When we look at the marquee names Roma has signed this summer—Bryan Cristante, Ante Coric and Justin Kluivert—one notices a theme; a lack of experience. While Cristante is coming off a fine season with Atalanta and Kluivert was pretty solid with Ajax, neither are what we’d call a finished product; they are very much prospects. Indeed when we widen the scope to last summer, Monchi’s Roma resume is filled with speculative plays, young players long on upside and short on experience.
Sure, Monchi hit it out of the park with Cengiz Ünder, but much of Roma’s success last year was due to her veterans, Edin Dzeko, Kostas Manolas and Radja Nainggolan to name a few. The co-mingling of those rookies and the at-or-near 30 year old set produced a solid debut season for Monchi and Eusebio Di Francesco, but what Roma lacked last year (and has for sometime) was a bonafide, ascending star—a guy in his early to mid twenties, rapidly approaching the peak of his powers, one around whom the remaining 10 men coalesce into a fluid footballing force.
While Manolas is undoubtedly one of the best defenders in the game, the nature of his position excludes him from this conversation. Outside of Cannavaro or Maldini at their absolute apexes, a team’s identity seldom forms around a defender. No, we’re talking about a midfielder here, folks. The man in the middle of the park who, through a combination of technique, athleticism and creativity, makes everything work.
Roma doesn’t have one of these, but if you believe Marca, one might be hitting the market real soon.
El mediocentro croata se sincera sobre su futuro con @marca en pleno Mundial de #Rusia2018: "Llevo tres años en el Madrid y no he jugado demasiado" https://t.co/ZEsVZiNMBM Entrevista exclusiva por @jigochoa— MARCA (@marca) June 23, 2018
Hang on, let me conjure up my 8th grade Spanish...”I want to play more and the best thing is to leave Madrid.” Those 13 words (11 in Spanish) have put all of Europe on high alert—Mateo Kovacic, Madrid’s 24-year-old do-it-all midfielder wants out. Speaking to Marca, Kovacic was remarkably candid about his time in Madrid and his future in the world’s most famous footballing factory:
I think that in Real Madrid all the players are important, the problem is that for a young player it is difficult to have continuity and without that continuity I will never be able to show my potential, when I do not play, I am not happy. these three years in Madrid, with some incredible teammates, winning trophies ... But I have not been completely happy because my contribution to all that has not been the maximum and it’s something I want to change.
I’ve been in Madrid for three years and I have not played too much and that’s something that has affected my status in the national team. It’s something that does not make me happy, that’s why it’s best to change teams, Real Madrid is an extraordinary team full of great players and maybe now I’m too young to contribute one hundred percent.
Kovacic is one of those names that hardcore fans have known for years, yet when we look at his resume, it’s still rather stark. In three seasons with Real, Kovacic has scored only three goals and contributed eight assists in all competitions. Those stats aren’t an indictment of his talent, but rather an insight into his role—he doesn’t have one, which speaks to his point. At this age and at this point in his developmental curve, he needs to play 30 to 40 matches a year—wasting time as a bit player won’t help him fulfill his potential. And with Toni Kroos, Lucas Vazquez, Casemiro, Luka Modric, Isco and Marco Asensio all ahead of him, Kovacic looks destined for another year on the periphery with Madrid.
So what’s a 24-year-old Croatian with a desire to be better to do? Why, move to Roma, that’s what!
It’s at this point in the conversation where we typically talk about a) exorbitant transfer fees and b) excessive wage demands. Fortunately for Roma, they have two things working in their favor: Madrid’s infatuation with Alisson and Kovacic’s surprisingly affordable wage packet.
While footballers are like any other commodity, in so far as they’re worth what the market will bear, most sources estimate Kovacic’s value to be approximately €30 to €40 million, while his wages are a reported £75,000 per week, or roughly €4.5 million per year.
Now, given Madrid’s Alisson obsession and the fact that they’re loathe to pay €75 to €80 million for him, could Monchi swing a €35 to €40 million + Kovacic deal for Alisson? At this point, Real’s new manager and even some of their stars (notably Marcelo) are openly asking for Alisson, so Monchi may never have greater leverage, so why not let Madrid offset some of the financial cost by throwing in Kovacic, who is essentially a redundant asset to them anyway?
If they can tempt Real with that offer, it doesn’t seem like it would take much to make Kovacic happy. Might a modest raise—somewhere in the €5 to €6 million range—and a new three to five year deal suit his needs?
Kovacic would be an instant starter with Roma, if not out and out their best player, he’d get a raise, Champions League football and the chance to leave his Roma deal at 28-years-old, primed to make the move to a mega club (perhaps City or Chelsea by that point, who knows) as a genuine star rather than a prospect or luxury.
In all honesty, this deal makes too much sense not too happen. Roma get’s a stud and direct replacement for Radja Nainggolan, while also pocketing €30 to €40 million in cash, which they can then flip on Alex Meret or Alphonse Areola or even a defender should Manolas leave, Alisson gets his Madrid wish and Kovacic gets the opportunity to become a star.
As Michael Scott would say, this is a win-win-win.