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Youthful exuberance is sweeping through Trigoria. Gone is the wizen Ranieri, replaced by the comparatively fresh-faced Luis Enrique – and accompanying the Spaniard is an armada of talent barely free from adolescence.

But while fan’s fervour is reserved for the nineteen year old Erik Lamela, along with Bojan Krcic and Loic Nego at just one year Lamela’s senior, an investment in experience may possibly be Luis Enrique’s shrewdest move of all.

The recruitment of Gabriel Heinze at the ripe old age of thirty-three may result in furrowed brows and raised eyebrows, certainly among the Curva Sud faithful - but once familiar with ‘el gringo’ as he is known, the appointment begins to make perfect sense.

Gabriel Heinze was born in Crespo, Argentina, to a German mother and Italian father. Although being eligible to play for the Azzurri, the accomplished left-back chose the nation of his birth, amassing 71-caps and 3-goals since his debut for La Albiceleste in 2003. As a child Heinze displayed a prodigious talent, but notably possessed a remarkable work rate – a trait that would become his calling card throughout a storied professional career.

In addition to selfless work ethic, Heinze was noted for a winning mentality and an absolute aversion to losing. These mental characteristics, combined with obvious technical ability, resulted in a potent cocktail that led him to some of football’s most glittering stages – most notably Old Trafford and the Bernabeau, where Heinze made just shy of one-hundred appearances for both Manchester United and Real Madrid combined.

Heinze scored on his 2004 debut for Manchester United in a 2-2 stalemate with Bolton Wanderers – and in just his second full season with United, Gabriel earned the ‘Sir Matt Busby Award’ for United’s player of the season – a feat of some gravity considering the clear quality of his peers.

While Heinze helped United to the Premiership title in 2006-2007, his time at Old Trafford ended acrimoniously with the arrival of Patrice Evra – the Frenchman supplanting the Argentine as Sir Alex Ferguson’s preferred left-back. Unaccustomed to losing, least of all his place in the team, Heinze and more importantly his agent reacted adversely by trying to force through a move to Liverpool – a move tantamount to treason given the unbridled hatred that exists between both sides.

Needless to say, Sir Alex Ferguson would not rubber stamp such a move and instead, Gabriel was sold to La Liga behemoths Real Madrid.

Heinze speaks candidly about his affection for United and the regret his has for the bitterness which surrounded his exit from Old Trafford – a ground he recalls as a ‘very human and warm place’. While it later transpired that Gabriel’s agent was a major agitator in the attempted Anfield move, the Argentinean rues the whole episode – revealing that his ‘strong and impulsive’ side got the better of him.

Since leaving the present Premiership champions Heinze has had successful stints with both Real Madrid and Olympic Marseille. Of particular interest to Roma’s tifosi should be that in three successive campaigns, from 2006 to 2009, Heinze amassed championship honours with three teams in three different countries – garnering Premiership, La Liga and French Ligue 1 winner’s medals  – a feat that he will undoubtedly wish to repeat with Roma in Serie A.

Hopefully by now a picture should be forming of formidable and experienced player accustomed with success – and while detractors may suggest that Gabriel’s pace and physical capacity may have diminished with age, his real relevance comes in the form of how he fits into Roma’s new and youthful dynamic.

The Argentine’s experience and a winning mentality will certainly serve to enhance Enrique’s training sessions - and when called upon to play, Heinze’s strength of character and iron-clad will can only help reinforce a defensive unit prone to concentration lapses – most notably from Juan whom Heinze can play alongside, in addition to his more favoured left-back berth.

Ultimately and most importantly however, Heinze will be a vital lieutenant to Luis Enrique, as the new tactician balances his own need to acclimatise with the supervision of his young and newly amassed ‘stranieri’.

Fresh from Olympic Marseille, Gabriel will be able to converse with French starlet Loic Nego, while his La Liga experience (and indeed mother tongue) will help Bojan Krcic’s acclimatisation to life in the eternal city. More obviously, Heinze will find a familiar face in fellow countryman Nicolas Burdiso and together they will form what Romanisti will hope to be a strong South American contingent along with Erik Lamela – clearly Enrique vision for Heinze spans far beyond mere playing duties.

To complete the profile, Gabriel Heinze once recounted a story of Sir Bobby Charlton purposefully sitting by the Argentine on a flight. The United legend and survivor of the Munich air disaster knew that Heinze found air travel uncomfortable and the significance of Charlton’s gesture was not lost on the left back who described the Sir Bobby as ‘a simple and sincere gentleman’ .

Heinze also recalls Sir Alex Ferguson’s ability to make every player under his charge ‘driven and committed’ – and if these qualities, evidently imbibed by Heinze, rub off on Krcic, Lamela and Nego, the acquisition of the Argentine veteran may just prove to be a masterstroke from Enrique.

The reason in recounting these anecdotes is to illustrate Heinze’s philanthropic awareness and the qualities absorbed by Heinze’s experience while working alongside football’s sharpest minds - qualities which can only serve as a reassuring precursor ahead of the time he’ll spend at Trigoria, nurturing and influencing what is currently a young and disparate assortment of talent.

Stuart Harper

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

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  • Jay

    I am really glad to see some of the moves Roma have made in the transfer window.

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