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Ranking Roma's Roster, From Irrelevant to Indispensable: Inflection Point Edition

With no Champions League cash on the horizon and FFP breathing down their necks, Roma has to make some difficult choices this summer. To help Tiago Pinto in this task, we ranked Roma's roster from the spare parts to the absolute essentials.

AS Roma Unveil New Signing Paulo Dybala Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Playing armchair GM, shaping and molding your favorite club's roster, is one of the great joys of being a modern football fan. Fueled by games like Football Manager and FIFA, fans can access advanced analytics, scouting reports, and detailed videos previously only available to football insiders. Armed with this data, football fans can make informed decisions when designing their dream roster, priming their club for an imaginary run at domestic and European glory.

However, before we fret about what additions Roma should make to reclaim their spot among Europe's elite, we must first take stock of the club's current assets. So, just as we've done nearly every spring since 2019, we will separate the wheat from the chaff as we rank Roma's roster from irrelevant to indispensable.

With the specter of Financial Fair Play sanctions looming over their head, not to mention the constant rumors linking manager José Mourinho to PSG (among others), this summer feels incredibly consequential for the Giallorossi. One false step, and Roma could be looking at another stretch of midtable mediocrity. Still, with a few shrewd moves and a few tough decisions, the capital club could set itself on the path toward sustained success.

In a word, Roma is at an inflection point. If they play it right, we may find ourselves back in the halcyon days when the Giallorossi were not only competing in the Champions League every season but were a threat to advance into the knockout rounds. If, however, they fail to trim the fat from the roster, it's the mid-table life for us.

So, without further delay, let's rank and file Roma's roster. Please note this ranking doesn't include any incoming transfers.

The Future Former Roma Players

Eldor Shomurodov of AS Roma looks on during warmup prior to... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Loan Purgatory

Matias Vina, Eldor Shomurodov, Justin Kluivert, Carles Perez, Gonzalo Villar, Bryan Reynolds.

We might as well start with the obvious: if Roma had their way, these players would never step foot in Trigoria again. From the ill-advised purchases (Shomurodov) to the stop-gap measures (Viña) to the guys who just couldn't find their niche (Perez, Villar), this group is just a mess and speaks volumes about Roma's troubled approach to roster building over the past several years.

Some of these players may carve out solid careers elsewhere, but their days with Roma are done, whether they rot on the vine in Rome or endure a cycle of loans before their contracts expire.

Cut Your Loss Candidates

Marash Kumbulla

While Roma shouldn't necessarily throw the baby out with the bath water here, Kumbulla hasn't done enough to definitively earn his spot on the roster going forward. Kumbulla, who has been with the club since 2020, faced a difficult task unseating Chris Smalling, Roger Ibañez, and Gianluca Mancini in the starting rotation. Still, with 67 appearances totaling over 4,000 minutes since his arrival, he has had ample time to prove himself.

A torn ACL suffered earlier this spring likely means he'll remain with Roma next season, but beyond that, it's difficult to see Kumbulla as a centerpiece for Roma in the mid-2020s. Kumbulla, like so many other transfers from the past seven to eight years, suffered from a bloated transfer fee that saddled him without outsized expectations.

The talent isn't an issue, but with regulars like Smalling and Mancini ahead of him and with very few notable achievements with the club, Kumbulla's days are likely numbered.

The Gray Areas

AS Roma Finalists Access Day - UEFA Europa Conference League Final 2022/23 Photo by Tullio Puglia - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Loan Limbo

Diego Llorente, Georginio Wijnaldum, Mady Camara

Roma has already addressed two of these players by default, letting Wijnaldum and Camara return to their parent clubs. We'll never truly know how well Wijnaldum would have fit it were it not for his early season injury, while Camara, who was ostensibly purchased to cover for Wijnaldum, never really made his mark.

Now here is where things get interesting. Llorente, who was a rather unexpected addition to the team in January, quickly transitioned from being a novelty to a critical piece of Mourinho's defensive puzzle. Although he only played 705 minutes for the Giallorossi this spring, the club was sufficiently impressed to the point where they're working with Leeds to extend the 28-year-old's loan.

Expiring Contracts

Stephan El Shaarawy, Chris Smalling

While extending new deals to El Shaarawy and Smalling, two critical contributors to the Roma cause, may sound like a no-brainer, with their deals set to expire on June 30th, Pinto better move quickly. With whispers of El Shaarawy offers from abroad and the threat of Smalling returning to England, Roma cannot simply assume these players are sitting idly by waiting for a phone call.

El Shaarawy never became the global superstar pundits envisioned a decade ago. Still, he's transformed into one of Serie A's most potent substitutes, scoring nine goals and providing two assists in all competitions this season, providing Roma with an instant offense off the bench.

Smalling's class and contributions are evident; Roma's defense is demonstrably worse when he's off the pitch. But at 32 years old, it's fair to question whether or not he wants to stick around for another year desperately chasing Champions League football, especially when there are several teams already in Europe's big dance that would gladly welcome him with open arms.

The Fringe Players

Mehmet Zeki Celik of As Roma gestures during the UEFA... Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

Take 'Em or Leave 'Em

Mile Svilar, Zeki Celik, Rick Karsdorp, Andrea Belotti, Rui Patricio

While these players aren't without their merits, they're essentially replacement-level players and, as such, can easily be replaced by cheaper/younger options on the transfer market. After essentially being banished from the team in late 2022, Karsdorp's time with the club is likely done. However, his nominal replacement (Celik) turned in 2,000 mostly anonymous minutes in his debut season with Roma, further muddying the full back waters.

Belotti's struggles have been well-documented, but he did just enough to trigger the final two years of his contract. But make no mistake; the pressure is on. Belotti needs to improve on his...checks league goals in 2022-2023.

As far as the keepers are concerned, Patricio has one year remaining on his deal, and whether he spends that year as the starter likely depends on how well Svilar plays this summer. If Svilar steps up and proves worthy of a starting spot, Roma has one less headache to worry about, but if he falters, Roma's keeper carousel will keep spinning.

The Far-off Future

Benjamin Tahirovic, Filippo Missori, Giacomo Faticanti, Cristian Volpato

U-23 prospects are highly regarded for two primary reasons: a) they can become cost-effective building blocks for your roster, or b) they become valuable assets on the transfer market.

So, what are these kids: Transfer fodder or legitimate pieces for the future?

With rumors of Volpato going to Sassuolo and several other Italian clubs sniffing around Missori and Tahirovic, we may never see these players fulfill their potential in Rome, but the fact that Mourinho gave them cameos this season could mean he already appreciates their value.

The Core Players

AS Roma Training Session Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Ascending young players

Edoardo Bove, Nicola Zalewski, Ola Solbakken

This is perhaps the most interesting trio on this list. You have one player, Bove, who entered the season with minimal expectations, only to emerge as the heir to Daniele De Rossi. The counting stats won't bowl you over yet, but Bove already looks the part of an energetic, game-breaking midfielder who frustrates opponents to no end thanks to his tenacity, timing, and intellect.

Zalewski, whose rise to prominence began late last season, has impressed over the past 18 months while playing out of position. A natural winger, Zalewski was pressed into service late last season after Matías Viña wilted as Leonardo Spinazzola's replacement at left wing-back. Zalewski has the speed and agility to be a difference-maker on the wings, so let's hope the days of playing him out of position are over.

Solbakken, meanwhile, remains a bit of an enigma. After torching Roma in the 2022 Conference League, the Giallorossi did a reverse "If you can't beat them, join them," signing the 23-year-old Norwegian forward in January. While he spent much of the season on the periphery, he has the rare combination of size, strength, and speed that makes scouts drool. If he survives the FFP hammer, he could be a pivotal piece for Roma sooner rather than later.

The Meat and Potatoes

Nemanja Matic, Bryan Cristante, Gianluca Mancini

Now we've come to the solid, meaty center of Roma's pot roast. Matic, who has formed quite a tag-team duo with Mourinho throughout their decorated careers, logged over 3,000 minutes for Roma this season, giving the Giallorossi's midfield a much-needed veteran boost. While Mourinho will have to manage his minutes closer next year, Matic proved his worth this season.

Cristante and Mancini, meanwhile, have followed somewhat similar trajectories in their Roma careers, both emerging from "yeah, buts" to more polished products this season. In fact, with nearly 6,000 league minutes between them, no outfield players saw more action than Cristante and Mancini.

And with both players in the prime of their careers, expect them to become the face of the franchise alongside Paulo Dybala and Lorenzo Pellegrini. They'll never generate many headlines, but Roma would be lost without them.

Talented but not untouchable

Roger Ibañez, Leonardo Spinazzola, Tammy Abraham

There's no questioning the combined talents of Ibañez and Spinazzola, and in a vacuum void of context, they'd trail only Pellegrini and Dybala on this list. But that's not our reality. In this world, Ibañez is a supremely talented but inconsistent defender who looks like the second coming of Marquinhos one minute and a bench player the next. With Roma under the FFP gun, Ibañez could leave the club before the end of June, ending an inconsistent but promising career in the capital.

Sevilla FC v AS Roma - UEFA Europa League: Final Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Spinazzola, meanwhile, fought valiantly to return to the pitch after tearing his Achilles tendon in July 2021, logging nearly 2,600 minutes in all competitions this season while scoring two goals and chipping in five assists.

With an entire season of mostly healthy football under his belt, Spinazzola should have a fresh start next season, but, much like Ibañez, he could be sold to satisfy Roma's FFP requirements.

Abraham is perhaps the most puzzling player on this roster. After scoring 27 goals in all competitions last season, Tammy fell back to earth in '22-'23, bagging only nine goals in all competitions. However, with his underlying stats more or less the same, there was hope for a big bounce back next season, but that redemption tour is on hold until at least March 2024 after Abraham tore the ACL in his left knee in the season's final match.

The Star Players

AS Roma v Spezia Calcio - Serie A Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

The Embattled Captain

Lorenzo Pellegrini

If you only focus on the punditry and the talk radio hot takes, you'd think that Pellegrini couldn't even tie his shoes, let alone lead a club as prestigious as Roma. But when you focus on the facts, you see a midfielder that accounted for 17 goals and assists in all competitions, the third-highest mark of his career and only one short of his performance in 2021-2022.

He's not a perfect player by any means, and he's certainly not dynamic enough to start for Manchester City or any club of that ilk, but he ranked fourth in the league in key passes and fifth in shot-creating actions. In that sense, he's doing what's asked of him, but as a local kid and captain, he's held to a higher standard. Whether you think that's fair or not likely depends on your opinion of him as a whole. No matter the case, Pellegrini will always be treated differently, for better or worse.

The Jewel in the Crown

Paulo Dybala

What more needs to be said? I still can't believe he plays for Roma, and while there's still a chance, however remote, that he's a one-and-done in the capital, he reminded us all how joyful this sport can be when you have someone as creative as talented and as magical as Dybala pulling the strings in the final third.

With 18 goals and seven assists in all competitions, Dybala was among the most productive attacking players in Europe's major five leagues. Dybala also led all Roma players in goals and assists and trailed only Pellegrini in key passes, and shot-creating actions, while ranking fifth in passes into the penalty area.

And those are only the figures we can count. Dybala, much like Francesco Totti before him, almost defies explanation. Roma was decidedly worse when Dybala was absent, stripping the club of its best player, its focal point, and, at times, the sole source of inspiration.

He'll never touch Totti's legacy with the club, but Paulo Dybala is the first player since Roma's legendary number 10 to leave you in awe. As long as he's around, Roma will always have a chance.