The deeper issue at the heart of Roma’s links with Gonzalo Higuain

If there’s one transfer rumour that hasn’t gone down too well with fans, it is the one linking Gonzalo Higuain with a move to Roma.

Overweight, 31 years old, a high salary – several factors appear to be stacked against the arrival of the striker in Rome. Not to mention, his past with rivals Napoli and Juventus would further render him a rather unpopular figure if he was to sign up with Roma.

Despite a promising start with AC Milan last year, his form derailed, as he scored just one goal in his last 12 games for the club before the deal was terminated. A red card against former club Juventus did little to change the negative perception of his time at San Siro, and it’s understandable why Roma would be a little bit skeptical over the proposition of signing him – especially if it would involve Nicolo Zaniolo moving the other way.

But there is a bigger question at the heart of this matter. After an underwhelming campaign, Roma find themselves in need of a rebuild, in order to return to the levels they have grown accustomed to in the past six years. As part of that project, then, do Roma need to look at the long-term or the short-term?

A move for Higuain would be indicative of the latter. While his spell at Milan showed that he is far from a guaranteed source of goals these days, on his day he remains a potent finisher capable of finding the net even in games in which he hasn’t been heavily involved. Contrast that to current Roma man Patrik Schick, who has struggled in the capital – which he has partially attributed to not feeling involved enough in the play.

At 31 years old, of course Higuain’s best days are behind him. But his career is far from over. He has two years left on his Juventus contract, which shows how far the Bianconeri believed he would keep up his form when they spent big to snatch him from Napoli.

If an arrangement would involve Zaniolo heading to Turin, it would surely be a blow for the fans. The teenager was one of the standout players of last season, despite the limited expectations placed upon him. However, he blew hot and cold towards the end of the year. At times, it looked like Roma had picked up a bargain, but in reality, it’s still unclear what the midfielder is really worth.

Sometimes a club has to take a step back to take a step forward – taking risks in the short-term in an attempt to make an instant return to the top. That may mean potentially regrettable decisions on long-term prospects, but with the financial consequences that come with a lowly finish, sometimes the luxury of keeping hold of them isn’t there.

It’s an issue that was highlighted in the recently confirmed swap deal with Juventus, in which Roma acquired Leonardo Spinazzola at the expense of losing Luca Pellegrini. Many fans had high hopes for the young left-back, but the reality is that the man that the Giallorossi have brought in is a much more proven quantity at this level, and is far better equipped to be a starter. And that’s what Roma need right now – ready made talent.

That said, it would be irresponsible for Roma to fill the squad with veterans. One only needs to look at how Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov underperformed at times throughout the campaign to get a clear idea that sometimes younger blood is more effective. Hence, a blend is needed.

Without a few experienced players, it may take Roma a long time to break back into the top four. But without the younger ones, any returns to the highest berths would likely be short-lived.

Contrary to what many fans believe, Higuain would not be a terrible signing for Roma – as long as the salary is realistic compared to his output. However, it would be important for him to be supplemented by younger alternatives. His former teammate at Milan, Patrick Cutrone, would be perfect – an instinctive finisher, someone who can still develop but who is more than ready for a role of responsibility in a major squad.

Furthermore, some signings in the past have shown that fans should not be prejudiced before their arrival. Many were critical of Davide Santon based on his time with Inter, but after he had put in some good displays for Roma, the general perception of him changed to a more positive one. Similarly, Federico Fazio was hardly the best name fans could have hoped for to alleviate the team’s defensive concerns, but he soon won them over, at least in his first season, becoming their ‘Comandante’.

Gianluca Petrachi will need to find the right balance this summer, but the overriding message will be this – one never knows how a player will perform for a club until they pull on its jersey. Higuain’s might be a bit larger than those of others, but no signing should be overly criticised before a ball has been kicked. They could turn out to be just what Roma need.

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