Remember the movie Tenet? I say “remember” mainly because even though it came out last fall, time as a cohesive unit of measurement has fallen apart since the start of the pandemic (for me, at least). So a movie that came out about a year ago feels like it came out both yesterday and eons ago, which is appropriate, really, when you try to remember the plot of Tenet. Anyway, one of the key elements of that movie’s somewhat-confusing plot is a temporal pincer movement: half of the good guys go and fight a battle in normal time, and then later, the other half reverse the flow of time for themselves so they can also fight in the battle while also knowing what happens to the guys fighting in normal time. If that idea’s giving you a bit of a headache, don’t blame me, blame Christopher Nolan.
What does my slap-dash explanation of one of the plot points of an action blockbuster have to do with Roma, you might ask? Well, according to Gianluca Di Marzio, it sure looks like Tiago Pinto and the gang are trying to do a temporal pincer movement of their own on Borussia Mönchengladbach, only this time, they’re after Swiss international Denis Zakaria:
Di Marzio reports that Tiago Pinto is pressuring Zakaria’s club in two different ways. First, Pinto is offering Mönchengladbach some money (transfer fee not disclosed) to bring Zakaria to Rome in January, and second, Pinto is already beginning contract negotiations with the Swiss international for either January or June, when he would be able to come to Rome on a free transfer.
The idea here is that by agreeing to a contract with Zakaria now, Pinto will be able to convince Die Fohlen that some money is better than no money in exchange for a player Transfermarkt values at €30 million. Working from the perspective of January and June at the same time? That’s a temporal pincer movement at work, folks. Kinda. Just go with it, okay?
Zakaria has already been the subject of a slew of transfer rumors linking him to Roma for about as long as José Mourinho’s been the manager of i Lupi, and it’s not hard to see why. Pairing Zakaria with either Jordan Veretout or Bryan Cristante behind Lorenzo Pellegrini in the midfield would create the perfect midfield for Mourinho’s tactics. The combination of defensive acumen and pace that Zakaria has is a deadly (and relatively unique) one. Zakaria could perfectly counterbalance either Veretout or Cristante, allowing them to play a less defensive, more attacking role on a consistent basis.
The negatives of bringing in Zakaria as soon as possible aren’t exactly obvious from a tactical standpoint, but they’re nevertheless critical. Even with clever financial structures for most of its summer signings, Roma is working with a limited pocketbook at the moment, and you have to wonder if the Giallorossi’s money could be better spent elsewhere. With Ebrima Darboe showing that he has the potential to play next to Cristante and Veretout in the midfield, just how necessary is this Zakaria signing? Is it really the best idea to force the issue and pay money for Zakaria in January, meaning that for the rest of the season, the Giallorossi have to pin their hopes on Rick Karsdorp and Bryan Reynolds at right-back?
Conversely, waiting to sign Zakaria on a free transfer in June might open up the floodgates for every super-club in Europe to pounce on the Swiss midfielder. Although Roma has more financial muscle than most of Serie A, compared to the oil-rich clubs of the world, they’re still lacking. Would you blame Zakaria if he moved to Manchester City, Real Madrid, or PSG this summer on a free if their offered salary was double what Roma could give?
The best-case scenario for Roma is that the sales of Amadou Diawara and Gonzalo Villar more than make up for the signing of Zakaria, either now or in January. Even so, we saw this past summer that cutting the dead weight from the squad is easier said than done (though one would hope that Diawara and Villar have more value to other clubs than, say, Stephen Nzonzi and Federico Fazio).
Whatever the case will be, keep an eye on Zakaria and Tiago Pinto. Just because the mercato is closed doesn’t mean that Pinto’s taking a break.