Blog: A look into Vlad Chiriches


Things have been going far from well during these first 4 months at Roma, but if we had to choose a position for the “when it rains, it pours” award, it goes to the defence. Our flanks are underperforming for a number of reasons (most importantly Cole failing to adapt and Maicon lacking continuity over the weeks because of injuries) and while our battalion of centre backs looks great on paper, reality is different.

Reality is that we lost one of the greatest centre backs in the world. While we managed to replace him with an excellent defender who has a bright future ahead of him, he can’t be considered on Benatia’s standards (nothing to be ashamed of, as the guy is arguably the strongest centre back to have played with us since Samuel’s days) and didn’t have the devastating impact on the team’s mentality and performance that Mehdi brought with him. We then have Astori, who is (and will always be) fatally average and Mapou, who has performed far better than expected and could be a good asset for Roma as he’s that “almost starting quality” centre back that we need to have some rotation without compromising the team’s overall performance (his wage is, unfortunately, a possible barrier for his stay at Roma if he won’t accept to renegotiate it). And then we have Castan, a living synopsis of what Roma is going through at the moment. I’d pray for a divine blessing to be granted upon him if I had half the faith in God he has: in fact, that would make my life a whole lot easier but unfortunately my interaction with deities is usually limited to yelling blasphemies, therefore I can only hope that everything goes well and that we’ll see the guy back on a football pitch.

Yet, Leandro will undergo surgery in the upcoming days and will almost surely miss the whole season. This means we’re short of a centre back: rumors have been going around about a possible replacement, and the hottest names are Rolando, Chiriches and Balanta. This time I’d like to concentrate on the Romanian, as he’s the most realistic option for a move in January at the moment (reportedly, he has even locked a deal with Roma as for his wage).

Chiriches

Surely, we know who to use to make a comparison. We had Cristian Chivu playing 4 seasons in our backline, and we’re not talking about your random Loria: he was the greatest Romanian centre back of all time along with Popescu (who was probably a better player than Chivu, but can’t be considered a full-blooded defender for reasons I won’t bother explaining), and of the strongest centre backs to have ever played with a Roma shirt. Just to clear things out: Chiriches is not the new Chivu. And he will almost surely never be.

Yet, Vlad follows the Popescu-Chivu dynasty as for his characteristics. Chivu was always praised because, even though he wasn’t a 10/10 defender in terms of actual defending (response, tackling, coordination etc.), he had midfield-quality technical skills. Same goes for Popescu. And same goes for Vlad. The guy is gifted with an exquisite first touch, and carries the ball forward with silky elegance. This has obviously affected his style, and you can see Vlad exploiting this innate ability during any match: he always tries to fool attackers with body feints and double touches (I would say too much for my tastes, but we’ll talk about this later on), and you can often see him carrying the ball forward with the outside of his right foot with controlled spurts (a là Lucio), attempting to gain ground and pushing the team forward. His passing is top class for a centre back: from short passing to vertical long balls, Vlad is surely miles away from our average defender. Most importantly, he’s very confident in his abilities: even though he hasn’t shown his best from a playmaking perspective during his English spell, Vlad is generally far from conservative in his playing style. He’s not afraid of going for hazardous manoeuvres, like pin-pointing a long ball from deep when a striker is attacking the space. This is something Roma desperately need, because our three defensive playmaking options are Keita (short-pass specialist), De Rossi (usually awful at playmaking) and Astori (quite good technically, but not up to Chiriches’ standards).

Another remarkable aspect of his game is the tackling. When the guy is in good form, he’s an extremely clean defender. His slide tackle technique is wonderful, his ability to pull the ball off the attackers’ feet at the very last second is lovely (reminds me of Marcos a little). His technical finesse can also be seen in his one-on-one defending, and when Chiriches is on his day he can really be a joy to watch. I was lucky enough to attend the match he played against Manchester United last season, and people who watched the game know what I’m talking about: it was a majestic performance, with Vlad making great use of his responsiveness and anticipation to stop United’s offence over and over and over. It was arguably his greatest performance on England’s soil.

Now it’s time to talk about some weak points of his game. First of all, he lacks pace: Vlad is a “false quick” defender. I’m saying this because people are generally fooled by his athletic prowess: they see the guy sprinting forward with the ball at his feet, possibly beating multiple opponents and they think: “Woah, this dude is fast”. But like most people, they fail to realize that maintaining speed while controlling a ball doesn’t have a direct correlation with being fast (plenty of examples in any role). That is exactly Vlad’s case: he suffers against fast strikers, especially in the first metres. Something to bear in mind.

Second: strength. He’s by no means weak, but he’s by no means strong. Ergo he’s average, and that basically means he’s weak by top centre backs standards. He usually manages to conceal this flaw with his other assets but there are situations where this weakness can be easily exploited (e.g. set pieces)

Third: positioning. While his tackling is great, we can’t say the same about his rationale when moving on the pitch. He tends to be caught off position often (probably too often), usually leaves big gaps in the back when he surges forwards (there is a trade-off between this and his offensive contribution, but sometimes it can be too risky. Did I mentions Lucio before? Yeah, pretty much like him), generally poor coordination with the rest of the defensive line. Something he definitely needs to work on.

Last but not least, Chiriches’ main flaw is his stupidity. I’m not talking about him getting caught drunk on camera, but rather about his football stupidity. Chiriches’ frequency of what I call “Ranocchia moments” is alarming. I’m talking about stuff like attempting to fool a striker who’s running towards your back with a Bergkamp flip, or trying to stop a long ball for the attacker in mid-air with your weak foot (these are not hyperboles: I’ve seen him doing that crap). Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t: and when they don’t, usually a disaster will follow. I also hate is his tendency to go for what I call “tiki-taka in his own box”: I mean going for the short pass while being surrounded by opposition midfielders and strikers. Something that makes your blood freeze (no need to be a Spurs fan) even when things go smoothly. Generally, he’s not a safe defender and has the tendency to go for the fancy solution even when there’s a high degree of risk. This has to stop, not just because I don’t like it but because it makes no sense at all to try difficult solutions when you can minimize the risk and shoot the ball to the moon.

Chiriches3

Overall, it would seem that the negatives outweigh the positives. This is partially true, and some aspects of his game are bound to stay the same for the rest of his career (lack of pace and strength). Still, I can’t see why he couldn’t become a better overall defender under Rudi Garcia and his effective, tidy defensive phase. Serie A could also give a huge hand to Vlad: when I watched him in the Europa League and with the Romanian national team (especially in a match against France about 2-3 years ago) he always gave me the impression he could thrive in the Italian environment, where the defending is extremely static, with little pressing from the opposition (compared to the other big leagues) and managers tend to defend very deep unless they desperately need to score. Also, as I said at the very beginning, Chiriches could not only cover Castan’s absence, but probably improve the overall efficiency of the team as we don’t have a defensive option like him in our roster (the closest is Astori, who’s not half as good as Vlad technically) and we struggle a lot when we’re forced to play the ball from deep.

It’s been reported that Chiriches would join Roma on a loan with an option to buy. Therefore, it wouldn’t be a permanent transfer. He will have 5 months to prove his worth (in three different competitions), and try to fit into Roma’s mechanisms. If he performs well, great for us: we pay the fee (should be around €8 million) and the guy stays with us. If he does not, back to London.

If we consider the options listed at the beginning, Rolando is probably the safest. He is an effective, rough, strong, physically imposing defender with a good (and successful) experience in the Serie A. Those are the reasons why he would be my first choice.

Still, I’m not one of those fans tearing their hairs out screaming “Oh God, please everyone but Chiriches! He’s crap!” (He was not: he was very solid with Spurs before the he got injured, after that, I agree he went downhill). I still give him a chance. I know his strengths, I know his weaknesses, and I realize that he can potentially improve our squad. He would be on a loan with an option to buy, so there’s nothing to lose. I’ll just sit down and see how he performs with us, without pre-emptively bashing him.