When you turn Alessandro Florenzi’s card over, you will be unsure of what is revealed: A wing striker? Midfielder of three? Rightback? Right midfielder? What about a number ten? If you ask Florenzi, his humble response would most likely be, “Wherever the coach needs me.” That would be typical Ale for you, always at the disposal of his coach and team.
A protagonist of Roma’s primavera in the 2010/11 season, Ale was then sent to Crotone on loan. Playing as an advanced midfielder, he donned the number ten shirt. 11 goals in 35 appearances saw him awarded as the Serie B young player of the season, guiding Crotone to a respectable finish.
A return to Roma was meant to be, and for the 2012/13 season, Florenzi would become a young protagonist. Now just 21 years of age, coach Zdenêk Zeman utilized Florenzi’s skills to their potential. Growing under the miserly tactician, Ale excelled as a midfielder of three, running box-to-box, like a colt developing into a full grown thoroughbred. 3 goals in 36 appearances did not speak volumes, but a 21 year old getting 36 starts for the capital club is.
The 2013/14 season was premiered by the arrival of former French Ligue 1 champion coach, Rudi Garcia. Rudi’s 4-3-3 shocked all of Serie A, as Roma tied a club record of 10 wins in a row, and a staggering statistic of 25 goals scored and just 2 conceded in their push. Florenzi’s role was changed yet again, now as a right winger, or mezzala. It looked to be a perfect fit as his sprints combined with Totti’s brilliant passes down the right; the Inter-Roma match immediately comes to mind, where Roma scored 4 before the half, led by Totti and Florenzi’s dominance. 37 matches would be good enough for 6 goals and 7 assists in Serie A; quite a feat for a player in a brand spanking new position.
Would 2014/15 provide Florenzi with consistency in his position? No. Sabatini’s major target of the preceding summer was an Argentine who came under international spotlight, thanks to his darting, full field runs to goal for Hellas Verona. Just when it seemed our capitano futuro futuro would be cemented into the starting 11, his position was compromised yet again. For the entire season, the conversation pervaded throughout Roman radio and international forums: What was Florenzi’s best position? Would he be a part of Rudi’s plans again? Would a future senator of Rome become just a fringe player?
Ale took his destiny into his own hands this summer. Used as an emergency wingback during Maicon’s long term injury, Ale enjoyed success in his forward play, but had lots to learn in defense. And who could blame him? A player who began his career as an attacking midfielder, then deployed as a box-to-box midfielder, to a wing forward, and now to a back four? Preposterous. Seemingly. Not for Ale though; his determination, time spent reviewing film, extra field time dedicated to studying defensive movement has seen him grown steadily in just half a year.
A defensively shaky first-half performance saw Hellas Verona targeting Roma (and Florenzi’s) right flank in the first match of the 2015/16 season. Yet it was Ale who provided Roma with the salvage point, scoring a wild strike from the wing. In just 45 minutes, it was evident that his confidence had grown, and he put in a much stronger second half. He was coming into his own.
Home to Juventus would be a horse of a different color. The defending champions had no lack of speed, and new boy Paulo Dybala posed enough of a threat to keep any wingback busy on such a summer’s night. Yet, Serie A pundits gazed on, and Ale put in a world class shift, giving Juve little outlet on his flank. The spoils stayed in Rome, with a sack full of Juventus heads. The heatmap below tells a shocking story: Florenzi’s presence (left diagram) was felt in the majority of Juve’s centerhalf, yet Pogba, Evra, and Dybala (the three were collectively selected for the right diagram) could barely penetrate into Roma’s final third.
Days before Roma faced off against reigning Champions League champs Barcelona, the squad had to get through local side, Frosinone. Florenzi shown yet again, striking the post, making 4 tackles, and receiving WhoScored.com’s Man of the Match award.
This past Wednesday, the 16th of September was the greatest test yet for our Jack of All Trades. With Jordi Alba, Neymar, and oh yeah, Lionel Messi in town, Florenzi had his work cut out for him. 70% possession would not be enough to upset Roma’s shape and Florenzi’s flank though. The compact shape of the midfield and defense helped keep Ale with explicit defensive responsibilities, left to no confusion: close space down inside the box, try to provide Salah with a break. After Barca took a 0-1 lead through a Messi foul and offside call blundered by the referee, the tifosi kept spurring on their fighting wolves, hoping for a bit of la magica.
La Magica is exactly what the Stadio Olimpico, Italy, and the world received in the 31st minute: Florenzi released his foot from half field on the right side, sending a guided missile towards goal. When it struck down into the net, the disbelief and shock could be felt all the way here to New Jersey, the islands of Indonesia, and back, engraining the moment just as the ruins of Ancient Rome continue to echo in eternity. It was a hope, it was a prayer, it was a miracle; Roma tied the Champions League crownees, and Florenzi’s dominance at rightback helped Roma achieve a monumental 1-1 scoreline. 3 tackles, and yet another Man of the Match award from Whoscored.com.
Florenzi’s development is truly remarkable, and there is no doubt that his perseverance and ability can see him as one of the best rightbacks in the game. Wondergoals, bombing down the pitch, and the learned skill of defensive awareness, Florenzi will keep growing as a player, and cementing his place as one of the top players to have donned giallorosso. Here is to you, capitano futuro futuro. Nonna is very proud.