When Roma acquired Panagiotis Tachtsidis from Genoa for €2.5m back in July, there was not a great deal of focus on the youngster that went the other way. Coach Zdenek Zeman acquired the man he wanted and Roma were not giving up anything that would be of use in the coming season.
But Andrea Bertolacci, the 21-year-old who went to Marassi on a co-ownership as part of the deal, is a player their Coach Gigi De Canio wanted too, having given him his debut at senior level.
He was loaned to Lecce in January 2010, halfway through their successful promotion campaign from Serie B with De Canio at the helm. He made his first appearance off the bench in a 1-1 home draw against Triestina and would make a further four as a substitute.
He was used equally as sparingly in the subsequent campaign, where he was on a season-long loan in Lecce’s first year back in Serie A, with only 10 appearances, but they were all from the start this time around. He had a big impact with his four goals, and even though De Canio had not given him much playing time, he had left a lasting impression.
When De Canio was sacked at the end of the 2010-11 season, he spoke at length about Bertolacci, including a justification as to why the midfielder was not given more games.
“Andrea is destined for a great career. He’s an incredible boy and is already very mature for his age. I tried to play him as little as possible at Lecce so that he did not become known to everyone, so they could buy him outright.”
Roma were not fooled. When Lecce tried to buy 50 per cent of his contract in the summer of 2011, as was agreed as part of the loan for that campaign, the Giallorossi used their right to veto it for €500,000.
“He is definitely a player who Roma will rely on. I believe he will assert himself in this new way of playing under Luis Enrique,” De Canio remarked when asked for his thoughts on the ‘project’ the capital club were embarking upon.
Except Luis Enrique and Roma decided Bertolacci was not needed for 2011-12 and allowed him to return to Lecce on another loan. He was afforded many more minutes on the pitch under Eusebio Di Francesco, and then Serse Cosmi – 28 appearances in total, albeit with 15 of them from the bench. His three goals was one fewer than he managed under De Canio, but two of them were directly responsible for four points in the club’s failed fight against relegation.
His efforts were enough to convince Roma, who renewed his contract for another five years in the summer. That they only allowed him to go on a co-ownership deal to Genoa, despite having received full rights of a midfielder in return, speaks volumes for their belief in his abilities.
It means Bertolacci re-joins the Coach that launched his career and someone he labels as a ‘perfectionist’. “He is demanding and pays attention to the details. Training is hard and requires a lot of effort and concentration. At the beginning it is not easy to understand the demands and adapt to his system, but with time it becomes second nature.”