There is no denying that AS Roma have struggled for consistency over the past five seasons, firing coaches at a rapid rate as they repeatedly failed to close the gap with four-time champions Juventus. Current boss Luciano Spalletti is the sixth different man to take charge since Claudio Ranieri left the club in 2011, replacing Rudi Garcia after yet another slump saw them once again fall out of the Serie A title race this term.
However, this past weekend saw them record a sixth-consecutive win which – allied to a strong showing against Real Madrid in the Champions League – appears to indicate that the former Zenit St Petersburg Coach has brought some much-needed stability to the side. At the heart of their revival is Miralem Pjanić who, despite the chaos that has often surrounded him in the Italian capital, has managed to steadily improve year after year.
It is remarkable to think that – having only arrived in August 2011 – the Bosnian midfielder is currently the club’s fourth-longest serving player behind only Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and reserve goalkeeper Bogdan Lobonț. Having already impressed with French clubs Metz and Olympique Lyonnais, the Giallorossi paid €11 million to secure his signature, a fee which looks like increasingly brilliant business.
His next league outing for Roma will mark his 150th Serie A appearance, weighing in with no less than 26 goals and 38 assists thus far, with many of those coming from set-pieces. His accuracy in both scoring and creating from dead ball situations should come as no surprise to anyone following his career, learning as he did from the brilliant Juninho Pernambucano during their time together at Lyon.
“Miralem always took an interest in my technique with a dead ball,” the Brazilian said in an interview with L’Equipe last year. “What he does with free kicks now is special, and above all he’s consistently effective, which is the hard part. For me, he’s the best at it in the world.” With Andrea Pirlo now playing his trade in New York, Pjanić is certainly Italian football’s undisputed master, and he has picked up where his former teacher left off but also contributes heavily from open play.
Indeed, only Lorenzo Insigne of Napoli and Empoli’s Riccardo Saponara (9) have more assists this season than Pjanić, whose current tally of eight is just two short of his career-high. Statistics provided by WhoScored.com show that he is also enjoying a banner year in a number of other categories, including chances created (2.5 per game), shots (2.4) and crosses (1.6).
Perhaps most importantly, his goal against Empoli this past weekend took his tally for the season to nine, already three better than his previous single-season high. His passing continues to impress, completing more attempts (64.2 per game) than any of his team-mates and is undoubtedly the man who dictates the tempo of the side. As well as supplying the ammunition for the Giallorossi attack, the 25-year-old is also a diligent defender, averaging 1.4 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per outing as he works hard to protect what has often been a leaky Roma back line.
His play has, unsurprisingly, brought him much attention, with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool all recently linked with Pjanić, who was forced to deny he was moving to the Spanish capital back in January. He has also been discussed as a potential target for Manchester City, with various outlets on the peninsula reporting that Pep Guardiola wants to make him part of his new-look side.
A fee of around £37 million has been discussed, with perhaps Roma’s depth of talent in midfield making such an offer difficult to refuse despite having professed his love for the Giallorossi only last summer. "I was really happy with my choice and I still am today, I hope to keep pulling on this shirt for many years to come,” he told Roma TV. “I'm really happy here. I live in a fantastic city and I play for a fantastic club with fans who live for the game. It's everything a player could want.”
Clearly enjoying life under Spalletti, those supporters will hope to see him continue to deliver those magical free-kicks in their colours next term. “He’s a sort of wizard, perhaps even a little Harry Potter” La Gazzetta dello Sport said of a spectacular effort back in October, but AS Roma will not want to see Miralem Pjanić perform a vanishing act this summer.