There was a distinct air of fortune that Kevin Strootman brought with him when he joined up with Rudi Garcia’s fledgling Roma project last year.
Above all, the signing of the Netherlands international marked a fresh desire to start over. Remember, the Giallorossi had just surrendered the Coppa Italia to fierce rivals Lazio, and would ultimately lose Marquinhos and Erik Lamela in the midst of yet another rebuilding project. But their woes were all consigned to distant memory as Strootman made an immediate impact, contributing to a swift upturn of results as Roma surged into Scudetto contention.
So, imagine the distress of club and fans now, with it emerged that their new star man will miss several months of action after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the 1-0 loss at Napoli. Garcia admitted his side’s title hopes evaporated after falling 14 points behind Italian champions Juventus later, but the most tragic news from that weekend was to undoubtedly arrive from the treatment room.
One of the most impressive imports of the summer, Strootman had stepped up admirably to the rigour of playing in a major European league. His bustling runs and all-action style had become synonymous with Roma’s upward surge, and ensured he held his own against some of Serie A’s top midfielders.
The statistics of five goals and five assists point to a breakthrough campaign. Cutting it short must therefore have been devastating. “I’ve grown up thanks to Serie A. I’ve been playing against big clubs and I’ve become stronger due to such experiences,” the 24-year-old revealed only days before meeting his untimely fate. “What has happened to Kevin is really dramatic. I can imagine that at the moment his world is falling in, at a very important moment,” Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal emphasised.
Attempts to mine conspiracy from the circumstances surrounding Strootman’s injury and bandy blame about in the aftermath were entirely in poor taste. Simply, Serie A, and the upcoming World Cup, will be a poorer spectacle for the loss. More than merely representing the finished product, Strootman had developed into the driving force for Roma. His indomitable spirit never failed to lift his teammates on the field. Like Garcia, he symbolised the capital outfit’s renewed ability to try, to dare.
Together, the newcomer duo galvanised the weary Olimpico troops they found following a catastrophic 2012-13 and implanted the mindset they could challenge the peninsula’s traditional powers. “Juventus remain the favourites for the Scudetto, but Roma are there too,” the Dutchman affirmed last September. “Coach Garcia came in and improved everything that wasn’t working. We’ve got great players here, as Miralem Pjanic is a real talent and Daniele De Rossi knows how to do everything.”
Ensuing encounters with Fiorentina, Milan and Juventus now look doubly daunting without their engine room commander. It will certainly be a nervous closure to the season as Roma strive to stave off Napoli’s relentless assault on League second and hence automatic qualification to the Champions League next term.
The onus remains on Pjanic, De Rossi and Radja Nainggolan to displace the massive authority and influence Strootman exerted pitchside. How well they succeed will be pivotal to determining the lay of Serie A come season’s end, and indeed whether Roma can clinch the finish Strootman’s exploits ensured he deserved to be a part of, before other factors intervened. A leader amongst his men, and having earned a reputation as a redoubtable but fair opponent, Calcio will mourn his absence.
Forza Kevin! You will be missed.