For a variety of reasons, when Roma signed Steven Nkemboanza Mike Christopher Nzonzi on August 14th, it was met with, shall we say, a healthy amount of haughty derision. First there was the cost: €26.65 million, which could escalate to €30 million if certain bonuses are reached, next came his age, nearly 30-years-old at the time of the signing, and finally the timing. Signed less than a month after Roma sold Alisson, Nzonzi stood as the substantive reinvestment of those controversial funds.
No matter how one dissected the signing, it was about as contentious as Roma signings go, and we haven't even discussed the whole mishegoss about the apostrophe that was incorrectly placed in his surname by nearly 90% of the footballing press.
Let's run that back real quick, shall we?
After selling the best keeper the club ever had for a world record fee, Roma whiffed and/or were duped by Bordeaux in the Malcom fiasco, but with €70 some odd million burning a hole in their pockets, Monchi and Pallotta soothed our bruised ego by promising us two or three top players, some of whom may or may not be better than Malcom.
Instead of someone like Federico Chiesa, Leon Bailey, Mateo Kovacic, or even Emil Forsberg, we wound up with a soon to be 30-year-old defensive midfielder still flying from his World Cup bounce.
The Nzonzi signing was doomed from the start, a point I expanded upon last August:
This NBA-Serie A analogy can only carry us so far simply because individual players have a far more dramatic impact on wins and losses in basketball than they do football—it’s just the nature of the sport—but Steven N’Zonzi will neither a) help Roma beat Juventus this season, nor b) help Roma take over the league once Juve’s reign ends.
N’Zonzi is a fine player and would make Roma better and deeper, but he is not a difference maker. Roma are in no position to invest at least €30 million in 29-year-old defensive midfielder. N’Zonzi is not a check on Juve’s signing of Ronaldo; he’s an anchor that would ensure Roma remains in competitive purgatory.
We need to face reality: as currently constructed, Roma are, at best, a third place team, and adding aging veterans like N’Zonzi or even Javier Pastore does nothing to change that...
Roma’s Alisson windfall needs to be allocated in that light: that injection of cash doesn’t come along frequently, so blowing it on players who do nothing to significantly advance your present or boost your future is a tremendous waste of resources.
I don't often toot my own horn, but god damn, I nailed this one! However, it is funny to read the comments on that piece with nearly eight months of hindsight; we were all so obsessed with defensive midfielders and inverted wingers, nary a mention of defense. Yikes.
However, if you believe the latest rumors, Roma might actually be able to move on from Nzonzi. Presumably fueled by Unai Emery's familiarity with him, the Gunners are reportedly keen on bringing Nzonzi to London this summer and are prepared to pay €26 million for the now 30-year-old midfielder, giving Roma a chance to potentially break even on their ill-advised investment.
Like so many players before him, Nzonzi isn’t as bad as Roma fans make him out to be; it just was an awkward fit from the word go. With Monchi gone, don't be surprised if his successor strives to purge himself of all Monchi's mistakes in one fell swoop.
Coming out even on the Nzonzi deal would be a brilliant start for Roma's ninth consecutive summer reset.