With Matías Viña off to Bournemouth on loan, Roma has a vacant roster spot in defense, meaning the club can finally secure a fifth center-back to fill out José Mourinho’s roster is finally happening. The flexibility afforded by his departure means Tiago Pinto can bring in a central defender to fill the spot previously occupied by Viña.
And in keeping with his M.O., Pinto found a player never previously linked with the Giallorossi: Leeds United’s Diego Llorente, who arrives on a loan with an option to buy. It’s not a sexy signing, but one that should occupy a role Mourinho has been desperate to fill for some time.
AS Roma are closing in on deal to sign Diego Llorente from Leeds on loan with buy option clause, agreement in place #ASRoma #LUFC @DiMarzio @MatteMoretto— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) January 30, 2023
Clubs are set to complete contracts to get it signed today. pic.twitter.com/E5voI7nmft
Llorente is a right-footed center-back who came through the Real Madrid system. However, he only made three appearances for the senior side. While under Real’s control, Llorente played out loan spells at Rayo Vallecano and Malaga before he was sold outright to Real Sociedad in the summer of 2017.
Llorente was a regular contributor for Sociedad and impressed enough to be brought to newly promoted Leeds in the summer of 2020 for €20 million. The 29-year-old Spaniard departs the English side after seeing his minutes significantly reduced this season under new manager Jesse Marsch. Llorente appeared in just eight EPL matches (649 minutes) after starting 28 matches (2,340 minutes) just a year ago.
He’s also been in the Spanish national team picture, having been capped 10 times, most recently appearing in the 2022 UEFA Nations League for the Furia Roja. All of this amounts to a fair bit of experience being added to a still reasonably young Roma backline.
He’s described as a complete center back in this excerpt from a thorough breakdown of his game from Coaches Voice:
Llorente is a complete centre-back with a vast range of strengths, both in and out of possession. He provides a safety net in the last line with his pace and ability to cover for others, as well as exceptional tackling ability, but first and foremost he is extremely calm on the ball and is always an option through which his team can recycle possession.
Llorente fits the profile of a serviceable veteran presence that Mourinho will be able to plug and play into the backline during a busy stretch with Roma competing in three competitions. And he offers the versatility of playing in both three and four-man back lines if he sticks around past this season.
With Chris Smalling’s future seemingly up in the air, one wonders if Pinto sees Llorente as a possible heir to the Englishman, which could allow Mourinho a move back to a back four next season.
Only time will tell if that happens. But for the time being, at the very least, Mourinho has the fifth center-back that he needed to fill out his defense.