International breaks are always a weird time when it comes to writing for Chiesa di Totti. There’s the continuous pain of being an Azzurri fan, there’s the perpetual fear that one of your star players will go down with an injury, and there are the rumors that probably have little to no basis in truth that are bandied about by journalists of varying levels of disrepute. Instead of throwing you another transfer rumor story, I’ll instead talk about some players who are wearing Roma’s colors... for now.
The Giallorossi have a surprising number of players on expiring or close-to-expiring contracts. Tiago Pinto is currently dealing with five senior players who may no longer be tied to the club in June: Chris Smalling, Nemanja Matic, Georginio Wijnaldum, Stephan El Shaarawy, and Andrea Belotti.
Add in players like Bryan Cristante, Rui Patricio, and Leonardo Spinazzola, all of whom have contracts expiring in the summer of 2024, and it’s clear that there is a lot riding on Roma’s ability to hold on to the right talent and let some others go walking.
The right form of team-building could help make sure that both Paulo Dybala and José Mourinho stay at the Stadio Olimpico for the long haul; the wrong form of team-building and The Friedkin Group is likely back to square one.
Given that, I’ve decided to dust off our Power Ranking format that we’ve often used when the Giallorossi are clearly on the hunt for a new manager. All rankings are 100% subjective, so feel free to defend your favorites (or diss your enemies) in the comments.
Tier One: You Gotta Keep ‘Em
Tier Members: Bryan Cristante, Leonardo Spinazzola, Georginio Wijnaldum
These are the players who either play at a level where it will be next to impossible for Tiago Pinto to find an affordable alternative, or they provide veteran leadership and quality on the pitch. Gini Wijnaldum and Leonardo Spinazzola aren’t exactly fresh academy grads, but their respective ability to become the star of a match on any given Sunday is pretty unique, even in José Mourinho’s new-look Roma.
Both players have struggled with injuries in recent seasons, it’s true, but both players also have shown a commitment to returning to the pitch whenever they’re injured, and their time on the medical table has stripped neither the Italian nor the Dutchman of what makes them unique players.
The third member of the Tier One category is constantly a hot-button topic for Romanisti, but I will stick to my guns here and say that, yes, Tiago Pinto has to do whatever it takes to keep Bryan Cristante in a Roma kit for the long term.
Just take it from The Special One himself:
When Cristante doesn’t play, we are in trouble, it’s the truth and we shouldn’t hide it. When there’s the possibility of having a rested version of Cristante on the pitch, it’s a double contribution: he was suspended, he didn’t play in the last match, he was fresh and only focused on this match, then there’s his tactical intelligence and his knowledge of the movements on the pitch which we cannot replace.
Mourinho is not one to hand out effusive praise like that for no reason, and anyone who’s watched the Giallorossi closely over the last several seasons will realize that everyone’s favorite Canadian-Italian midfielder does the dirty work in the midfield, allowing for players like Lorenzo Pellegrini and Paulo Dybala the comfort of knowing that someone is supporting them tactically. Players who truly have the ability to create calm and intelligence in a midfield are rare and largely out of Roma’s price range. Tiago Pinto would be wise to keep Bryan Cristante around, just as he would be wise to keep both Spinazzola and Wijnaldum in Roma kits.
Tier Two: You Can Probably Find An Alternative
Tier Members: Rui Patricio, Stephan El Shaarawy, Chris Smalling, Nemanja Matić
This next tier of players all have quality; they all can turn a match on its head, just like the members of Tier One. However, for various reasons, I’m less skeptical that Tiago Pinto would be unable to find a solid replacement for any of these four players. In some cases, Roma needs to find a long-term replacement for these players even if they stick around the Olimpico; Rui Patricio and Nemanja Matic are getting on in years, after all. While I wouldn’t be opposed to either of them getting a short contract extension from the club, I’m hoping that Tiago Pinto has Marco Carnesecchi’s agent’s phone number on speed dial for the moment the summer transfer window opens; in addition, he better have the wire transfer to Giovanni Carnevali ready at that exact same moment, just to make sure Davide Frattesi returns to Trigoria.
The situation with Stephan El Shaarawy and Chris Smalling is slightly different. Both are arguably in their primes as players, but maybe close to the end of those primes, with Smalling 33 years old and El Shaarawy 30; both are players who have proven time and time again to be loyal members of the club and well-supported by Romanisti.
Yet there’s a part of me that thinks that the Giallorossi wouldn’t be in terrible shape if they lost either Smalling or El Shaarawy; even if Roma sells Max Kumbulla this summer, José Mourinho has an absurd amount of depth at center back, and the signing of Ola Solbakken sure felt like the signing of a long-term El Sha replacement (apologies, Bren).
If you can get both players back on good contracts, there’s nothing wrong with keeping them as a part of the squad. Yet I don’t have the same level of worry about losing either Smalling or El Shaarawy as I would, say, losing Bryan Cristante or Leonardo Spinazzola.
Tier Three: Give Me One More Chance
Tier Members: Andrea Belotti
Oh, Andrea. I was so hopeful for you when you came to Rome last summer, and even though you’ve finally pushed your way into the starting eleven over Tammy Abraham, I’m still far from convinced you’re even a short-term solution for the Giallorossi at forward. The former Torino captain has scored no goals in Serie A this season (four total, including three in the Europa League), and for a side that has needed goals when Paulo Dybala has been out, that’s quite frankly unacceptable.
There’s still an awful lot of time between now and June when Belotti’s contract expires; if he is able to rediscover his Torino form over the next few months and pushes a reinvigorated Giallorossi side deep into the Europa League knockout rounds, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in an Adidas-branded Roma kit next fall. As it stands right now, however, I hope that Belotti’s renewal is Tiago Pinto’s lowest priority. If zero goals in 22 league matches is what we’re getting from Il Gallo, I’d rather give his minutes to someone like Cristian Volpato, Benjamin Tahirović, or some other Primavera player.
Who would you keep around out of Roma’s expiring or soon-to-be-expiring contracts? If you’re eager to see the backs of some of these players, who would be your ideal replacement? Be sure to let us know in the comments!