Kostas Manolas has been impressive for AS Roma once again this season and is linked with a move to Arsenal and Chelsea. Both clubs are rumoured to be linked with a number of defenders in the summer, but would the Greek defender improve either side should a summer move to the Premier League materialise.
Serie A continues to flounder thanks to woeful mismanagement at some of the nation’s biggest clubs, the benefits of Juventus’ march to the Champions League final remain somewhat dubious.
It is highly unlikely that many of them could ever hope to replicate the long and arduous journey the Bianconeri were forced to follow after their Calciopoli-induced relegation in 2006, but there has almost certainly been one major bonus for Italian football during the current campaign.
In seeing Max Allegri’s side lay waste to Barcelona and their prolific MSN frontline, it can no longer be said that teams from the peninsula are dull and defensive. Instead, the proactive approach of that 3-0 win over the Catalan giants at Juventus Stadium points to a new direction in Serie A, one that embraces attacking play and delivers great football.
"#JuveFCB: Our masked hero strikes again" ???
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) April 13, 2017
However, even as the old stereotype grows even more old and outdated than it was before, teams in need of a reliable defender almost always head to Italy to do their shopping. Juve’s own vaunted backline of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini needs no introduction, while the likes of Alessio Romagnoli of AC Milan and Atalanta’s Mattia Caldara hint at a bright future.
Legacy of Euro 2004
— Noor Al-houda Hakim (@Inter_Milan44) May 5, 2017
The likes of Kalidou Koulibaly at Napoli and German international Antonio Rüdiger show that there is an international flavour to the trend too, something that is perhaps best embodied by the latter’s partner at the heart of the AS Roma defence. Now playing alongside the likes of Francesco Totti, Kostas Manolas, previously a rumoured target for Tottenham Hotspur, has always been blessed with great team-mates, something that began when he joined AEK Athens as a teenager.
Thrust into the starting XI while still only 18, he immediately forged a great understanding with club legend Traianos Dellas, who was of course a key figure in the country’s incredible triumph at Euro 2004.
Before he scored his only international goal in the semifinals and played a major part in the robust rearguard that was so crucial in their unlikely Henri Delaunay Trophy triumph, he had played out a bizarre career that took in spells at locations as varied as Perugia, Sheffield United and of course Roma.
“It is an honour to play alongside such a great player like Dellas,” Manolas said at the time. “I have developed and become a better player. His experience has helped me become confident on the ball and the decisions I make in the game. I’ve learned a lot from him and he is basically like a teacher to me who I look up to.”
Kostas Manolas & Traianos Dellas pic.twitter.com/A3ER7r7uQc
— Yunan Futbolu (@yunanfutbolu) February 21, 2017
That didn’t stop Manolas leaving, alienating his former fans as he won two league titles with bitter rivals Olympiacos before joining AS Roma in the summer of 2014. The move is believed to have been completed for an estimated fee of €15 million, with the player signing a five-year contract that pays him a reported weekly salary of just under €35,000.
Robust But Effective
For that money, Roma get an old school defender, one who is never afraid to get physical with opposing players while clearly enjoying a testing head-to-head battle. His reading of the game is excellent, while he combines the pace needed to keep up with quicker strikers with the strength and power to contest event the most robust forwards he is asked to mark.
Comfortable in either a traditional four-man defence or a back three, his speed across the ground and ability to recover are essential to his success in the latter. He is adept at winning the ball, making an average of 1.1 tackles and 2.3 interceptions this season, also making good use of his solid 6’ 2” (1.87m) frame to win 2.5 aerial duels per outing.
That he has won 68 of the 94 such battles he has contested this term indicate Manolas would be comfortable with the English style of play, while he is smart and alert to diagonal balls behind the defence and diligent at set pieces. That effectiveness at dead ball situations has yet to translate into goals at the other end either of the pitch however, the 25-year-old netting just twice in 126 appearances for Roma.
His distribution is limited, connecting with 86.8% of his 48.2 attempts per game but many of those are short and sideways to a fellow defender or simple balls into midfield. Manolas rarely attempts difficult or incisive passes, but there is something to be said for the fact he recognises that and rarely gets tempted into the long “hollywood” efforts like so many of his contemporaries.
Constant Transfer Talk
One common theme over recent years has been Roma selling a high-profile player in order to balance the books. The past few seasons have seen the likes of Marquinhos, Medhi Benatia and Miralem Pjanic have all been sold on for huge profit, meaning it is no surprise to see Radja Nainggolan, Rüdiger and Manolas all be discussed as potential departures this summer.
For the Greek international that is nothing new however, with rumours of a move to Chelsea or Arsenal – who reportedly had a €40 million bid rejected twelve months ago – never too far away. He would clearly suit either very well, his style of play and temperament fitting particularly well with the demands of Antonio Conte as he looks to enjoy the return of Champions League football to Stamford Bridge.
It would undoubtedly be a shame for Roma who, with new Sporting Director Monchi on board, look set for a bright future of their own. But time waits for no man, and Kostas Manolas has shown in the past he is not afraid of taking on difficult challenges if there is a chance of silverware.