From Maarten Stekelenburg to Mauro Goicoechea to Morgan De Sanctis, Roma has had nearly has many keepers as managers since the American takeover in the summer of 2011. However, thanks to Walter Sabatini doing his due diligence, and quite well we might add, Roma find themselves in an awkward position this summer: having to decide between two capable keepers—crazy, right?
After De Sanctis was put out to pasture following the 2014-2015 season, Roma was in a bit of a keeper conundrum. The only other name of note on the payroll was Lukasz Skorupski, who was deemed too young to rely upon, so Walter Sabatini had no choice but to shop the loan market, and he found a willing partner in Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side.
With Petr Cech and David Ospina ahead of him in the pecking order, Wojciech Szczęsny was looking for a place to call his own, so when Roma came calling in the summer of 2015, it seemed like a perfect match. After a decent but frustrating season in 2015-2016, and with no real, viable option in house, Roma decided to re-up with Arsenal and continue Woj’s loan for one more year. Only this time around, they hedged their bets, bringing in the young and extremely promising Alisson Becker from Internacional to compete with and eventually unseat his Polish counterpart.
Sounds like a sound plan, so what was the problem?
In order to answer that question, let’s take a look at each man’s respective performance this season.
42 appearances, 14 clean sheets (domestic), 2.45 saves per match
Well, quite simply, Woj was fantastic this year, leading Serie A in clean sheets (14) while generally erasing all the problems that plagued him the year prior, namely being, at times, indecisive and too passive. Voy-chick’s improved play, not to mention his burgeoning skills as a talk show host, may have forced Roma’s hand—do they shell out upwards of €15 million for Szczesny or turn the keys over to Alisson?
It’s a question we didn’t imagine having to ask last summer, but Woj’s development over the past year has given Roma pause. What was once a foregone conclusion (Woj leaving) is suddenly anything but; he transformed himself into one of Serie A’s best keepers. Szczesny was solid in the air, on the ground and in set pieces, while his distribution from the back was seldom lacking. He was a rock when Roma needed him the most and an integral part in the club’s fantastic chemistry.
Points of Improvement
Beyond limiting his occasional lapses in judgement and waiting just a tad too long to come off his line during set pieces, there isn’t a whole lot to complain about; Woj was far and away one of the best keepers in the league. In his second season with Roma, he seemed far more comfortable with the league, the language and his teammates; it’s a shame that another club may reap the long-term benefits of his breakout season.
Now, what about that handsome young fella behind him?
15 appearances (all comps), 3 clean sheets (Europa League), 3.9 saves/match (Europa League)
The Brazilian Don Draper was used exclusively in non-domestic competition, seeing all of his minutes in European and Coppa Italia play, so naturally the tale of the tape is a bit short. However, in that limited role, Becker was excellent, particularly in the Europa League. With 10 appearances in Europe’s lesser competition, Becker lead the competition in saves and had three clean sheets over those ten appearances.
Look, with such a short book on the kid there is only so much we can say, but he certainly passes the eye test, doesn’t he? And no, I’m not talking about his rugged good looks, he just has the aura of a dominant keeper doesn’t he?
He’s quick, fearless and MASSIVE. You don’t see keepers as large as him too often, yet he’s no slug, he flashed some impressive reflexes during the Europa League, particularly against Villarreal, while his technical skills seem sharp as you’d like.
Points of Improvement
Simple experience really. Young keepers, much like defenders, simply need match exposure to hone their ability to read the game, to understand how/when/where an attack develops, and what angles and approaches work therein. With greater experience will come more patience and better judgement, but once Becker’s understanding of the game catches up with his skillset, watchout.
Outlook for Next Season
This one is incredibly tough to call. Szczesny is exactly the type of keeper a club with serious and immediate aspirations needs—he’s solid, experienced, vocal and quite skilled—yet they made a pretty substantial investment in Alisson, who they own outright and therefore is inherently cheaper.
Ultimately this decision may actually be Arsenal’s—do they have room in their squad for Szczesny right now? If so, his stated preference for the Gunners would probably win out amid all the current transfer rumors, if not, Roma has an incredibly tough decision to make: do they go all out on Szczesny and forgo Alisson’s massive potential, or do they risk putting a title contending team into the hands of a green keeper? Also, don’t count out Skorupski either, he was pretty impressive for a pretty pitiful Empoli side, turning in 10 clean sheets for a side that conceded 61 goals.
So, put aside all the Totti talk, the managerial maneuvers and your pining for Pellegrini, this may be the most impactful decision the club makes all summer.