When a former Roma player returns to the Olimpico as a visitor, there really is no middle ground; he either dominates or disappears. We've seen it with Antonio Cassano, Luca Toni, Alberto Aquilani and, of course, Daniele Conti, but what we seldom see is a former Roma player return to actually play for Roma again.
Well, we may see that just yet, especially if today's sweetest rumor is to be believed. For a club (hopefully) on the verge of Champions League play next season, reserves, particularly those who can contribute off the bat, are perhaps the most precious resource.
Enter Alessio Cerci.
Multiple media outlets are reporting that Roma are set to join the chase for the 26-year-old Torino winger, who is, presumably, about to become cost prohibitive for the club from the wrong side of the Turin tracks.
Cerci, you may recall, is a born and bred Roman, hailing from the hillside town of Velletri, but his legacy, if one can call it that, pales in comparison to Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and even Alessandro Florenzi. In fact, Cerci only made four league appearances for Roma before shuffling off on various loan spells to Brescia, Pisca, and Atalanta, eventually finding permanent homes in Fiorentina and, of course, Torino, where his career has really flourished, scoring nearly 20 goals over the past two seasons, to go along with over 20 assists. All told, Cerci's Roma career (to date) consists of only 13 league appearances.
It's no secret what Cerci would bring to a Roma squad suddenly flush with mid-week European fixtures; instant offense. However, if the reports are true, the decision might ultimately rest upon Roma's interest in and ability to sign Verona's Juan Iturbe, another wide attacker capable of jumpstarting Roma's reserves, albeit a far more inexperienced option.
So what exactly does €15m Euros buy you on the Italian market these days, and how does Iturbe stack up?
In 24 appearances, Cerci has poked home 11 goals and eight assists, while averaging 2.2 dribbles per match, 1.4 key passes per match and 1.5 fouls drawn per match, while putting 62% of his shots on target and converting on 18.9% of those.
Iturbe, over 20 appearances, has managed five goals and one assist, while averaging 2.9 dribbles per match, 0.9 key passes per match and 2.2 fouls drawn per match, while only putting 48% of his shots on target, converting 18.5% of those into goals.
There are obviously contributing factors to each player's respective performance and their likelihood to replicate them for Roma. For Cerci, it's simply a matter of the size of the stage. In Torino, Cerci is option number one, particularly when it comes to threatening the goal; his 79 total shots is some 20 more than his next closest competitor, Ciro Immobile, while, outside of those two, only six other players have even cracked double digits.
Cerci does what he wants in Torino, there is no pecking order. He's it.
For Iturbe, while the size of the stage is also a question, we also have to discuss his experience, or lack thereof. While he may prove to be the "new Messi", Iturbe's European career only began in August. Given his dearth of Serie A experience, there is very little to fall back on. He hasn't experiences the peaks and valleys of a professional career; how would he handle slumps, how will he react when the opposition specifically gameplans to stop him?Can he cope with the pressure of playing on a Champions League club at such a young age?
So who do you pick? The prodigal son who can make an immediate and substantial impact, but might be the ultimate big fish in a small pond, or do you roll the dice on another young Argentine and hope that he can continue to improve upon those already impressive numbers?
For my money, give me Cerci. He's proven that he can, at the very least, be a consistent threat in an uptempo attack, both in terms of finishing and creating. Coming into a squad already laden with talent, he wouldn't have to be the lead dog, either, he could settle in behind Totti, De Rossi, Pjanic and even Gervinho, and help Roma traverse what will assuredly be a tougher schedule next season. Furthermore, with those added mid-week matches, there should be plenty of shots to keep Cerci satisfied.
While this may ultimately be an academic debate, one thing is for certain, Roma needs to thicken her ranks if she has a chance to run two races next season.