If last night was your first dose of Nicolo Zaniolo – I have some bad news for you: you’re three months too late.
Many of those outside of Italy were treated to their first sight of the young starlet yesterday evening during Roma’s 2-1 victory over Porto in the Italian capital. While this was arguably the most balanced and impressive performance the Giallorossi had in months, it was Zaniolo who stole the headlines as he became the youngest Italian to score a brace in Champions League history.
At only nineteen years old, Zaniolo’s full repertoire was on display against the reigning Portuguese champions as the former Fiorentina youth product exhibited an incredible mix of physicality, technical ability, and an eye for goal. It’s easy to revel in the youngster’s successes now; however, nobody could have seen an explosion of this magnitude coming.
Zaniolo initially arrived at Roma along with Davide Santon and €24 million in cash in the operation that saw Radja Nainggolan leave the Eternal City to join former Roma boss Luciano Spalletti at Inter. Many Roma supporters were furious with sporting director Ramon Monchi following the operation as the Belgian midfielder was a fan-favourite and many saw Zaniolo as a youth product who still needed developing while Santon was seen as merely a “throw-in” in the transfer.
Upon landing in Rome, the original plan for Zaniolo was to go out on loan as several smaller Serie A sides, including Chievo Verona, were eager for his services. Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco, however, put a stop to this and was keen for the youngster to remain in the capital and train with the team.
Through the first month and a half of the season, Zaniolo had yet to make an appearance and there were already rumors starting to swirl that he could be ready for a loan move in January. Of course, Zaniolo’s story completely changed on 19 September when Di Francesco opted to start him in a midfield three against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu during the Giallorossi’s group stage. Even though he lasted only 54 minutes, the youngster gave a good account of himself and didn’t seem even remotely bothered by one of football’s most iconic and hostile venues.
It was more of the same, though, following his display in Spain as Zaniolo was limited to the bench and brief cameo roles in the following month. Things changed course, though, in the Giallorossi’s showdown in Florence against Fiorentina.
After several struggles at the beginning of the season, Di Francesco scrapped his preferred 4-3-3 formation and switched to a 4-2-3-1, allowing players such as Javier Pastore and Lorenzo Pellegrini to play in a more advanced position behind the striker. Having lost Pastore and team captain Daniele De Rossi to injury, Roma were forced to reshuffle their starting formation, which allowed Zaniolo to enter the fray.
Zaniolo shined against Fiorentina and in the following matches with Inter and Juventus before finding his first goal in sensational fashion against Sassuolo wherein he made of fool of goalkeeper Andrea Consigli. The rest, as they say, has been history.
In recent weeks, Zaniolo has showed his versatility by playing as a right-winger, a central midfielder, and a trequartista and has managed three goals and two assists to his name in 14 appearances in Serie A.
Although many now have their eyes on the youngster after his dazzling display against Porto – Roma supporters have been singing his praises for months.
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