Kevin Strootman Will Remain Key to Roma's Long-Term Project

Colin O'BrienContributor IMarch 11, 2014

AS Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman, of the Netherlands, celebrates after scoring during the Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Roma at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Monday, Dec. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

For Roma fans, the 1-0 defeat in the Derby Del Sole with Napoli won't have been the most painful loss of the evening. 

The Giallorossi traveled to the Stadio San Paolo having been beaten just once all year, by the seemingly unstoppable Juventus. Central to that success has been a certain midfielder, one that just arrived this season to the Olimpico but almost instantly made himself indispensable to coach Rudi Garcia. 

Kevin Strootman wasn't exactly an unknown quantity before he left PSV Eindhoven in his native Netherlands for the Italian capital, but on the balance of his performances in Serie A thus far, it's fair to say that he was underrated. 

He's been a regular for his national side and for PSV since his transfer from Utrecht in 2011, but the current lack of real competition in the Eredivisie perhaps led many to undervalue his talents. The move to Italy finally cast the 24-year-old into the spotlight, where his impressive tackling and eye for a pass have won plaudits and undone opponents. 

It's a shame that a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee has put a stop to his exploits—and, more depressingly for the player, his World Cup hopes—but it's not the disaster it could have been.

Roma have 12 games to go in the championship, but the race for the title is effectively over. Juventus' lead is too big to be realistically assailable. They also managed to secure a more-than-capable replacement for the Dutchman in the winter transfer window. As long as they can avoid another serious injury, Radja Nainggolan can plug the gap left by Strootman in the centre without the side's style or quality being adversely affected. 

Another, slightly perverse way of looking at the loss is that it might actually deter Europe's biggest clubs from trying to lure the player away in the summer. Walter Sabatini has been doing some stellar work at Roma, bringing a host of brilliant players to the Olimpico.

He'll have his work cut out for him in the summer. The overall and individual performances been so impressive that several of the continent's big-spending sides look certain to try their luck shopping in Rome this summer. 

It's unlikely they'll sell—especially not players like Strootman, who was such an instant success on the pitch and with the fans. The player can take heart from that—the outpouring of support on twitter was incredible—and he should be bolstered by the experiences of Francesco Totti, who suffered the injury in 2007, and another former PSV and Netherlands star, Ruud van Nistelrooy.

The Manchester United legend suffered the injury on the eve of his transfer to the Premier League, delaying his £19 million move for a full year. When he did take to the pitch at Old Trafford, he looked better than ever, scoring 23 goals in 32 league games his debut season. In five seasons in England, the Dutchman managed 150 goals in total, before departing for Europe, where he continued to haunt defences during spells at Real Madrid, Hamburger SV and Malaga before retiring. 

The injury is a set back—for the player and for the club. But it's only temporary. In Strootman, Roma have one of the continent's best all-round midfielders. When he returns next season, in time to help them push for the Scudetto and to do well in the Champions League, they'll need him more than ever.