Roma should have been able to celebrate their win against Sassuolo. The second half was evidence of great team spirit and a resourcefulness and a desire to win that Roma often lack in games that aren’t against one of the very top sides. But in the 84th minute, Alessandro Florenzi landed awkwardly, painfully, as he challenged for the ball, and immediately it was apparent that the injury was serious. Roma’s players had their heads in their hands as they saw what had happened. The next morning, Florenzi and Roma’s worst fears were confirmed: he had ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, and would require surgery before spending at least 4 months on the sidelines. The injury was all the more gut-wrenching for Roma as, literally 5 minutes before Florenzi’s injury, Antonio Rudiger completed his comeback from his own cruciate ligament injury by coming on as a substitute for his first appearance of the season. It is the latest in a long line of cruciate ligament injuries that has hit both Roma’s first team and the Primavera side.
Florenzi was back in Rome in the early hours of Thursday morning, accompanied by Daniele De Rossi until 4am, and Professor Pier Paolo Mariani – an expert knee surgeon – confirmed the injury later that morning. It was heart-breaking for Florenzi, for Roma and for Romanisti, as the club has lost a right back, a midfielder, a tireless worker, a presence in the dressing room and an icon of the club all at the same time. In addition to the question of who now plays at right back, what should be an equally pressing question at Trigoria is why ACL injuries have been so common at the club in the last few years. Kevin Strootman (twice), Elio Capradossi, Ezequiel Ponce, Abdullahi Nura, Antonio Rudiger, Mario Rui, Alessandro Florenzi. Since the start of 2015, with the exception of Strootman’s first injury (March 2014), they have all suffered the same cruciate ligament injury. Strootman’s was the most serious, initially rupturing it in a 1-0 defeat against Napoli. He returned 8 months later, but in January 2015 he injured it again against Fiorentina. This time it took him over a year before he returned in February 2016, and only at the start of this season has he really managed to get fully fit and put the injuries behind him, and his excellent performances are evidence of this.
Strootman is active on Twitter, and often offers his support to other players who suffer serious knee injuries. All too frequently though, these players have been found within the walls of Trigoria. On 4th September, 2015, Elio Capradossi – the captain of Roma’s Primavera and a very talented centre back – came back from a match with the Italy Under-20s having suffered an ACL injury to his left knee, like Strootman. Barely two months later, the Primavera’s star striker Ezequiel Ponce injured his cruciate ligament just a few days after starring in Roma’s 3-3 draw with Barcelona. Both Capradossi and Ponce returned to action 7 and 5 months later respectively, on 2nd April, as the Primavera hammered Crotone 7-0. Ponce scored twice, and both players helped Alberto De Rossi’s side to go on and become league champions.
Unfortunately, one of their team-mates wasn’t there alongside them. Abdullahi Nura, the team’s right back, had spent months on the sidelines with what was eventually diagnosed as pericarditis (a heart condition) and after recovering sufficiently to start playing again he injured his knee against Latina on 30th April this year. A month later, it was confirmed as an ACL injury and he underwent surgery. He has only just started training with the Primavera side again as he continues his rehabilitation. Also still continuing his comeback is Mario Rui, who had just joined Roma from Empoli to replace Lucas Digne when he was injured in training by Moustapha Seck in pre-season. Another cruciate ligament injury. He had his operation on 5th August, and isn’t expected back in action before January. It’s safe to say that his return cannot come soon enough.
Rui’s cruciate ligament injury was the second of the summer after Antonio Rudiger ruptured his ACL during the first German national team training camp before the European Championships. In a way, Rudiger’s injury was a slightly less painful one for Romanisti to take as it ensured the defender would still be a Roma player at the end of the transfer window – while he had been signed permanently from Stuttgart earlier in the summer, he had been heavily linked with a transfer to Chelsea until his injury. Rudiger returned last Sunday with a goal in a Primavera match against Novara, before coming on 141 days after sustaining his injury in the 78th minute against Sassuolo.
Which brings us back to last night and Florenzi’s injury. Roma now have to replace Florenzi both in body and as a presence in the dressing room; do they bring back Maicon, who is not only on a free transfer but who has been training at Trigoria for much of the last month, for an implausible return? Only time will tell on that one, but other options are thin on the ground. Play Bruno Peres (who is just returning from injury himself) on the right again, and Luciano Spalletti is forced to play one of Emerson Palmieri or Juan Jesus on the left instead – both have been equally poor at the start of this campaign. Rudiger could be an option but has only just returned himself and cannot be rushed back into action. Nura is talented but he is not only untested, he is also not fully fit following his own recent return to training.
Be that all as it may, the most important thing now is for Florenzi to receive the complete support of everyone around the club, as he doubtless will. The psychological effects of having yet another ACL injury may be telling, but his team-mates have already shown that it is possible to make a quick recovery (Rudiger) and to come back as strong as before despite the seriousness of the injury (Strootman, in particular). That is all that we can hope for at this stage. In bocca al lupo, Alessandro, siamo con te.