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Stuart Harper On April - 7 - 2011

Roma’s Philippe Mexes - The Seven Year Itch

There was no tearful gesturing to the Curva Sud. There were no boots or shirt tossed to the Roma faithful. Instead, there was a forlorn limp towards the dugout as the Stadio Olimpico scoreboard glowed ‘AS Roma 0-0 Juventus’. Unbeknown at the time, Philippe Mexes had played his last game in the famed Giallorossi - his last gift (at that time), a clean sheet.

Wednesday afternoon, and Twitter was awash with disconsolate, albeit largely unsurprised Romanisti, resigned to the fact that Mexes is to leave for a new club this summer. A fixture of Roma’s rearguard for seven years, Mexes had forged an unerring bond with the club and its people; a bond which many tifosi had hoped would keep him within the eternal city for indeed, eternity. Sadly however, with a host of unavoidable factors at play, Philippe leaving was always the more probable conclusion.

Roma has been in disarray this term, and for longer if we are talking in financial terms. Perennial bridesmaids in Serie A and occasional whipping boys amongst Europe’s elite, it’s somewhat understandable as to why someone of Mexes’ quality would consider a move away.

French football is still reeling from the debacle that was last year’s World Cup campaign, but a slow but sure rebuilding process is underway, and Mexes is widely touted to be an instrumental part of that revolution. Undoubtedly, Roma’s hierarchy are proud for a Giallorosso to earn international honours, but nonetheless, it’s always a risk having a player rub shoulders with Champions League winners and their ilk.

Whether Mexes has ever gazed wistfully towards his fellow men is supposition, but with Roma faltering it’s somewhat understandable that he should feel a burning desire to win trophies given the company he is keeping, and critically wishes to keep. The counterpoint to such a view is Roma’s impending windfall which could soon propel the Giallorossi swiftly forward. Having already endured seven years without a scudetto or European trophy, many would find Philippe’s timing hard to fathom – begging the question, why not give the ‘American Revolution’ a chance, just one more season?

At the age of twenty-nine Mexes is at his physical peak (notwithstanding his current injury) and in terms of longevity, has between two and three more seasons at which he can maintain absolute form and fitness (by some strange quirk of fate, about the same length as an attractive contract). With all due respect to Mr Di Benedetto, Roma’s renaissance would take longer no less than two seasons to bear fruit any greater than a Coppa tricolore, and if Philippe feels any sense of urgency, again it is not unreasonable.

While all of this plausibility may make rational sense, it will be of little consolation to Roma fans holding Mexes close to their heart. Many will recall Philippe chiding Christian Chivu when the Romanian defected to Inter from the capital and those tifosi will now feel Mexes is perpetuating the same crime.

Adopted or otherwise, Roma fans do not take lightly to their sons leaving home - Alberto Aquilani as an example - and amongst the likes of De Rossi and Totti, Mexes is held in some kind of quasi-Roman regard. ‘You Tube’ footage of Mexes shows him with friends in a bar singing ‘Roma, Roma, Roma’, the club’s official song, and while countless sycophant players will kiss any badge in hollow homage, after seven years Romanisti know Philippe as genuinely one of their own – as evidenced in his off duty rendition of Roma’s anthem.

Ostensibly, one feels that Mexes is satisfied that he’s served Roma well and can move away without recrimination, content that he has conducted himself honourably and with justifiable reasons for leaving now. However, and with most things in life, there is a flip-side.

Philippe’s contract expires in June and he will leave Roma on a ‘Bosman’ – a free transfer. For the player, joining a new club without a transfer fee allows for a greatly enhanced contract given no significant outlay having to be made. Being brutally honest, one would suggest that the potential to double or triple his salary would have played heavily on the mind of Mexes, if not his agent – certainly as it would be the last ‘major’ contract of his career.

Conversely, while Philippe’s adoration of the club is palpable, allowing his own contract to ebb away will be to Roma’s significant detriment. Had Rosella Sensi been unable to sell Roma, then Mexes’ actions would have simply been unforgivable, and although some would argue that Di Benedetto alters Roma’s financial landscape, replacing Mexes will come at some considerable cost. As a point of principle, the small matter of a one year contract extension could have garnered Roma a healthy, and much needed transfer fee – regardless of ownership status.

Where it really matters however, Roma will miss Philippe Mexes. Spiritually he is a presence and physically he embodies a gladiator. Technically he is both composed and accomplished, the modern centre-half. While prone to incurring the referee’s wrath, he anchors the defence with an unbridled commitment that often errs on over-zealousness and seldom anything less – not a bad trait for his position.

This season alone, there have been two instances where Roma have suffered without Mexes - at Sampdoria earlier this season, and again last Sunday against Juventus. On each occasion an injured Mexes was substituted with a clean sheet intact. In both games Roma would proceed to concede two goals and consequently lose both matches – a coincidence? Who can say for certain, but one thing is for sure, losing Mexes will leave a hole in the defence of AS Roma, the hearts of Romanisti and the wallet of Di Benedetto.

Stuart Harper

Freelance sports writer covering football, calcio & futbol. A Villa, Roma & Barca fan. Cycling too.

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One Response so far.

  1. trig says:

    nice piece, man. keep it up

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