Roma have not messed about this transfer window. With 99.9% of the football-loving population entering their third week of ‘sick days’ spent helplessly glued to one of the most unpredictable and exciting World Cups in memory, the Italian club have went about their business under the radar.
Perhaps what’s helped them stay relatively low-key is the fact that the quality of their transfers has been, well, low-key too. Bryan Cristante, Javier Pastore and Davide Santon are the most recognisable names on the list. While not superstar signings, they are solid, dependable players in their prime who match up with Roma’s ambitions of solidifying Champions League status.
However, their NINTH signing is far more likely to excite those in the capital. An exciting, tricky, young winger full of flair and with a potential to exceed even his father as a player, Justin Kluivert could well and have a breakthrough season in Serie A.
The son of a Dutch gun, his father fired in 90 goals for Barcelona and 40 for Holland during a stellar career which too started at Ajax before a big break in Italy. However, that is where the similarities between the Kluiverts stop.
It’s easy to compare Justin to his father as a measure of his potential, but in reality the two are nothing alike. Patrick was a 6ft 2 target man who’s presence made him dominant in the air, whilst also possessing a superb touch. Justin on the other hand, at 5ft 7, will be lucky if he wins a header at any point in his career.
Instead, Justin’s ability to beat a man with a superb touch and dribbling, coupled with a direct style of play, were key parts of his last season at Ajax, scoring 10 in 30 league games. Famously, after losing the Europa League final to Manchester United, Jose Mourinho told Kluivert:
“One more season to shine at Ajax. Then you come to Manchester and be my striker. We make history together.”
Whilst in awe at the time, at some point young Justin realised Mourinho’s track record with young players at Chelsea and United and probably decided, “absolutely not.”
What Kluivert has done is instead go to a steady Champions League club with real title ambitions, similar to top Premier League clubs, but with a little less limelight. A mature choice for someone so young, but that didn’t stop the 19 year-old talking up potential future clubs.
Before his transfer, Kluivert would casually name drop any one of the top Premier League clubs or Real Madrid as the clubs who had expressed interest in him. Perhaps it’s just part of Justin’s relaxed, unfazed and confident persona, or maybe it’s a hint of Mino Raiola, a sign of the influence a ‘super agent’ can have on such a young star.
What is certain though, is Kluivert’s talent. Mesmerising skills which made the Johan Cruyff ArenA drool time and time again, as well as a natural finesse about his play which always leaves them wanting more. He is one of those infuriatingly good players, in the same category as so many top-class attackers such as Mesut Ozil, who on their day can justify every penny of the ticket price on their own, but can also go missing at crucial moments.
The vast majority of Kluivert’s goals came against teams in the bottom half of the Eredivisie. In the tough games, he was regularly overshadowed by the other future stars at Ajax such as David Neres and Matthijs De Ligt. Such was his frustrating tendency to ghost through important games, that he was dropped for Neres in the middle of last season, until Neres’ injury meant that Kluivert had a second chance to shine.
He did just that.
A hat-trick against Roda JC was the pinnacle of his breakthrough season, and notably, a feat his father never managed against Eredivisie opposition. Kluivert showed self-awareness at such a crucial stage in his career, when not everything was going his way. After a particularly poor performance against Vitesse, he said:
“I have to show a lot more in games, and I intend to do that in the upcoming matches and the coming year.”
The raw talent will always be there however, which has already been recognised at international level. He made his international debut for Holland in March, coming off the bench in a 3-0 win against European Champions, Portugal. Another challenge for Kluivert is to become a key part of a new generation of Dutch player, replacing one of the poorest in history. His father had players such as Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard to learn from, Justin doesn’t have that luxury.
Instead, Justin Kluivert will have to forge his own path, one that will set him apart from his father in more difficult circumstances. Roma fans will be hoping he takes his first steps to the very top level with them.