The Story of Ferdinand


I can't think of many instances where a player's nickname is more misleading. Julio Baptista built his reputation as a brawny goal scoring machine in Sevilla, and was there given the moniker The Beast, but he never was one. Appearances are misleading. Even if Baptista at first glance can look menacing, in Rome he's shown to be as amiable as they come off the pitch. Far removed from the mental images one conjures upon hearing The Beast—those of a predator who plays with complete disregard for the safety of defenders on the pitch and bites off heads of bats outside it—the biggest impression Baptista the person left in Rome is arguably when he was playing the acoustic guitar for the reporters of Il Corriere dello Sport during an interview. You're far more likely to see him in a white oxford, and a cardigan draped over his shoulders, with all the neatness of a prep school alumni than a tank top and leather jacket, or whatever the bad asses are wearing in 2010.

When Roma was in the process of signing Julio Baptista, I felt the walls tumbling in the mental house of football I had built during the preceding years of Spallettian champagne football. I slept on the early success Sevilla had and hence missed out on that Baptista, which meant my entire relationship to the player was based on watching him for Real Madrid. There I saw a central midfielder who couldn't trap or pass a ball, and I was in disbelief as to how that very same player could have scored 40 goals in two years. When Roma turned to Baptista after the Adrian Mutu route was closed, I thought it was a particularly ill-advised move and I believe I even may have speculated about self-imposed mutilation being preferable to seeing him in a Roma shirt.

But once he was present, there was little to do but see how it would unfold, and what started as grudging respect soon turned to restrained ecstasy after the derby goal. He scored some fantastic, and some very important, goals for Roma that first season even while being shifted from position to position, in system after system. He never found a role to revel in for Roma, but still managed to turn in a perfectly acceptable debut season. The past season wasn't as easy on him, and he's seen little to no time on the pitch, but has to his credit responded with added work effort to always be able to put in a better performance than the last one. That's what should happen, you can argue, but much too often it doesn't, so it's still nice.



Now, two years after his arrival, he's in the spotlight once again. This time for his rejection of moves to Turkey and Greece, which are insurmountable roadblocks to Roma's mercato. I hear voices, indignant and upset, damning him for not moving on. Accepting either Galatasaray's or Olympiakos's offer would mean a not at all unsubstantial pay-rise for Baptista, so it's not about him wanting to sit out a golden contract to maximize income, usually a point of contention in similar cases. Instead it seems to be that he would prefer to play in a country and league with higher levels of competition, and who can really blame him for that? In particular it seems bewilderingly biased and narrow-minded to expect Julio Baptista to move because his employer needs it, when that same employer nixed a move to Inter seven months prior. I realize there's a certain sense of suspension of objectivity that is hard to separate entirely from being a fan, but the callous manner in which a small group of talking voices have grown indignant that one single player holds this power over Roma's mercato is irritating. Since Roma gave him the contract he's currently on, it's his legal and moral right to see it out as long as he behaves professionally, and that he does. He's not property the club can decide, unilaterally, to shift around as it suits them. Even if that is an inconvenient and uncomfortable fact, it is entirely undeniable. Roma and Julio Baptista are in this together, and both parties need to be properly satisfied with incoming offers in order to agree to a transfer. That it is in the interest of both parties to find such a solution is another matter (Roma needs funds, Baptista needs a new break in an environment to his liking).
 
I'm still fairly convinced (and by "fairly", I mean to say "absofreakinglutely") that he was not the best bet Roma could have made that summer of 08, and it's clear that paying a bench option that high a salary was never a good idea in the land of self-financing. He'll be seen as a failure and a bust by many, perhaps even by most. It's hard to argue against that and still come across as sane. However, I don't blame him for anything. He's neither world class nor a champion's champion, but he is an honest player who always does what he can, and who can come up with spectacular plays in decisive moments. He is precisely who he is, and never asked for others to view him any differently. He himself dislikes being called The Beast, and he isn't to blame for AS Roma acting like the men in the funny hats and believing him to be anything but Ferdinand: