Saturday December 8 2018
Zaniolo is Italy's future

Roma revelation Nicolò Zaniolo may only be 19 years old, but Andrea Tallarita believes he's among Italy's greatest promises.

'A standing ovation for [sporting director] Monchi,' said one sarcastic Romanista last summer, on an open call with Roma Radio, 'for giving away our best midfielder to a direct rival, in exchange for a piece of ballast and a nobody!'

The angry fan was commenting on the swap-plus-cash deal that ferried Radja Nainggolan from the capital to Inter. His call voiced feelings that were echoed almost ubiquitously in the capital.

The 'piece of ballast' mentioned by the fan was full-back Davide Santon, who ended up steadying the uncertain Roman boat so effectively that even its grouchiest passengers had to fall silent.

As for the 'nobody', that was a 19-year-old called Nicolò Zaniolo, the same boy who is now the object of this and other articles as potentially the greatest revelation for this season of Serie A.

"Zaniolo plays like a veteran," admitted Roma legend Francesco Totti, as impressed as anyone, after last Sunday's 2-2 draw against Inter. "He has explosive strength and technique, and everything it takes to become a truly great player. Don't let him hear me though. He may yet change course and I don't want that on my shoulders."

The Ex Pupone's prudence is understandable, especially at this delicate point in Zaniolo's career. For a kid who was discarded from the Fiorentina youth team in 2016, and who found a side-door back into elite football only thanks to Inter's scouts, the boy who came to Rome as 'a nobody' has enjoyed quite the glamorous three months.

First, on September 3rd, came the call-up to Roberto Mancini's Azzurri, making of Zaniolo only the fourth Italian ever to be bestowed such an honour without playing a single game in Serie A. Then his Roma debut on September 19th, playing on the biggest stage in the world against European champions Real Madrid, followed by regular minutes against Frosinone, Viktoria Plzen and Fiorentina.

To say that Zaniolo made good of his opportunities would be quite the understatement. Starting against Real Madrid (for the second time) and against Inter in Roma's last two games, he was arguably the best player in a Giallorossi shirt, ticking every last box in the job description of a trequartista, and burnishing his performance with a conviction and an attitude that had to be seen to be believed.

If you haven't watched him play yet, I recommend finding the time. Zaniolo plays as an offensive-minded midfielder, and his passes are correspondingly smart, quick and precise, equally effective from short and long range. He is exceptionally composed for a player in his late teens, and against Inter he showed signs of having a solid shot on goal too.

What is perhaps most remarkable about the former Interista, at least from what we've seen so far, is his mastery of one of football's absolute basics: just not losing the ball. Zaniolo is already roughly the size of Paul Pogba and could easily put on more muscle. As well, he compounds his physical qualities with a fighting spirit like that of a mother hyena protecting her cubs.

Simply put, Nicolò never gives away the ball if he doesn't go down, and he never goes down unless someone is able to take him down. The likes of Real Madrid's Luka Modric and Inter's Marcelo Brozovic tried dispossessing him, and both were repeatedly dragged into something like a professional Sumo bout.

To top off this remarkable list of qualities, 'Mr Nobody' has something even Totti never had: the humility to deal with the mad world of football. Zaniolo is level headed and mature with the Press, does not fall for trick questions, and knows how to choose his words carefully. One imagines the boy's father Igor, himself a modest ex footballer, must have done a sterling job as a mentor.

Zaniolo has silky, polished technique, he thinks quickly and well, and he boasts an Olympian physique which makes him a nightmare for opponents to contain. Roberto Mancini recently lamented that "Italy don't have superstars anymore", but before the next World Cup comes around, he might have to eat crow. This kid has all the makings of a superstar.

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Have your say...
I hope you're right... but How many times have we said this about countless others???
on the 12th December, 2018 at 12:31pm
@Ferban, CORRECTION "...but as is often the case [at Inter], the clubs/managers want the aging "star name" who is often going downhill when purchased, [or never develops into a star]."
on the 10th December, 2018 at 11:37pm
patrick cutrone is the future of azzurri, he has good scoring instincts as he reminds me of christien vieri and schilatci. zaniolo & tonali are of great talent so let us hope they will improve and develop more. strongly believe that italy will have one of the most exciting national team's ever as the current youngsters possess plenty of skills to look forward for a wonderful azzurri. thumps up to gatusso who starts young italians at milano, unlike juventus, intermilano and lazio (the..ic team)!!
on the 10th December, 2018 at 5:25pm
@Paolo, in an ideal world, we would have a strong squad for the Azzurri & wouldn't need to raid the U21's: giving them the chance to develop and form a chemistry that will allow them to challenge for the U21 European & Olympic titles. But it's not an ideal world & we need to find more options for the senior side, particularly in the attacking areas.
on the 10th December, 2018 at 11:18am
@Paolo, sloppy seconds only for the last few month's & not for majority of his tenure. Mancini had to bring in the younger players because of an aging team, retirements, & a lack of quality/depth with our over 21 - under 30 players. I'm certain that Mancini will release most of the youngsters (like what Spain/Germany do)for the U21's next summer because he realizes the importance of winning that title, but right now he looking at all of his options.
on the 10th December, 2018 at 11:10am
@dan come on barella has played 4 games for the under 21 tonali zero sensi zero zaniolo 4 kean 3 games Gag 6 cristante 2 at the moment the is getting sloppy seconds for his youth team.

I have got nothing against the youngsters training with the senior players it will help their game i think it would benefit them much more if a group of the best them came together and played in a youth competition help them gel into team.
on the 9th December, 2018 at 10:46pm
Chiesa, Cutrone, Kean, Zaniolo, Tonali, Barella, Sensi, Bernardeschi, Favilli, Mancini,Adjapong, Clemenza are the future of the Italian NT. The sooner they get into the team and train, the sooner they'll be more prepared to play in big tournaments like the Euro's in 2020.
on the 9th December, 2018 at 8:36pm
1/2@Paolo, Di Biagio had the best players available to him over the past 5 years & still did an average job.

You forgot Sensi btw. As for your "straightaway" point, maybe, but it won't be harmful for Mancini to call them up, have a look at them, & see how they train amongst the more senior players. It'd probably do Zaniolo/Tonali the world of good to see Verratti & Jorginho up close. "new & different", how about better quality like what Barella has shown vs Cristante, Pell, & Gags?
on the 9th December, 2018 at 3:08pm
What is the writer talking about? he was great against inter real madrid??? He got played at santiago bernabeu and was invisible throughout the inter game. Is this italian media becoming another english media? He has shown nothing which can be praised except for one undeserving mancini call up just because his name was on the tongues of editors just for the fact that he was the one who went in opposite direction of naingollan.
on the 9th December, 2018 at 2:39pm
Too soon.. Way too soon to start passing "greatness" labels. Let the kid flourish without addiitonal pressure. Dont put labels on him just yet. Hes just 19 ffs.
on the 9th December, 2018 at 2:29pm
@dan give them a chance fine but not every player can play for the senior side straight away especially in midfield you have verratti jorginho baselli barella cristante pellegrini and gagliardini unless these youngster can offer something utterly new and different to the senior side they should be playing for the youth team.

As for di biagio he probably isn't good enough but if he isn't given the best players available to him and allowed to fail or succeed with them it is not a fair test.
on the 9th December, 2018 at 2:17pm
@Paolo, personally, I find it extremely refreshing that Mancini is "cannibalizing"/fast-tracking our talented youngsters. For as long as I can remember, the Azzurri coaches have been far too reticent in this area. That said, I wouldn't have any problems with the Azzurrini loaning those players back next summer (we appear to have a little depth now). Sadly it will probably be a futile exercise though, because I have no confidence in Di Biagio. He should have been replaced a long time ago.
on the 8th December, 2018 at 9:47pm
the guy certainly has a maturity beyond his years along with a modern style of play. For me he is one of the many young decent Italian players coming through at the moment.

I would really like to see the under 21 use zaniolo tonali mandragora in the midfield along with kean cutrone chiesa in attack and mancini calabria romanga pezzella and bastoni in defence meret in goal time for the senior side to stop cannibalising the youth team give the under 21 euros a real go. pellegrini and barella mayb
on the 8th December, 2018 at 8:06pm
The lad has taken his first-team opportunity well but how many goals has he scored, how many assists has he provided or chances created... a long way to go yet and the national call was premature in my opinion... good luck to him though!
on the 8th December, 2018 at 12:43pm
Inter love ditching their youth lol

They could have signed Torreira and kept Zaniolo for 25m and saved 10 or 15m on fees and wages for Nainggolan, but as is often the case in Serie A, the clubs/managers want the aging "star name" who is often going downhill when purchased.
on the 8th December, 2018 at 12:04pm

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