Having gone six Serie A games without a win, Roma badly needed a saviour to stop their slide down the table. Step forward Cengiz Under, who scored the winner in the Giallorossi’s 1-0 victory over Verona last weekend.
Cengiz had endured a tough start to life in the Italian capital, failing to register a goal or assist in his first 16 appearances, yet the Turkish starlet needed just 43 seconds to veer in from the right and pull the trigger to move Roma to within a point of the Champions League places.
Question marks were raised when the Lupi paid Istanbul Basaksehir €13.4m for his services last summer, but sporting director Monchi knew exactly what he was getting for his money, having tried to sign the attacker for Sevilla. Indeed, his potential quickly became evident during preseason, thanks to a series of lively performances.
However, the honeymoon period didn’t last long and the 20-year-old found himself drifting in and out of Eusebio Di Francesco’s plans during the first half of the season. The unforgiving and tactical nature of Serie A proved a culture shock for a player used to open ranges and the freedom to cause havoc from all angles.
As well as the obvious language barrier, Cengiz also needed to get to grips with the hustle-and-bustle of living in the Eternal City. The forward was born in western Turkey, some 300km away from Istanbul, and raised with strong family values, making his transfer to Roma the first time he had ever been separated from loved ones.
“Moving abroad was a real culture shock,” he said earlier in the season. “I moved abroad on my own and left my family behind, not knowing anyone or being able to communicate with anyone. I couldn’t talk with anyone… It was really tough. I really felt alone for the first time, really alone. It was the first time I experienced real loneliness.”
On the flip side, those values instilled in the former Altinordu ace ensured he never gave up on his dream move.
“It’s not a surprise for me, it was just a matter of time,” opined Turkey boss Mircea Lucescu. “It was me who told him to stay at Roma and not give up, not even on loan… Now that he understands the language and tactical side of things, you can now see the results. He’ll only improve. Monchi wasn’t wrong to pay €15m for him, I’m convinced of that… Cengiz potentially has all the qualities needed.”
Lucescu isn’t wrong. Pacey, skilful, versatile, a good dribbler and with an eye for goal, Cengiz manages to combine all that with a ruggedness and determination seldom seen in his age group. He’s even been likened to Paulo Dybala or Douglas Costa, but even if those comparisons seem too hasty, Roma surely have a gem on their books.