PROFILING HIS BEST ATTRIBUTES ASSESSING HIS FUTURE ANALYSING HIS STATS LEARNING ABOUT HIS STORY SO FAR
This profile was originally published in the seventh edition of the Scouted Football Handbook, available here.
Who is Cristian Romero?
It took just one Serie A season for Juventus to decide to pounce on Cristian Romero. Normally, such a quick decision from the Bianconeri is a sign that a player has settled into the league well – the club’s occasional acts of creative accounting notwithstanding. Nevertheless, now two seasons into his time with Genoa – he was loaned back to the club once his €26 million move to Juventus was completed in the summer of 2019 – the 22-year-old Argentine centre-back is ready to take the next step in his career.
The road from Argentina to Juventus is, of course, a long one. In late 2016, he seemed likely to leave his boyhood club Club Atlético Belgrano for another Atleti, Atlético Madrid in La Liga. Instead, he spent two seasons rotating in and out of Belgrano’s first-team before Genoa swooped in to bring the then 20-year-old to Italy for €3 million. Ironically, his first match would be spent marking Cristiano Ronaldo and Mario Mandžukić as Genoa held Juventus to a 1-1 draw away from home.
Romero never looked back. He played every possible game – missing four through suspension – for the rest of the season, including another strong performance in the return fixture against his future employer – a game Genoa won 2-0. An important clean sheet in a 0-0 draw on the final day of the season against Fiorentina lifted Genoa out of the relegation zone, ensuring his return on loan from Juve for the next season. With his future secured, the hype around the 22-year-old has died down this season, though another year of consistent performances has him in good stead for his eventual departure from Genoa.
Cristian Romero's Style of Play
Cristian Romero has an interesting skillset. Elements of his game are true relics of a bygone era: he looks impressive as a sweeper, mopping up loose passes and breaking up attacks that threaten to get behind the defensive line.
He is no-nonsense, tackles hard, picks up too many yellow cards (21 and two reds in two Serie A seasons) and, of course, wears black boots. The old school aesthetic matches the gritty and aggressive nature of the Argentine’s defensive style. In Italian, they call it grinta.
As a sweeper, the 22-year-old is extremely alert to the play developing in front of him. In fact, he is so good at reading play that he has made the second-most interceptions of any player in Serie A this season. When this StatsBomb statistic is adjusted for possession, he ranks in the 95th percentile of Serie A centre-backs to have made ten or more starts.
He is happy to sit back, waiting to clean up loose balls or cover runs behind the defensive line, but he plays on the front foot too, stepping up to pressure attackers that take a loose touch. Only Atalanta’s José Luis Palomino has made more successful pressures per 90 minutes than Romero amongst centre-backs in Serie A with more than 1,000 minutes played.
And he is relatively efficient too, with the 18th-highest successful pressure rate of 33.1 percent, suggesting he is intuitive enough to gauge when he has the opportunity to meaningfully close down and opposition player. He is aided by a superb athletic profile – he is 6’1”, incredibly agile, has an enormous leap, and covers ground quickly.
The Argentine defender typically plays either in the centre or on the right of a three-man defence. Operating as the former, some of his frailties start to emerge.
The creativity of the central defender in a three-man defence is often integral in kick-starting attacks, but Romero lacks the willingness to take on such a burden, often playing too safe – slowing down potential attacks in the process and allowing teams to set up their defensive structure.
He tends to play a lot of passes to the other centre-backs, meaning build-up often ends up funnelled out wide. This might be a directive – it is easier to defend counters that originate from losing the ball out wide – but it has certainly limited Romero’s development in this area.
Frustratingly, he is more than capable of making progressive passes. The Genoa defender is given a lot of license to get forward when playing on the right of a back three, and can be very dangerous – primarily as an aerial threat, but also as a creative one.
That said, he still ranks low amongst centre-backs in Serie A for both shot-creating actions from open-play passes, as well as passes into the final third per 90 minutes. Likewise, he can carry the ball and dribble quite well for a defender, though this is another resource that is not fully exploited – whether due to his unwillingness or the design of Genoa coach Davide Nicola is hard to say.
As mentioned, his main motivation for bursting forward is to mix up Genoa’s attacking play over short periods by providing an aerial threat – at a side as established as Juventus, such a skill would have limited uses.
Nonetheless, Romero truly is a monster in the air, and it is surprising that he has not been able to translate his aerial ability into more goals. He has only scored twice in Serie A: both headers from corners.
Forecasting Cristian Romero's Future Prospects
There is a distinct possibility that Romero will never play for Juventus. Talk has emerged in recent weeks that the 22-year-old could be used as a makeweight in other moves the Bianconeri intend to make in the upcoming transfer window.
Juventus are still stacked with defensive options: Matthijs de Ligt has overcome a rocky start to become one of the shining lights of the team this season, while another young star Merih Demiral was hugely impressive before seriously injuring his knee prior to Serie A’s lockdown. Meanwhile, Giorgio Chiellini has signed a one-year contract extension and Leonardo Bonucci is still in contention.
It is likely that Romero will either be sold or sent out on loan once again, perhaps with a view to bring him into the mix once Chiellini eventually retires. Juventus would do well to funnel Romero into a regular starting berth at a club like Atalanta or Sassuolo – two developing clubs with tactically sharp managers in Gian Piero Gasperini and Roberto De Zerbi.
Cristian Romero is an astonishingly good on-ball defender, who is aggressive in the way he seeks to shut down attacks quickly. He is becoming increasingly good at then taking possession and kick-starting attacks with adventurous passes.
Cristian Romero can be sloppy in some of his actions, fouling opposition attackers unnecessarily is one. He can be overly reckless in the way he hunts the ball, although this can be helpful in allowing him to intercept attacks early.