Marten De Roon - breaking waves was his thing, but did he manage to make any?
Well, like a blink and you miss it moment, Marten De Roon’s Middlesbrough FC career ended this week after his move back to Atalanta in Italy.
Some have smartly pointed out that with him having re-joined the club Boro signed the 26-year-old from that actually he’s theoretically been on loan, a loan that’s effectively cost the Serie A outfit between £3-5m depending on which report you read.
In keeping with Middlesbrough FC’s transfer business this summer, which has been nothing short of excellent with both incomings and outgoings, they managed to negotiate a deal that represents brilliant value. It’s often been pointed out during pre-season that Boro have spent big, and indeed they have, around the £45m mark. But what has often been forgotten is the amount coming back into the club which, once again depending on what reports you read, is around £40m. Essentially then Boro have a net spend of about £5m, not bad eh?
Of that incoming has been the widely reported £13m made from the sale of De Roon, who has split opinion like no other player in recent memory. Forget the Gaston Ramirez debate (now he’s gone we thankfully have no further excuse to talk about him), Dutchman De Roon has had fans at odds with each other over the level of his impact, if any, last season and whether we should be sad/glad to see the back of him.
He arrived with a reputation as the ‘Wavebreaker’, a defensive midfield maestro in the team to break up opposition attacks. The dreamer in me was hoping for an Ngolo Kante (or Claude Makele for the nostalgic among us) type, basically the sort of player who does the job of two men. All the reports were encouraging; he’d made the most tackles in Serie A during the 2015/16 season, a ‘terrier’ he was described. “Great” I thought, just what we need, a bit of bite, some fresher legs to frighten opposition, especially with Grant Leadbitter’s advancing years and injury issues.
In reality, though, we got something completely different.
What it was exactly is hard to pin down. However, looking at the stats it wasn’t the sort of player we expected.
Expectancy hardly represented reality
For a man whose game was seemingly modelled on frustrating the opposition and breaking up play, his actual success in doing so was pretty limited. Then again, in the most part, he was in good (or bad whichever you look at it) company as most of his teammates failed in the same aim. In terms of tackles won, which was one of his big selling points, he only managed to win 22% of them. Hardly ‘terrier’ like qualities. He was involved in 86 fouls, yet 76% of those were ones he’d committed so you could argue he picked up a tactical booking here and there.
Curiously he won more than half of the ‘headed duels’ he was involved in, yet we didn’t sign him for his aerial ability, however he did score two with his head also. None more famously than the last minute one he powered home at The Etihad against Man City to earn Boro a draw. I think at that point he became something of cult hero, well for that and the lovely, simply touching video of him going to a young fans house. For those who haven’t seen it I would recommend a view, one of the more positive things you’ll see in a climate of selfish, mercenary footballers.
However, rolling back to the stats once more, he managed to win more ‘take ons’ than be taken on, 5/8 to be precise. This is reflective of the more advanced role he seemed to be given by Aitor Karanka, a role that whilst he gave it his all, he never really looked totally comfortable. The 41% shot accuracy hardly screamed ‘goal threat’ either, but it was second only to Ramirez among his fellow midfielders. Add that to the 11 chances he created then he was actually quite effective in the oppositions half, despite looking he was running around like a headless chicken a lot.
None the wiser
But to many, despite the above, that’s all he was. An enthusiastic, 100% effort, run all day kind of player who made it look like he did a lot but in reality perhaps he didn’t, well at least not what he was signed for you’d anyway. Given Karanka’s penchant for the cautious approach and De Roon’s impressive defensive minded stats at Atalanta, you can hardly feel that he was brought to the club with a view to an attacking role. Yet that’s what he offered, or at least what he seemed to.
He was the one that broke from midfield to arrive in the box, indeed all is four goals came from within the oppositions penalty area. The finishes against Swansea and Sunderland displayed an anticipation of your classic box to box midfielder; however these were few and far between unfortunately. Maybe he’s a frustrated, less talented Frank Lampard type? Ok, perhaps that’s stretching it, but whatever sort of player he is he leaves Teesside with a lot of supporters being none the wiser.
For a guy who arrived as a bit of an unknown quantity, despite the nicknames and reputation he’d garnered in Italy, he’s left with little more than a collective “meh” in the most part.
For those who are sad to see him go it can be argued that’s more down to his personality on and off the pitch - good, honest professional, someone who had the ability to bring a smile to the face. His trip back with Boro fans after leaving the Olympic Stadium late following the 1-1 draw with West Ham sticks in the memory, as well as his laughing in the face of Alexander Kolarov in the battling 2-2 draw. Those things endeared him to many, but his football left most of us scratching our heads.
In some ways I’m sad to see him go, but when it comes to the footballing and money side of things then perhaps the move was the best for all parties.
You see, my thoughts on his departure are pretty much like his game - confused.
What are your thoughts?