A year on from reportedly being on the brink of a transfer out of Serie A, there’s now no longer any doubt about Miralem Pjanic’s importance to Roma.
Back then, Pjanic was being forced out for comments he made following Roma’s Coppa Italia final loss to city rivals Lazio. He, rather than Erik Lamela, looked destined for the exit at the Olimpico.
But Pjanic may not have ended up at Roma had it not been for the intervention of his father back in 2011. At Lyon at the time, Pjanic was said to be on Arsenal’s wanted list to replace the recently departed Cesc Fabregas, with a deal said to have been close on deadline day.
Still only 21 at the time and having only experienced top flight football in Ligue 1, the excitement would have been well short of what Mesut Ozil’s signing generated last summer in north London. Back in 2011, Pjanic was an extremely promising talent, though one that had some way to go to reach the level he’s at now.
And what a climb it has been for the Bosnia and Herzegovina international. Rudi Garcia made himself known in Italian football almost immediately after signing on as manager. He urged the club to go after Gervinho, in spite of the Ivorian’s struggles during his two seasons at Arsenal, and campaigned to retain Pjanic and build the team around the former Lyon midfielder at the expense of the then far more popular and effective Lamela.
Pjanic was at the hub of Roma’s ascent up the Serie A table, displaying his credentials as one of the team’s leaders in the absence of Francesco Totti with his two goals – one from a free kick and the other from the penalty spot – against Napoli on the way to recording 10 straight league wins. There were other memorable goals for the 24-year-old during last season’s campaign, but none more emphatic than his waltz through the Milan defence to help Roma to a 2-0 win.
Perhaps known more as an advanced midfielder, Pjanic has shown his comfort in dropping deep into the centre of midfield and helping to dictate the play. In 2011, Arsenal’s only obvious options in replacing Fabregas were in the signing of Mikel Arteta who, despite being able to create, falls well short of offering what his compatriot did, and Aaron Ramsey, who was still in the early stages of recovery from that injury suffered at Stoke.
Pjanic, however, would have offered something different. He didn’t have the complications that had plagued Ramsey’s career up until that point and would have been considered a bargain for what he is now worth, moving on from Lyon for only €11million. Importantly, he would have added some craft and guile to an Arsenal attack that, without Robin van Persie, was severely lacking.
Roma’s recent business has been extremely positive. They saw two major sales in Marquinhos and Lamela last summer, but spent wisely for replacements and additions. Even their business this summer – which includes Juan Iturbe bolstering the attack and Ashley Cole and Seydou Keita adding experience for the upcoming Champions League campaign – has been astute.
But looking back, none may have been more important than what came with Pjanic’s signing in 2011, just as important on the field for Roma’s revival as Garcia has been on the touchline. An understated player without the backing of a monster transfer fee or a stylish national team, but with the performances that can justify the tag of world-class midfielder.
What would it have meant for Arsenal, however? Santi Cazorla did arrive a year later to somewhat fill the creative role left by Fabregas, and Ozil joined 12 months on from that. Would Pjanic have blocked one or both of those arrivals? Possibly, but it’s conjecture for now.
What is clear now – and especially after Pjanic reminded us of his talents with a goal against Manchester United on the weekend from inside his own half – is that the Bosnian would have represented the most obvious replacement and eventual lift from the disappointment of having lost Fabregas to Barcelona.
Roma know exactly what they have in the 24-year-old, who will be key in their efforts to build on last season. The idea of selling Pjanic, a year on from almost being forced out, is not worth thinking about.