 33-year-old still playing in the Eredivisie?” to contend with, Tadić has put up MVP numbers over the past four years for Ajax, so it's not as if he's just hanging around and cashing paychecks—he's been one of the best players in the league since he set foot in Amsterdam four years ago.
What Would it Take to Land Him?
With two years remaining on his deal and four Eredivisie medals draped around his neck, Tadić may not be eager to leave Ajax for a non-Champions League club like Roma. However, despite dominating the Dutch league, apart from his eight-goal, twelve-assist campaign for Southampton in 2016, Tadić has never really tasted success in one of Europe's major leagues. So while Roma may not be able to offer him Champions League football yet, one final shot to test his mettle in one of the best leagues in Europe may appeal to the 33-year-old.
Currently valued at a reasonable €12 million by the fine folks at Transfermarkt, Tadić would be a relatively low-cost addition on a two-year deal, where he could help lift the Giallorossi back to the Champions League.
He's not Paulo Dybala, but Dušan Tadić could make an immediate and substantial impact for José Mourinho and Roma next season.