Roma's nightmare ACL injury curse continues with Rick Karsdorp blow
On Wednesday night Rick Karsdorp finally made his Roma debut, a rusty 82 minutes in the Giallorossi's crusty 1-0 win over struggling Crotone. His first steps on the Stadio Olimpico pitch marked the end of a four-month absence following preseason surgery on his right knee, with which he had problems while playing for his former club, and subsequent muscle injuries during his recovery. He was warmly applauded by home fans hopeful that one of sporting director Monchi's most intriguing summer signings might finally pay back some of the €14 million spent on him.
It was a decent, if not particularly exciting performance, after which Karsdorp showed little sign of any pain and expressed happiness at having completed his first Roma game. Less than 48 hours later, and on the eve of their home clash with Bologna, he's undergone surgery on his left knee, the victim of Roma's 12th torn anterior cruciate ligament in less than two years. As well as lamenting the loss of such a promising player, fans are now beginning to wonder how on earth so many ACL tears can happen in such a short period of time.
"Last night my dream turned into a nightmare," Karsdorp tweeted on Thursday morning, while Kevin Strootman, who knows all about his countryman's fate having spent the best part of two years out after suffering his own torn ACL in 2014, insisted the new arrival will be "back on the pitch as soon as possible to rock the right wing again."
As news of Karsdorp's fate was revealed, fingers were immediately pointed at director of performance Darcy Norman and head performance coach Ed Lippie, hand-picked by Roma president James Pallotta in the summer of 2015. The dirty dozen have all torn their ACLs since the pair's arrival and unless Pallotta's Lazio counterpart Claudio Lotito visited Roma's Trigoria training complex with a Lazio curse two years ago, it seems highly unlikely that such a high number of tears can be explained by bad luck alone.
Even if the tears suffered on international duty -- Elio Capradossi, on loan at Bari, in September 2015 and Antonio Rudiger last summer -- are removed from the equation, 10 ACLs have been torn in that period. Even more worryingly, nine of the 12 have come since the end of the 2015-16 season, starting with Rudiger and finishing with Karsdorp, with first-teamers (curiously, also full-backs) Mario Rui, Emerson Palmieri and Alessandro Florenzi (twice) among that number. That's an astonishingly high number even for a league where six players have suffered ACL tears in just 10 rounds of fixtures.
Nonetheless it's hard to apportion blame for these injuries, mostly because not even the experts can agree on the cause of their recent increase -- something that's not just taken place at Roma, or in Italy. What they do agree on is that it's not down to luck, with former Arsenal and Charlton physio David Wales suggesting last year that there should be "one ACL injury per club every 12 to 18 months," a number that was "consistent" with his time in football. Something, somewhere, needs to be fixed.
Karsdorp came to the club in deal that also included €5m of extras. His arrival excited the fans who followed foreign football closely enough to notice Feyenoord's buccaneering, Eredivisie-winning right-back exciting Dutch fans in a period when there seems to be a dearth of Oranje talent.
Karsdorp started out as a midfielder, at times playing as a No.10, and he wasn't played as a full-back until 2014. That time spent in the middle of the park gave the 22-year-old a calmness on the ball that many defenders dream of, and his quality distribution brought him 14 assists over the last two seasons. His arrival was supposed to be the solution to what had been a problem position for Eusebio Di Francesco's predecessor Luciano Spalletti.
With Florenzi -- not a natural right-back but a useful auxiliary player -- out for much of Spalletti's tenure having suffered two of Roma's recent ACL tears, the former coach had to make do with Rudiger and Bruno Peres. Rudiger is a centre-back by trade, as we can see from his work at Chelsea, and lacked attacking guile. More importantly, accomplished wide players such as Lorenzo Insigne could take advantage of his unnatural stance and positioning, as he admitted in an interview with top Italian football site Ultimo Uomo before Rudiger left for the Premier League.
Peres, who probably will start on Saturday night, plays the role practically as a winger rather than a traditional full-back, and the Brazilian's attitude to small matters like positioning and chasing back seem unconventional, to say the least. Silly errors like the sloppy pass that led to Chelsea's second goal in the 3-3 thriller at Stamford Bridge have cost Roma points and infuriated fans, and the return of Karsdorp had supporters hoping they would have the same stability and attacking ability on the right flank that Aleksandar Kolarov has brought to the left.
Instead they're back to the role being shared by a converted midfielder and player whose days at right-back were supposed be numbered.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley