Footballers are artisans. They undertake their art on the biggest stage of all, grandest of stadiums, with the choicest of audience; while minutemen like us, journalists, bloggers, line up behind the curtains as stagehands making sure the limelight of narration doesn’t veer off-course. The least we can be, are witnesses.
One such player who panders the public has caught the discerning eyes of Jürgen Klopp, our comrades at the Gazzetta would have us know. He’s one of those players who you, if you’re sturdy with German footballing nomenclature, would call a Kappelmeister – the maestro. A player’s whose virtues are measured by time signatures, who barters in equal music of possession and release. He goes by the name of Leandro Paredes, of AS Roma.
Certain nationalities evoke instant intrigue in football. For 22-year-old Leandro Paredes, being Argentinian hasn’t helped with watering down expectations when he was sent to Stadio Carlo Castellani, to take the reins of their footballing direction, and have Empoli players signing off the same hymn sheet – which he did with wizened equanimity.
Fast forward today, the nerveless boy who has a knack of conducting his plays at some of the most celebrated stages of them all, one Estadio Alberto J. Armando of Boca Juniors and then Stadio Olimpico de Roma, at AS Roma, is being beckoned to pick up the dust-gathering conductor’s wand at Anfield, long since unused after the departure of Xabi Alonso.
The 4th Official’s resident hipster, Srijandeep, dims his screen brightness, squints his eyes, and peruses carefully to inform you what you don’t already know of the man, who could finally take up the long-unenvious mantle of the Anfield maestro.
The central midfield has been the heart and soul of the Eternal City’s timeless footballing narrative. Be it the early escapades of the late Agostino Di Bartolomei, the daring of Damiano Tomassi, the spirit of Simone Perotta or the more recently unshakable virtues of Dani De Rossi.
Let’s state the obvious to start with to get you settled in cosily. He’s a midfield metronome, this boy. Functions with all the consummate ease of a man who is very sure of life and knows exactly how to not go about it. Such composure on the ball has allowed him to play a multitude of roles ranging from regista, box-to-box, advanced attacking midfielder; and most crucially (for Liverpool fans), the Volante – quite literally meaning, ‘the steering wheel’. That mode of operation was brought into collective European consciousness by Roma’s legendary show-boater, the archetypal Brazilian, Falcao; and since such proficiency of balance has been seldom seen in European football. Cocu, Xavi, Pirlo, and the usual suspect, Xabi Alonso to name a few who have apparelled themselves with such thankless responsibility.
The bar has been set high in Roma, and no less in Argentina, where Leandro has been spoken in same muted, cautiously-optimistic breath as none other than the playmaking enigma, Juan Roman Riquelme – it doesn’t quite stop there.
Otherwise, a languid, laid-back city, steeped in culture and calmness that comes with a sense of ancient knowing – perhaps one constant worry that infiltrates the quiet sleep of every maroon-adorned household in the city, is the inevitability of Francesco Totti’s last bow. The fans, curiously, see him as a perfect fit.
His superlative technique is the reason behind such daunting expectations. Consolidated with ambidexterity, multifaceted attributes on the ball, and the peripheral vision to either fashion a chance or facilitate, his career is what Roma are hoping could be a reverse-Pirlo. Pirlo, who started his career off as a striker, then an advanced midfielder, and finally a regista – Roma hope Paredes may finally end up as a trequartista.
The similarities are there – dead-ball specialist, equally at ease being deployed in a slightly withdrawn attacking role on the left, his insistence on receiving the ball, and his movement off of it, economy of the dribble, and his knack of striking up a uncanny understanding with those around him assists him to adapt to almost any real-time tactical midfield situation. Despite stating all of that, his tendency to not have the spotlight on himself and rather play the pass before the final pass, his preference to play much deeper, and evident goal-shyness, distances him from the Totti parallels.
His weaknesses are few. His howitzer of a right foot nor his technique have been done justice by the lack of goals – just the two in the past season. While he shows the typical Argentinian graft off the ball, being as young as he is, doesn’t quite apply himself in the defensive third in regards to positioning, with as much concentration or imagination as he does when making ghosting runs forward. He’s yet to fully bulk up his almost six-foot frame. Fine-tuning and defensive drills are mostly required.
The Liverpool midfield has indefatigable properties, incisiveness, pace but perhaps wanting in terms of imagination. A single conveyor belt of fodder from the dancing boots of Phil Coutinho may and will not be enough.
Jürgen Klopp has been on the lookout for a midfield controller, someone who dictates the tempo, akin to how Nuri Sahin and Gundogan went about their business in Dortmund. Ruben Neves and Dahoud were deemed unattainable for one reason or the other, and the one sole midfield pivot in the Liverpool ranks, Joe Allen, who had that ability has since departed for Stoke.
Much like Xabi Alonso, Paredes’ one player that makes the world class players around him play better, with a sense of direction and prudence.
Liverpool’s owners’ John W Henry’s and Tom Werner’s amicable relationship with Roma’s custodian, Boston local, James Pallotta may iron the creases on any potential deal.
While he’d be well-accustomed to the dark arts of opposition defences, playing in the cloak-and-dagger leagues of Argentina and Italy – the Premier League is a different proposition, entirely. An uncountable sum of players who have come directly to the England have been caught flat-footed by the sheer turbo in the tempo, seen their stock fall, and since left befuddled and bemused.
While there is an apparent risk involved with any transfer, this is one Liverpool crucially need to take a gamble on. Add a perfect maestro and Jürgen Klopp’s attacking symphony may reach fever pitch, into a breathless heavy-metal crescendo – capable of orchestrating the European epics the Anfield faithful have come to expect and miss.
Jon Depp (JD)
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