Midfield has long been a source of strength for Roma. Whether we're talking about Daniele De Rossi, Simone Perrotta, Damiano Tomassi, or Agostino Di Bartolomei, Roma has seldom lacked in creative or combative midfielders. The next two young men on our countdown should have every chance in the world to join that list.
Salih Uçan and Leandro Paredes are not only immensely talented youngsters, but their respective transfers are emblematic of the economics of the modern game, as each required some shrewd and creative negotiating tactics, in some instances using a third club as a de facto back channel, and a careful outlay of funds in order to fit them within Roma's always precarious financial reality.
Rome is by most accounts a peaceful city, containing history and culture enough to whet even the most insatiable intellect, but many minds in the Eternal City have raced ceaselessly, and many nights sleep have been rendered eternally restless at the horror of one thought: how on earth will Roma replace Francesco Totti?
While no one will ever truly replace Totti in the strictest sense of the word, even for someone as inimitable and legendary as Er Pupone, a functional replacement must be found. If you believe the hype, or put any shred of credibility into carefully edited YouTube highlight reels, Roma may have found this facsimile in the form of a (surprise, surprise) young Argentine.
Number Six: Leandro Paredes
20-years-old, 5'11" (1.81m), one Serie A appearance
Paredes' reputation and acclaim, much like Antonio Sanabria, is steeped in word of mouth and mounds of scouting reports, as his actual on-pitch resume is woefully short. Though he made his professional debut for Boca Juniors as a 16-year-old in 2010, his CV contains little more than 1,300 minutes of professional football.
Understandably, then, his list of accomplishments is pretty sparse. Over the course of four seasons, Paredes made 28 appearances for Boca, including 13 starts, scoring five goals along the way.
Paredes has also featured for Argentina at the youth level, scoring two goals at the U-17 level.
Despite his lack of discernable accomplishments, there is a reason many have counted Paredes among the world's most talented teenagers (he only turned 20 this summer); he just has that knack; that ability to pick out a pass and create a chance seemingly out of nowhere. Paredes has long been heralded for his vision, creativity and imagination, all of which can be seen in the requisite YouTube compilations below.
However, when we marvel at his ability to synch up with teammates, to both facilitate and finish an attack, remember this; he barely even played for Boca, so his ability to drop right into an attacking setup and form an instantaneous connection with his teammates will serve him well as he adapts to life under Rudi Garcia's multifaceted attack.
While he is nominally an attacking midfielder, Paredes has, much like Totti, featured on the left side of the pitch, both in a withdrawn and attacking role. As you can see in his highlight packages, Paredes, though listed as a right-footer, can create with either foot from a variety of angles and positions.
This ambidexterity, coupled with his off the ball movements, creativity, vision and understanding of attacking football, profiles the perfect trequartista. Time will tell if he develops even an ounce of Totti's scoring ability, but if Roma ever reverts from its current 4-3-3 course, Paredes seems the perfect fit for a 21st century in-the-hole playmaker.
Room for Improvement
Part of what sets him apart from the similarly profiled Sanabria (in terms of the balance between their lack of experience and potential) is that he seemingly already has the body to survive life in Serie A. So, while he will naturally add some strength as he matures, physically speaking, he's already comparable to Roma's current crop of attacking midfielders, so there's no worry about his ability to survive the bumps and bruises of Italian football.
Once again, much like any player his age, he only stands to benefit from further professional experience, particularly in terms of fine tuning his approach--his position, decision making, shot selection, etc, but the foundation is set, he just needs the on-the-job exposure to ensure that his mental approach and focus can rival his unquestionable physical gifts.
This one is a bit harder to peg down. His time at Chievo was more of a logistical holdover than a place to incubate his talent, and given that he's pretty far down the depth chart, it will be interesting to see how and where he plays in the short run. Yes, his ability on the ball and ability to operate anywhere on the pitch makes him an ideal reserve midfielder, but his development might be better served by a legitimate loan, one where he'll actually play consistently.
However, in the long run, we have every reason to be optimistic. While he'll never equal Totti's accomplishments, he has the necessary technical skills and creativity to be among the league's best playmakers and, if everything goes right, he should be front in center in Roma's plans for the future.
Where he might be joined by this next young man...
Number Five: Salih Uçan
20-years-old, 6'0" (1.83m), zero Serie A appearances
We discussed Uçan's background numerous times during his protracted transfer from Fenerbahce, so we'll keep it brief. Uçan made his pro debut in 2012 with Bucaspor, for whom he made 24 appearances and scored one goal before being sold to Fenerbahçe for approximately €1.5m, the highest fee ever paid for a Turkish youth player.
Uçan would make 25 appearances for Fenerbahçe before coming to Roma, scoring three goals and dishing out two assists in less than 1,000 league minutes. Uçan has played for Turkey at the youth level since he was 14-years-old and has been capped once at the senior level, a friendly against Northern Ireland last fall.
Scout Nation really compiles the best highlight reels and their work on Uçan is simply fantastic. Just take a look at that video and you'll see that there is seemingly no limit to this kid's game; he's skilled with both feet, he's tall, he's agile and he can play a variety of midfield roles, distributing from deep or being the last link in attack.
The thing that sticks out most is his positioning, he has a keen sense of where he is on the pitch relative to the ball at all times, slipping into the narrowest crevice to get on the end of a pass, or using subtle feints to create his own space to set up teammates or threaten the keeper; he just seems to have that intuitive ability that all truly great midfielders possess. All of which is even more impressive when you consider he's always been one of the youngest players on the pitch.
As far as what he can do with the ball at his feet, well, check out this deftly chipped goal:
While that's just one sublime example, Uçan, given his size and poise on the ball, seems like he'll be a threat in and out of the 18-yard-box.
Room for Improvement
While we'd hope he'll add a bit of bulk to his frame, the specific areas in need of remediation ultimately depends on what sort of role he assumes now and in the future. If he sits deeper on the pitch, then his long passing will need to improve, as will his defensive positioning, but if he becomes more of an attacking and/or wide presence, his crossing, work with fullbacks and ability to provide defensive cover will need honing.
Whatever the case may be, throughout the pre-season we've seen bits and pieces of what he's capable of, but, much like Paredes, given his abilities and composure on the pitch, it's just a matter of infusing experience and sharper focus into his already prodigious set of skills.
Given how long it took to secure his services and how much it will ultimately cost, Uçan doesn't seem like one who will ride the pine for too long. So, it's not hard to imagine him becoming an integral part of Garcia's rotation this season, particularly as Kevin Strootman will remained sidelined until late 2014/early 2015.
Fast forward five years or so and who knows? The Zidane comparisons have been floating around lately which, though flattering, are probably just a bit hyperbolic, but because he has such a wide set of skills, it's a bit hard to nail down a contemporary comparison; his career can go in so many different directions. However, if you want my pie-in-the-sky wild guess, he's a slightly more slender Toni Kroos.
We've run through six of Roma's most promising prospects thus far, each of whom is buoyed more by reputation than results at this point in their nascent careers. However, as we continue through the countdown, the debate becomes more heated, as these players not only figure in Roma's future, but are critical in the Giallorossi's title hopes this season.