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An Awkward Appreciation for the Awkward Roma Careers of Juan Jesus and Bruno Peres

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No, they didn't meet expectations, but that doesn't mean their time in Roma was a complete waste. We offer an awkward appreciation to the careers of Bruno Peres and Juan Jesus.

AS Roma v AC ChievoVerona - Serie A Photo by Federica Roselli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

From Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi in the earliest parts of the internet age to Alessandro Florenzi, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Elisa Bartoli, Claudia Ciccotti and Giada Greggi today, Roma fans find a great deal of pride in passion in the club's provinciality. That term may have pejorative connotations for followers of Italy's biggest clubs, but Romanisti wear it like a badge of honor.

But from Aldair to Cafu to Alisson and all the way down to Roger Ibañez, Roma has a rather illustrious history with Brazilian footballers, too. They may not have invented the game as we know it, but few nations on Earth (or any other planet, I suppose) play the game with the same panache as Brazilians.

That's not to say that every Brazilian to suit up for the Giallorossi becomes a legend—far from it. If we ran the math, the success rate (however one defines that) for Brazilians at Roma is likely no different than for Italians, Argentinians, or Polish footballers. But there's just something about a Brazilian in a Roma kit that gets people excited and that excitement has a tendency to increase expectations on those players.

Players like Aldair and Cafu reveled in that environment, but the weight of expectations that comes with playing for Roma—and especially being a Brazilian playing for Roma—has ruined many careers and reputations over the years.

For every Aldair, Cafu, Alisson, and Juan—or even Roma's dual Brazilan-Italians like Emerson Palmieri—players whose departures were met with touching tributes from the media and thunderous applause from the Giallorossi faithful, there are scores of Brazilians who leave to far less fanfare. That's if anyone notices or even cares they left.

That was certainly the case for the two most recent Brazilians to part ways with Roma: Juan Jesus and Bruno Peres. Despite their inherent talents, you'd be hard-pressed to find two more maligned players in recent memory (Okay, maybe Javier Pastore or Steven Nzonzi or Robin Olsen...I'll just stop now).

Due to a combination of factors including high wages, frequent injuries, poor performances, and some off-the-pitch indiscretions, Jesus and Peres didn't exactly follow a trail of roses out of the Eternal City. In fact, I'd dare say some fans were eagerly awaiting their departure from Rome. Some of you may have even made your own twisted advent calendars counting down the days until their contracts expired.

But, let me play devil's advocate and ask one simple question: were they really that bad?

Now, before you reply with a sarcastic monosyllabic answer, let me at least make a case for why they ought to be, not lauded, but at the very least appreciated. And we'll start with our deal old Rruan.

Juan Jesus

FBL-EUR-C1-ROMA-BARCELONA Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images

We first caught wind of Roma's interest in Juan Jesus during the summer of 2016, just a few weeks after the former Inter Milan defender celebrated his 25th birthday. Luciano Spalletti had just bailed out Roma after the club sacked Rudi Garcia in January, and while Spalletti did well with an inherited roster, he made no secret of his desire for a left-footed, ball-playing center-back. Jesus wasn't at the top of that list, but he fit the part as a versatile lefty capable of playing across multiple formations and even chipping in at full-back if absolutely necessary.

Rruan wasn't a world-beater or a star in the making, but we were relatively chuffed by this move. (chuffed is good, right? Help me, British readers!)

Considering that he should be considered a third center-back behind Kostas Manolas and Antonio Rüdiger (when healthy), this seems like a solid move on the outset. Juan Jesus has considerable Serie A experience (albeit for an Inter side that has been middling at best for the past few years), and this combined with his twenty-five years of age makes the move seem like a better short- and long- term decision than bringing in Thomas Vermaelen (currently of Barçelona, perpetually of the operating table).

Not to mention that Roma have had success with Brazilians named Juan in the past. So here’s to you, Juan Jesus. If you can hold a candle to the OG Juan who stole our hearts, maybe Roma’s defense isn’t in such bad shape after all.

Fun fact: that snippet was written by Jimmy in the summer of 2016. Jimmy is the youngest member of our staff, so I think he was in fourth grade when he wrote that. Not bad for a kid who was splitting his time between CdT and expanding his collection of Beyblades. For my part, I used the signing of Juan Jesus to embed a clip of Paul Newman singing “Plastic Jesus.”

Signed for an eyebrow-raising €10 million, many Roma fans thought this was Inter's clever way of exacting revenge for Roma charging them nearly as much for another disappointing Brazilian defender, Dodo.

Now, this is where it gets really difficult: what exactly should Roma fans appreciate about Jesus?

As Jimmy laid out in that piece, Jesus was never meant to be more than a complementary part, so in that regard getting five relatively healthy years from a guy who was thrown into a variety of formations and roles by Roma's myriad of managers is pretty sound business.

Critics will immediately decry that point by citing two factors: his transfer fee and his relatively exorbitant salary. Considering this is Italy we're talking about, the near-perfect balance between the fees Inter paid for Dodo and Roma paid for Jesus is probably more than a mere coincidence. As far as his wages are concerned, you'll never catch me faulting any player for commanding the highest possible salary they can get. Sure, his performances may not have been commensurate with his salary, but that's Walter Sabatini's fault, not Jesus’.

But what exactly did Roma get for that €10 million? Well, up until Paulo Fonseca came to town, Jesus was a lock for about 1,400 to 1,800 minutes each season, serving as a dutiful backup to a host of defenders including Kostas Manolas, Antonio Rüdiger, Thomas Vermaelen, Federico Fazio, Chris Smalling, Gianluca Mancini, Roger Ibañez, and even Aleksandar Kolarov and Leonardo Spinazzola.

During his three-year run as an actual role player (2016-2019), Jesus played to a perfectly acceptable WhoScored rating of 6.66—the mark of the beast; ironic for a man named Jesus. Match ratings aren't the sum total of a player's contribution of course, but if nothing else, it shows us exactly what Jesus was: an average role player.

And guess what? There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. You can hate the transfer fee and loathe the salary, but Juan Jesus was exactly as advertised: a serviceable bench piece you can plug and play in multiple formations and/or positions.

Without a doubt, the highlight of Jesus’ Roma career was his impeccable performance against Barcelona in the 2017-2018 Champions League quarterfinals. On that epic evening, Jesus lined up on the left of Eusebio Di Francesco's three-man backline, providing a shield in front of Alisson alongside Manolas and Fazio.

Jesus had a quiet statistical performance against Barcelona (though his three interceptions were a match-high) but he was integral in Roma's concerted efforts to quell Messi and Luis Suarez, helping limit the pair to only one on-target shot in six attempts.

And if that's all you remember and appreciate him for, that's fine because the Romantada wouldn't have happened without Messi in his back pocket. But, at least for his first three seasons with the club, Juan Jesus was a functional part of a Champions League team, and players like that don't exactly grow on trees.

But Bruno Peres’ legacy is just a bit more complicated...there's a lot to unpack there.

Bruno Peres

FBL-EUR-C3-ROMA-VIKTORIA-PLZEN Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

Unlike Juan Jesus, Bruno Peres doesn't have the luxury of one singular, defining moment in a Roma shirt—certainly nothing like his Torino calling card. However, unlike his countryman, Peres was an object of lust for many Roma fans for several years prior to his arrival at Trigoria in 2016. A quick Google search reveals a litany of “Bruno Peres to Roma” transfer stories dating all the way back to 2015 when he burst on the scene with Torino—and we do mean burst.

(Update to that paragraph: I completely forgot about his toe save in the 2017-2018 Champions League! My mistake!)

It may be hard to remember (or believe) now but in the mid-2010s, Peres was viewed by many as the best right-back in Serie A, and certainly the most dangerous with the ball at this feet. During his two-year hitch at Torino, Peres compiled six goals and seven assists between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 Serie A seasons, while ranking among the league's most dangerous and successful dribbles, breezing past an average of 3.1 defenders per match in his final season with Torino.

So bright was Peres’ star that Roma was competing with the likes of Juventus and PSG for his signature, one that would have cost upwards of €25 million if you believed the rumor mill at the time.

Ultimately, Roma landed Peres in the summer of 2016 on a deal eventually worth €15 million. Playing in Spalletti's 4-2-3-1 was a bit of a departure for Peres, who featured as a wingback in Gian Piero Ventura's 3-5-2 at Torino, but the then 26-year-old responded with two goals and three assists in all competitions during his first season with Roma. With less room to run in Spalletti's formation, Peres’ vaunted dribbling took a bit of a hit, falling from 3.1 per match to 1.7 during the 2016-2017 season, but he still seemed like the final piece of the puzzle to put Roma over the top.

After years of dealing with Alessandro Florenzi's injuries and awkward transition to right-back, it was comforting to have someone as experienced and as aggressive as Peres manning the position. Hell, Peres even spent more time playing out of position than he did at right-back, featuring at left-back, defensive midfielder, and even a couple of cameos in the attack, adding a fresh layer of versatility to his already impressive bag of skills.

We didn't know it at the time, but Roma's appointment of Eusebio Di Francesco as manager in 2017 was the beginning of the end for Peres in Rome—at least temporarily. With his minutes, starts, and appearances almost halved from the prior season, Peres played second fiddle to the now fit Florenzi, garnering only 13 Serie A starts, and played the full 90 minutes in only 12% of his appearances—the second-lowest mark of his career.

But Peres soon found himself with far more serious problems than playing time. In February of 2018, Peres crashed his Lamborghini and was charged with a DWI, throwing his career and future into jeopardy. While there was talk of the club canceling his contract, Peres returned to the squad two weeks later, but that's the last he would see of the Eternal City for nearly 18 months.

Due to his awkward fit with EDF, his declining play, and his off-the-pitch issues, Peres soon found himself playing back in his native Brazil with Sao Paolo, for whom he made 16 league appearances between July and November of 2018.

It was a bit odd to see a South American player in the prime of his career suddenly loaned back to the Brazilian Serie A, but, if nothing else, it afforded Peres a chance to reset his career.

But that never happened. Rather than resetting his career, he took a complete step backward. After logging nearly 1,300 minutes with Sao Paolo in the summer/fall of 2018, Peres was effectively demoted, loaned out to Serie B club Recife, where he made only one league start on Halloween 2019.

That was a fitting holiday for Peres to make his lone appearance because, at that point, his career appeared haunted. With 18 months remaining on his contract and no safe harbor in sight, Peres returned to Roma in January 2020, making his first appearance for the Giallorossi in nearly 20 months.

And it went...kinda great. With two goals and two assists in 19 appearances (roughly 1,200 minutes), Peres looked reborn during the 2020 restart, finding new life in a familiar role: a right wing-back in a 3-4-2-1 formation.

Peres wasn't able to consistently carry over those performances into the 2020-2021 season but with 2,400 minutes under his belt this year, plus two goals and three assists in all comps, he was a useful piece for Paulo Fonseca, featuring on the right and left in both the three and four-man backlines.

Now, if Roma had laid out €25 to €30 million to acquire Peres several years ago—the rumored price point when PSG was involved—the torrent of criticism would be justified, but Roma “only” paid €15 million for Peres in 2016. That's not an insignificant sum but €15 million players aren't meant to be game-changers, they're solid, replacement-level starters capable of fleeting moments of excellence.

Those fleeting moments didn't come as often as they should have, but if you look at Peres’ Roma career, it's hard not to notice the disparity between his pre and post-EDF performances. We'll likely never know the answer, but for some reason, Peres just switched off once Luciano Spalletti left town, struggling on and off the pitch.

Peres wasn't like Rick Karsdorp or Kevin Strootman, players whose careers were nearly derailed due to injury, so his struggles were a bit harder to understand. It wasn't as simple as his critics made it sound, but his performances quickly spiraled after 2017, nearly resulting in the end of his European career altogether.

While the club just put out an official farewell video on social media, the highlights are sure to underwhelm, but that doesn’t mean that Peres’ time in Rome was a waste. He came in as the missing link, nearly saw his career wrecked, and then scratched and clawed his way back to respectability.

The highlights and accolades we envisioned when Roma signed Peres in 2016 were ultimately replaced by more frustration and disappointment than we ever imagined, but when you consider everything he put himself through and how far his career had fallen over the past 18 months, you have to tip your cap to his resiliency.

Peres bounced back and became a serviceable piece for Paulo Fonseca over the past year, and it didn’t go unnoticed either. Unlike Jesus, Bruno Peres was quickly snapped up, signing a three-year deal with Turkish club Trabzonspor earlier today.

Our Final Farewell

We've talked an awful lot about expectations in these spaces over the past few weeks and months, and while it would have been wonderful had Juan Jesus defied the odds and become an above-average player the minute he signed with Roma, that’s just not who he is or ever was. Roma got exactly what they expected with Jesus; a flexible, left-footed, ball-playing center back who can spot start at multiple positions and provide cover behind the starters. And when you consider the nearly identical Dodo sale to Inter, this transaction was essentially a wash and you have to give Jesus and his agent props for bilking Sabatini in those contract negotiations.

Peres’ legacy with the club, however, is a bit more difficult to unpack because he cost 50% more than Jesus and suffered more self-inflicted wounds and troubles than his countryman. However, we're nothing if not suckers for a redemption story and when you stop and think about the last 18 months of Peres’ career, it's hard not to be awestruck by his recovery.

And sure, he never became the world-beater we'd hoped, but let’s be honest: that was always a tad optimistic. In some respects, Peres was a bit of a one-dimensional player; a full-back who relied on blazing speed and dribbling, and players like that tend to require a narrow range of responsibilities and very specific tactical setups to excel. Peres had that very briefly under Spalletti but soon found like much more difficult under each successive Roma manager. Could we have seen this coming? Yeah, probably. But the Roma brass should have been equally prescient and cashed out in 2017 when his value was at its apex.

Bruno Peres and Juan Jesus aren't leaving Roma as conquering heroes, but they were perfectly adequate role players who filled numerous roles under numerous managers. That may not win trophies alone, but there is a tremendous amount of value in that, and I for one will remember them fondly, even if their careers were a bit awkward.