As an hors d’oeuvre, served to whet the appetite for what’s to come, Roma could hardly have done much better than posting Patrik Schick’s best goal from training on Wednesday. I wrote best goal because the social media team had three to choose from following Schick’s participation in two mini-games between what was left of Roma’s first team after the international break and a mix of the reserves and Alberto De Rossi’s youth team.
You see Schick nick the ball from a defender, head it forward and then smash a half-volley under the crossbar. “Smash” is probably the wrong word, as the manner in which the 21-year-old Czech doesn’t completely follow through on the ball displays masterful technique and control. It was the kind of strike that is worth the fee of admission alone. “You’ll fill the ground now,” Sampdoria’s Roma-supporting president Massimo Ferrero promised shortly after the deal was done. And judging by the reception Schick got when he landed at Fiumicino airport last Monday, Ferrero is probably right.
The Stadio Olimpico got its first sight of Schick when he came on for the final 20+ minutes of last Friday’s friendly against Chapecoense. As fate would have it, though, his competitive debut in Roma colours could actually come this Saturday evening when he makes an immediate return to Samp. Ferrero will have no problem filling the Marassi then…
Having said that, despite the goals Schick scored in training, there is talk that he isn’t quite yet up to speed after only making a comeback to training the week before his move to Roma. It means we might only get to see Schick as a second-half substitute. Not that it makes Saturday’s game any less of a spectacle. Those of you familiar with Schick’s career will no doubt recall it was as an impact sub that he made his name in Italy. Schick scored six goals from the bench last season, including one in Samp’s 3-2 win against Roma in January. After that performance in particular, manager Marco Giampaolo could no longer justify leaving him out of the starting XI and, luckily for Schick, an injury to Luis Muriel left the manager with no excuses.
Schick finished the season as the revelation in Serie A and, in light of that, you do wonder if there shouldn’t be more excitement than there already is among Roma supporters about Schick’s arrival in the capital. After all, his size and skill brought comparisons to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marco van Basten, while the goal he scored against Crotone, so reminiscent of Dennis Bergkamp’s against Newcastle all those years ago, led many to proclaim Schick the biggest talent to emerge in Serie A since Paulo Dybala. Europe’s elite were queuing up to pay the buyout clause in his contract and when Juventus flew him in for a medical during the Under-21 Euros, they were praised yet again for beating the competition to the player everybody wanted for a relative snip at just €30.5 million.
Why, then, when Schick has subsequently ended up at Roma, and not Juventus, is the acclaim more reserved and less effusive? I suppose the answer lies in the Old Lady’s decision to pull out of signing Schick after one medical, then another flagged up a heart condition. The reason why Schick isn’t yet match fit is because he followed the doctors’ advice to put his feet up and rest for five weeks while it healed on its own accord. That Juventus reportedly tried to sign him again on Aug. 26 while in town to play Genoa would suggest they were confident he was on the road back to recovery.
In the meantime, though, a seed of doubt had been planted in people’s minds about Schick. It dampened enthusiasm and there was a sense that, if Juventus were concerned enough to tear up their agreement with Samp, was it worth paying more now that the buyout clause had expired? All of a sudden, things like Schick starting only 14 games for Samp seemed to matter more. Was it a big enough sample size to give you the confidence to break your transfer record for him? In Roma’s case, there was also the awareness that they could have signed Schick for €4m just a year ago. Or could they have?
After all, Schick chose Samp in the end because he knew he’d get more game time. Naturally the follow-up question to that is: what’s changed? Roma have Edin Dzeko in his position — the reigning Capocannoniere, fresh from a 39-goal season over all competitions, a career-best for the Bosnian. Also, Roma fans were expecting a player to replace Mohamed Salah on the right wing, namely Riyad Mahrez, and while the majority of Schick’s touches for Samp were on that flank, Giampaolo insists he is at his best as a centre-forward or playing just off a front man. If going to Roma meant playing on the right wing, Schick would have been advised against moving to Roma, Giampaolo told Sky Italia. Overall, the signing seemed to raise more questions than answers.
But let’s pause here and play a quick game. Forget about the medicals he underwent at Juve for a minute and imagine if Roma had signed Schick at the beginning of the market. It would probably have changed the entire mood around Roma’s transfer window, which until Aug. 28 was widely (and harshly) assessed by the Italian media as underwhelming. As for Schick not being a right winger, there are two observations I’d make here. Are we really sure Roma have signed him to be one? In the NFL draft, you take the best talent available if you can’t get the position player you want, and with Leicester unwilling to budge on Mahrez, Schick was the best talent available. He was also the first player Monchi scheduled a meeting about upon becoming Roma’s new director of sport.
As for the right wing, Alessandro Florenzi made his comeback against Chapecoense and can play in that role, as can Gregoire Defrel and Cengiz Under. We might even see Schick start on the right but gravitate towards the middle if Roma play like they did away to Napoli last year with a three-and-a-half-man defence. On that occasion, Florenzi pushed up so high that it meant Salah could play in the half-spaces closer to Dzeko. You’d think that would suit Schick too.
Whether new manager Eusebio Di Francesco is flexible enough for that to happen is another question. But you get the impression his desire to be a success at Roma is greater than his principles. Jobs like these require managers to evolve. It was like that for Massimiliano Allegri when he made the step up from Cagliari to Milan and for Maurizio Sarri when he got his shot at the big time with Napoli. Schick and Di Francesco must see in each other the chance for both to go to another level in their development.
Meanwhile Monchi isn’t fazed by the all debate the Schick signing is causing. The manner in which he has structured the deal mitigates risk in such a way that Schick could end up costing as little as Aleksandar Kolarov (€5m) or more than €6m more than Gabriel Batistuta (€36m), depending on whether or not he hits a number of performance-related targets. As for where Schick will play, Monchi dropped another truth bomb when he said: “Good players will always find space in teams with big ambitions.” With Roma engaged on three fronts this season, even if Schick doesn’t initially start, his knack for impacting games as an substitute leaves Di Francesco with a very useful card to have up his sleeve indeed.
“Juve already regret missing out on Schick,” Ferrero gloated. “I knew it would happen.” I’m not so sure they are at the moment. Training-ground screamers aside, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. At the end of the day, it’s up to Schick to make the Old Lady feel that way. Starting on Saturday against Samp.
James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.