Since Francesco Totti’s retirement and Mohamed Salah’s departure to Liverpool, Romanisti were left speculating on who would become Roma’s next X-Factor. Was it going to be Stephan El Shaarawy or Roman-born Alessandro Florenzi? Over the course of this month, the Giallorossi have discovered a new prodigy – a Turkish 20-year-old called Cengiz Ünder. Have the Lupi finally found their new rising star?
Before Ünder captured the headlines of Italian newspapers in recent weeks, some calcio aficionados may have never heard of this footballer’s name. So who is Cengiz Ünder?
Ünder signed for Roma last July for a fee of €13.4m from Turkish Super Lig club İstanbul Başakşehir. The Serie A starlet - despite his young age and inexperience in playing European football – has made seven appearances for the senior Turkey national team.
Before the Turkish football population became attached to Ünder’s flair, the 20-year-old honed his skills with second-tier side Altinordu, a club that places emphasis on youth. Being a former youth product of this Turkish club, this provided the right-winger with valuable experience playing in Turkey’s second division.
With Ünder making his debut in Turkey’s top-flight last season with new club İstanbul Başakşehir, this was when the starlet’s talent struck the eyes of Roma’s director Monchi. While the wonderkid is now acclimatising to Italian football and aiming to cement a place in Roma’s starting XI, his purchase last year bewildered many fans. There was a strange vibe surrounding the youngster, with certain Romani tipping him to be a mediocre footballer who would turn out to be an unsuccessful signing.
It looks like Monchi’s optimism about Ünder has paid dividends for the Giallorossi thus far. The Turkish superstar is slowly, but surely, capturing the hearts of many Roman supporters with his performances.
Not only has Ünder made a name for himself in the Italian capital, the 20-year-old has also impressed on the Serie A and world football stages. Over the last three weeks, Serie A followers have realised what Cengiz is capable of. One of his trademarks is storming down the right wing and cutting inside before catching goalkeepers off-guard with his deadly left-footed strike.
If there was one new player Roma thought they were going to rely on this season, it would have been Patrik Schick. The Czech Republic international transferred from Sampdoria in a club-record deal. While the Giallorossi were looking for a Salah alternative on the right wing, Schick was expected to be the answer for the club’s objective. However, the 22-year-old forward has struggled to show his true ability or even find basic fitness levels.
Before Roma won their last three league fixtures, the Romans were enduring a six-match winless streak. But thanks to Ünder’s emergence in the last three games, it has lifted the Giallorossi to the third place in the Serie A table.
While Ünder has impressed under Di Francesco’s 4-2-3-1 formation – scoring four goals in the last three games – it remains a question whether he can reproduce his present form into the Champions League. It is unknown if Ünder will earn a starting spot in Wednesday night’s Champions League round of 16 tie against Shakhtar Donetsk, even though the Turkish winger has gradually gained Coach Di Francesco’s trust. If he is given the chance to play this mid-week fixture in Ukraine, then Roma fans will soon find out if their new hero can cope in Europe’s elite club competition.
However, with Cengiz now delighting the Romans with his vivid and intelligent style of play, it seems as though La Magica have identified their new upcoming icon. This is not the next Totti or Salah, this is Cengiz Ünder – a young Turkish footballer looking to create a lasting impression in Italian football.