Chelsea have taken a long run-up at this summer’s transfer window. Which means if Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli is the man they’ve chosen to tighten up their defence, their faith in the Italian must be unshakeable.
The Blues haven’t made a permanent signing since last summer. Even then, the deal to make Mateo Kovačić’s loan switch from Real Madrid full-time wasn’t one to get the pulses racing, despite his impressive performances this term. Although the Croatian has flourished under Frank Lampard, he was seen as a midfielder lacking any distinctive skill set while Maurizio Sarri was at the helm.
Chelsea knew their registration ban was coming. It’s why they signed Christian Pulisic ahead of last summer. The Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the two-window ban in January, but Frank Lampard and co. decided to stick, not twist.
A repeat isn’t expected during the summer window – whenever it takes place. Between the sticks, centre-back, left-back, in midfield and upfront, the Blues need reinforcements. Lampard’s young charges have shone, but further quality in depth is required for the revolution to progress.
Centre-back has become a particularly pressing position to strengthen. Antonio Rüdiger has missed a large chunk of the campaign through injury. César Azpilicueta is a fading force. Kurt Zouma is simply a force. Fikayo Tomori is the bright tomorrow but he isn’t ready to be a defensive mainstay.
Enter Romagnoli. The 25-year-old is the perfect tonic to Lampard’s defensive headache.
He ticks all the boxes when it comes to the kind of players Chelsea aim to target. More experienced than Tomori and Zouma but still yet to hit his peak. A full Italy international, Romagnoli has big-game experience even if Milan have been absent from the UEFA Champions League for some years.
In terms of price-tag, he won’t come cheap but he’ll cost less than, say, reported Arsenal target Dayot Upamecano. And Milan remain in a position where financial necessity dictates they sell when a suitable offer arrives.
Given the Rossoneri find themselves perched in seventh, the highest side in Serie A with a negative goal difference (-6), it’s difficult to pinpoint from the data precisely why Chelsea might want Romagnoli.
In fact, the only metric in which he ranks particularly well is passing. With 52.19 accurate passes per 90, the Milan skipper is 12th among centre-backs in Italy’s top flight, behind team-mate Mateo Mussachio (54.7) and bright young things Milan Škriniar (62.23) and Alessandro Bastoni (58.31).
An overall passing accuracy of 90.3 per cent is impressive, with 36.5 per cent going forward and 63.1 per cent of Romagnoli’s long passes connecting with a team-mate.
Being a good distributor of the ball only counts for so much. Doing the defensive basics remain of paramount importance. Romagnoli, who started his career at Roma and spent 2014/15 on loan at Sampdoria, does just that.
Likened to Milan and Italy great Alessandro Nesta, the 6ft 2in stopper is commanding yet calm and considered. The cliché goes that Italy produces the best defenders and in Romagnoli’s case it’s easy to see why.
Aerially dominant, winning 2.69 of the 4.34 aerial duels he contests (per 90), Romagnoli is quick across the ground and precise in the tackle.
Using the true tackle win rate metric, which combines the total number of challenges (41), fouls from attempted tackles (14) and challenges lost (8), Romagnoli comes out with an enviable 65 per cent. That speaks volumes for a player who picks his moments. A further 1.73 interceptions (per 90) back up that notion.
Romagnoli’s awareness and reading of the game are best illustrated by the 0.42 interceptions (per 90) he’s averaged inside the box this season. Only six players in Serie A can better that figure.
Is he available?
Milan aren’t in a position of financial strength. A good offer for their captain will be hard to turn down. Chelsea were reportedly keen on Romagnoli in 2016 when the quoted price was around £35million. That will have increased but relative to younger centre-backs playing elsewhere, he’s still fairly cheap.
Contracted until the summer of 2022, Calcio Mercato’s Fabrizio Romano reports Milan are trying to tie their captain down to a new contract. That will likely include a release clause. Conducting their business swiftly would be preferential for Chelsea and the Blues have already begun putting the building blocks for next season in place with a deal for Ajax’s Hakim Ziyech.
Another factor which complicates any potential deal is that Romagnoli is represented by the notoriously tricky Mino Raiola – agent to Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Milan No.1 Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Romagnoli currently pockets €3.5million after-tax – roughly €67,000 a week. Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis has been trying to impose a new wage cap which could preclude Milan from renegotiating with their skipper. That would put the ball firmly in Chelsea’s court.
Good things come to those who wait.