Lorenzo Pellegrini is a good footballer, let’s start by saying that. On his day, he’s a great one. Occasionally, outstanding.
Now 27 years old, he is at an age where many would expect him to be in his prime. Sadly, though, something keeps holding him back – physical problems.
Plenty of players have failed to reach their full potential due to injuries at Roma in recent years. None of Kevin Strootman, Alessandro Florenzi or Nicolo Zaniolo, for example, were quite the same after their lengthy absences due to ligament problems (even if they all still managed to offer something).
For Pellegrini, it is different. Since returning to Roma in 2017, only once has he missed 10 consecutive games due to injury, when he fractured his metatarsal in 2019. He made 30 appearances or more in his first three seasons back at the club and 40 or more in the next three. However, a series of niggling issues have prevented him from building momentum in recent years.
Against Servette on Thursday, Pellegrini came off the bench, got an assist, scored with a cushioned volley and then had to go off injured, all in the space of less than 15 minutes. It was a microcosm of how fate has been unfair to the captain in recent times – and what his injuries have been taking away.
The number of injuries Pellegrini has suffered since Jose Mourinho became Roma manager in the summer of 2021 now stretches into double figures. Ironically, though, Mourinho is still the coach to have got the most appearances out of Pellegrini at Roma, as well as the most goal contributions (his tally of 14 goals in 2021-22 was a career-best, backing up his 11 from 2020-21).
That said, building up a spell of form has been hard for the former Sassuolo man, whose inconsistency has caused him to divide opinion among the fanbase. But what would it have been like if he was healthy enough to put a string of performances together?
Pellegrini recorded double figures of goal contributions in the 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22 Serie A seasons. Nine was his tally in 2022-23, a season in which there was one example of him scoring in three consecutive games.
At times, he has played through the pain barrier, drawing on the traits that earned him the club captaincy, but sometimes that has been to the detriment of his long-term fitness.
If there would be one word to summarise his physical problems, it would be ‘frustrating’. Earlier in his career, Pellegrini was projected to become the focal point of Roma on and off the pitch, not just because of his leadership but his technical importance too. More recently, it has been hard for him to fulfil that.
The good thing for Mourinho is that this season he has plenty of players to rotate Pellegrini with: Houssem Aouar, Renato Sanches, Bryan Cristante, Edoardo Bove and more. The bad news is that some of those options – namely the first two, who both joined the club this summer – have been known to be injury-prone too.
At least there should be options when Pellegrini is unavailable, but that won’t stop his enthusiasts wondering how much greater his legacy could have been – and there is still plenty of time for him to add to it; this is far from a lost-cause story – had he remained regularly fit and not unluckily hampered by injuries.
Some social media accounts in the sporting industry have sometimes asked questions for interaction such as, if you could give one player an injury-free career, who would it be? Pellegrini might not be the obvious answer due to his lack of a major, one-off disruption, but amid yet another lay-off, maybe he would be a tempting answer for the Roma faithful.
It is to his credit that he has made almost 250 appearances for the club, battling on through it all, but for a talented playmaker and driven individual, the ceiling could have been even higher. Still, he is a player Roma would rather be playing with than against, so somewhat like Paulo Dybala, they will have to learn to live with Pellegrini’s recurring setbacks and make the most of him when he is at his best.