A good start is half the battle. That’s probably the best way to describe Houssem Aouar’s first weeks in Rome. Already speaking Italian to the media, Houssem immediately won Roma’s tifosi over. And now the Giallorossi won their first friendly this summer against Boreale 4-0, with Aouar shining in midfield/attack next to Dybala. He was vital for the second goal and also scored the fourth goal, earning praise and admiration from everyone who saw the game or read the match reports.
Now, I know it’s only July, and we can’t get ahead of ourselves, but this is a very promising start indeed. Ever since Henrikh Mkhitaryan left, Roma had trouble filling his void. Bryan Cristante, Nemanja Matic, and Edoardo Bove are all physical beasts but lack the genius and fluidity of a midfield maestro, while Mady Camara and Georginio Wijnaldum were either broken or disappointing, and Benjamin Tahirovic was just a spring chicken and was already sacrificed to appease Roma's FFP requirements.
This year Tiago Pinto’s job is simple: strengthen the midfield, preferably with a profile like Mkhitaryan— a gracious player who makes midfield and attack click, someone who isn’t afraid of the ball and capable of link-up play. While we’re still waiting/hoping for one more signing (Sanches, Sabitzer, Dominguez, Kamada, Daniele De Rossi’s right foot), Pinto was quick to bring in free agent Houssem Aouar all the way back in June.
Not so long ago, Aouar was the next big thing from Lyon’s famous academy. I recall prices in the region of €50 million for his signature 3-4 years ago. Barcelona, Arsenal, and Real were once all linked to the talented midfielder. (I also remember he was a great buy in the FIFA video games those seasons, a player with a very high ceiling. He would easily become a 90+ player after decent training.)
Anyway, back to the real world. Between 2017 and 2022, he was one of Lyon’s leading men, both in France and Europe. Remember Lyon’s successful Champions League run in 2019-2020 or the Europa League 2021-2022. It was only last season's spate of injuries and falling out with the club that dealt a heavy blow to his career, dropping his transfer value in the process.
Luckily for Aouar, he was a free agent this summer so he could move whenever and wherever he wanted. Only this time, clubs like Arsenal, Barcelona, or Real were not waiting in line due to his subpar 2022-2023. Were they afraid to take the risk? Not interested anymore? Did they think Declan Rice, Ilkay Gundogan, or Jude Bellingham were better choices? Has Aouar really declined so much in only one season?
Of course, form is temporary, and class is eternal. With that in mind, Pinto decided to act quickly and offer Aoura a contract until 2028. That’s a pretty big contract, but you never know. If Aouar refinds his form in Rome, and the big clubs come knocking at our door next summer, Roma still has some leverage. Worst case, Aouar becomes a bust, and he’ll spend the next four seasons on loan at Reims, Monza, or Celta de Vigo.
One thing is certain, though: Aouar is motivated and has a point to prove. It must surely hurt that he wasn’t picked up by a bigger club than AS Roma, especially if the whole of Europe was after him not so long ago. Now he won’t play in the Premier League or Champions League, but I’m pretty sure Roma is the ideal destination for him. He’ll be eager to prove his worth and has a great mentor in José Mourinho to bring back those good old Lyon days.
After all, Aourar has already played 250 official matches before his 25th birthday, including 179 league matches with Lyon, where he scored 30 goals and contributed 24 assists. Roma had to compete with teams like Napoli, Frankfurt, Sevilla, and Milan for his signature, which says something. He may be seen as a ‘bad boy,’ but we all know Mou loves these types. He even chose shirt no 22, Zaniolo’s former number. Coincidence?
He can slot in next to Matic or Cristante or play further up the pitch alongside Dybala or Pellegrini. Physically he also reminds me of Mkhitaryan. He is not that tall or strong, but he is able to do defensive duties and is comfortable with the ball at his feet. He has great technical abilities and is flexible: he can play all midfield roles and even on the wing if necessary. Let me remind you one more time: you get this guy FOR FREE.
We still have a crazy couple of weeks of silly season ahead of us. Evan Ndicka is a solid addition. It’s great to see Diego Llorente back. Rasmus Kristensen could send Zeki Celik to the bench. Marcel Sabitzer or Gianluca Scamacca could also please the fans and draw a lot of them to the airport.
However, my mind is already made up: Houssem Aouar is by far Pinto’s best deal of the summer. You’ll see.