At the conclusion of the 2006 World Cup, Inter purchased a 28-year-old left-back from Palermo by the name of Fabio Grosso, who had a great tournament. Despite being at a perfect age and moment in his career, he rarely hit the pinnacle of his World Cup performances again.
Part of it was down to a lack of regular football – injuries and poor form means that he has only played 30 league games in a season once since the World Cup – but it is difficult to avoid the feeling that he was a player who peaked during those four weeks in Germany.
Six years later, another left-back from Palermo has secured a move to a big club after an impressive tournament showing where Italy reached the Final. Federico Balzaretti has been linked with a move for the past three years but after impressing at Euro 2012, Roma finally took the plunge.
It is strangely reminiscent of the situation Grosso found himself in – even down to the identity of the selling club. Now Roma are hoping his career does not take the same slow turn Grosso’s did post-Palermo.
They are taking a bit of a risk. Having sold Jose Angel to Real Sociedad, they once again look like entering the season with only one senior left-back in the squad, with Brazilian Dodo the young and hugely inexperienced back-up. Crucially, at two years older than Grosso when he moved, Balzaretti is at a much more advanced point in his career.
He has been a bit unfortunate to move so late on. There have been a clutch of clubs that have been in desperate need of a left-back with his qualities for years now but that have seemingly been unconvinced by his ability to perform at the very highest level. Being capped by Italy has given him an opportunity to prove he can handle it, culminating in his fine displays at Euro 2012.
It was probably age, more than ability, which put Milan off from trying to snatch him this summer. Roma have no such need to reduce the age of their squad, but it begs the question – how close is Balzaretti to the tipping point of his career, the moment where his abilities start to wane?
Age-wise he is not far off – on paper he is certainly closer in this regard than Grosso was. He has possibly two years left of offering his best for Roma, but then Grosso should have had at least four and only managed it in fits and starts. You have to wonder whether the club have accepted the short-termism of the move to fill one of their problem positions for a season where they expect to challenge for Champions League places.
He has signed a three-year deal and, even if he only offers the two years of top service theorised here, the €4.5m transfer fee plus salary should have been worth it. But if he dips the way Grosso did, then Roma will be left needing to fill the problem position once again.
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