Wild animals often attack because they’re afraid. Kevin Strootman has the aggressive eyes of a tiger, but he’s no longer afraid. Welcome to the never ending story that has now become history. There’s not just a happy ending, but a new beginning: at 26 years old, Strootman is starting out on a new career. “Now I can give my all on the pitch,” he explained from the Dutch international camp. “At the start it was difficult, I was more focused on my knee than on the game. But I had a fantastic holiday, I trained well when I came back and now I feel strong and fit again. I’m definitely out of the tunnel.”
Strootman was one of the reasons why Roma preferred to invest in a full back (Bruno Peres) rather than in a midfielder. At Trigoria, people are certain that they have recovered a player who can be decisive, even in the immediate future. All the aerobic and physical tests throughout the summer have given comforting results. And the 4 official games played in 12 days were just another confirmation of the feelings they had over the summer. “To go back to being the player he was some time ago, Kevin just needs to play. And so he is playing,” Spalletti said in August, as he tried to inject some power into his midfield engine.
There’s still something missing before Roma can recover that magnificent midfielder that they knew and loved for 7 months before his terrible injury against Napoli. But the journey finally seems to have a good ending and in fact, according to the medical staff at Trigoria, Strootman will be able to be back at the very top of his game early next year. This doesn’t mean that he can’t help the team out straight away – just go back and look at the move that he started and finished against Cagliari – but it feeds the hope that his level of performance will consistently grow and grow as the months go by.
With De Rossi’s injury, Strootman becomes doubly important both from a numerical and a tactical point of view. In the absence of a starting mediano, Roma will rotate Paredes and Strootman in the role in front of the defence according to the needs and the circumstances of each individual match, though Strootman is a player who knows how to do it all. And who knows, against Sampdoria, once he has returned from Holland’s trip to Sweden, he may even wear the captain’s armband: if Florenzi doesn’t play from the start or if he’s substituted during the game, then it will be he who wears it.
It shouldn’t be long until his contract renewal is announced either, as given its expiration it has become as urgent as Nainggolan and Manolas’ wage increases. When Strootman had the third operation on his left knee, Pallotta revealed the club’s intentions to extend the deal: “We’ll renew it for an extra year,” the president said, explaining that the deal would then run until 2019.
There shouldn’t be a problem during the negotiations, as Strootman is very aware that the club has been behind him throughout the darkest period of his career and intends to make it as easy as possible to come to an agreement. On the flip side, his renewal is crucial to Roma: if Strootman, as anyone who loves football will hope he does, shows over time that he is able to perform as well as he did before, then he will once more be in huge demand from other clubs. And Pallotta doesn’t like being in talks with clubs who want to exploit a situation where a player’s contract is soon to expire.
In the meantime, Strootman has been surprising even Spalletti, who at the start of the summer was saying: “He will need a period of games where he isn’t at his best. He needs to play bit by bit. What he played last season wasn’t enough, because Strootman can be a good player, a really good player.” So good, in fact, that in Roma’s first four competitive fixtures, he has always started, and has only been off the pitch for a total of 10 minutes.
At this rate, it will be other teams who are afraid of Strootman. When he said in May that “I will be Roma’s first new signing”, he clearly wasn’t talking nonsense: the steamroller, or, if you prefer, the washing machine, has really started at full filt.
While Strootman is working day after day to drag Roma out of a difficult period, full of doubts, other players are also working hard to get themselves back in contention. Rudiger has forged ahead after his cruciate operation and is aiming to play again by the end of October, while the unfortunate Nura, the full back born in 1997, started running again yesterday. At Trigoria he is already considered a phenomenon, more so than his Nigerian ‘cousin’ Sadiq who was sold to Bologna, and after numerous ups and downs they are aiming to set him free in the first team.
This article is a translation – the original was written by Roberto Maida for Il Corriere dello Sport.