Emerson Palmieri is now a Chelsea player yet if the first thought that flashed across the minds of fans was the question of “who?” it would not have been an entirely invalid reaction. It also wouldn’t have been entirely new one for the Brazilian-born Italy international.
Rewind less than two years – or four transfer windows, to be more precise – and Marcos Alonso’s arrival at Stamford Bridge prompted a similarly confused response.
The Spaniard, having failed to establish himself in the Premier League during previous spells at Bolton Wanderers and Sunderland, was initially considered a strange addition. However, in time he has proven to be a highly effective one, and Emerson could follow in his footsteps.
The 23-year-old failed to start a single Serie A game this term prior to leaving Roma, though this was more down to bad luck than any individual deficiency.
Indeed, just last season he broke out and looked set to play a key role in the club’s future, only for a cruciate ligament injury, suffered on the final day of the campaign, to halt his progress.
Taken off early in the first half of a 3-2 win over Genoa, Emerson’s agony was drowned out by Francesco Totti’s retirement following that same match.
The young left-back recently returned to match fitness, appearing twice in December, but his place in the Roma line-up had by that point been commandeered by Aleksandar Kolarov, now regarded as the finest left-back in Italy’s top flight since returning to Italy from Manchester City in the summer.
On paper, Chelsea’s signing of Emerson may look like a head-scratcher.
He was Roma’s second-choice left-back, behind a player the current Premier League leaders deemed surplus to requirements, and he hasn’t enjoyed much by way of game time lately.
But had the Blues brought him in a mere six months ago, for the £17.6 million transfer fee they are reported to have paid for his services, the deal would rightly have been seen as a modern-day bargain.
Emerson was one of Serie A’s surprise player of 2016/17. Having failed to make much of an impact at Palermo, it wasn’t clear exactly why he was even in the Roma squad. However, once he was given a chance by Luciano Spalletti, he didn’t look back.
Often taking up the left-sided wingback role in a 3-4-2-1 system, his darting forward runs were integral to Roma’s attacking game as he covered his flank with speed, skill and an adventurous spirit.
He attributed his development to an increase in “courage” and thanked his coach. Spalletti – in classic Spalletti fashion – complimented his player’s improvement while simultaneously mocking his critics.
“Now some people will have to delete a few tweets,” he stated. “Many said…that we didn’t have a left-back and clearly that’s not true.”