Assessing Roma’s striker situation ahead of summer rebuild

The four strikers to have played for Roma in 2023-24 had a combined 632 goals between them in their club careers at the start of the season – an average of 158 each – but ahead of the summer, none of them have a certain future in the capital.

Barring favours, Champions League qualification looks out of reach again, meaning Roma’s absence from the competition could extend into a sixth year and a key word going into the summer will be rebuild. Again.

This reset will have a new flavour, since it will be the first since Daniele De Rossi earned the head coach’s job and also the first under the guidance of a new sporting director, expected to be Florent Ghisolfi. Together, they will have to construct a more competitive Roma, suited to how De Rossi wants his side to play.

Various areas of the team will be under consideration, especially the wide regions where efficient wingers and full-backs are both lacking, but Roma need answers about who their centre-forwards will be in the 2024-25 campaign.

This season, after Tammy Abraham’s injury towards the back end of last term, Roma started out with Andrea Belotti as their remaining striker – despite his zero Serie A goals in 2022-23 – before bringing in Sardar Azmoun and Romelu Lukaku on loan from Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea respectively. In January, the still-underwhelming Belotti left on loan for Fiorentina, a couple of months before Abraham began his gradual return to action.

All four of those strikers have had highs and lows in their overall careers, not solely their spells with Roma. If any one of them were to be identified as the person who would be the club’s main striker next season, there would be reasons to have reservations.

Let’s start with Lukaku. Signing him was a big deal for Roma, who waited until what seemed like a dream became possible. Yet despite his pedigree, it wasn’t too hard to admit that this was a player with some limitations.

The positives have probably outweighed the negatives this season for Lukaku, who has reached the tally of 20 goals but was arguably better under Jose Mourinho than De Rossi and boosted his ratio by scoring frequently in the earlier rounds of the Europa League. When it comes to the idea of signing him permanently, though, it has always been a case of cost-effectiveness.

Desperate to sell him, Chelsea have dropped and dropped Lukaku’s price tag. It still might be too high for Roma to pay if they’re thinking sensibly. Now 31, the Belgian would have little resale value. Reports indicate the likely outcome will be for Roma to send him back to Chelsea (not without a fair amount of gratitude, though, it should be stressed).

While not perfect, Lukaku has not been a Roma flop by any means. He was a high-profile signing and the goal return he has provided has been absolutely respectable, especially in comparison to some other recent attackers the club have had at their disposal. He isn’t a player Roma should forget about signing at any cost, but it seems unlikely the base price will be within range still.

It now looks likely that Roma’s other on-loan striker, Azmoun, will also be sent back to the club that lent him. It took a long time for the Iran international to be considered for starts, and he has expressed a decent work rate with the occasional goal to add, but relatively speaking, he too may have too high a price tag (for the role of backup striker he would be filling).

So that leaves Roma where they were last season with Abraham and Belotti to assess – neither of whom were good enough last season. Abraham hasn’t been inspiring since his return, showing some similar signs of the poor finishing that plagued him in 2022-23, even if it may be too harsh to judge him this soon after a serious lay-off.

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As for Belotti, Fiorentina have also felt let down by his lack of goalscoring output. It seems, by this stage, he has found his level, and clubs of European calibre – of any variety, not just those with Champions League ambitions – is above it.

Like Azmoun, his work rate was always a standout factor, but he failed to back it up with significant quality. If Roma want to qualify for the Champions League, they need players who tick both boxes. It isn’t good enough to have a player who’s 9/10 for effort but 5/10 for quality, or vice versa; a player who’s a 7/10 in both categories would be much more beneficial and should be the foundations of the rebuild.

The sensible thing this summer would be to let Belotti go – as it should have been last year when his initial contract would’ve expired anyway – and assess Abraham’s future. But a year of inactivity and subsequent poor form might have reduced interest in the Englishman, who previously was considered a sellable asset.

Potentially stuck with him, is there reason to believe he can still come good? Abraham has been best throughout his career when he has had a new challenge, whether that was going out on loan in the EFL, returning to Chelsea to become their main striker, or heading abroad to start a new era with Roma. It may be wishful thinking, but if he gets back to full fitness, could he also see next season as that kind of challenge?

Roma need guarantees though if they are to make a more concerted effort for a return to the Champions League, under a coach who actually remains the most recent player to score for them in the competition (let that sink in).

Unless, as a fifth internal solution, Paulo Dybala becomes a regular false nine – something De Rossi has indicated an openness to, but would hinge on not just Roma keeping the Argentine, but keeping him fit and adding some wingers (which, as stated, should be equally high on the agenda anyway) – the answer might have to be an external one.

Roma can only hope they have an easier shortlist to work through than last summer, when they tried and failed for various names before ending up with Azmoun and Lukaku. Some of the players they considered – like Gianluca Scamacca – have gone on to perform well right in front of them, adding insult to injury.

Circumstances last year prevented Roma from affording some desirable targets. Can the Friedkins figure out a way to invest this time around, or will they have to rely on the loan market again? If a long-term option can be found, it would be ideal.

It’s time for another significant striker search. It will be just one of many pieces of the jigsaw to figure out, but one that Roma must get right.

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