As we celebrate the 23rd anniversary of Francesco Totti's debut with Roma, let's turn our attention to a player on the opposite end of career spectrum. While Antonio Sanabria's debut with Roma in 2015 wasn't quite as auspicious as Totti's, given the success he's had with Sporting Gijon this season, we may one day look back on that day fondly, though obviously not quite to the same extent.
Sanabria is similar to Totti in one respect, however--no one knows what the hell to do with him. Given Walter Sabatini's predilection towards South American players, his signing sort of got lost in the shuffle. Think about it for a second, in a two-to-three year span, Sabatini plucked Erik Lamela, Marquinhos, Ivan Piris, Leandro Paredes and Gerson, among others, from his favorite footballing continent. While some of those names panned out better than others, Sanabria's name just become one of many; a litany of Latinos pegged to carry Roma into the future.
So when Sanabria was sent to Sassuolo upon arriving in Italy, only to make three appearances over parts of two seasons with Roma and the Neroverdi, you would've been forgiven if you completely gave up on him. Still just a teenager, Sanabria's circuitous path seemed more like a self-fulfilling prophecy than a temporary weigh station on the road to Roma.
But then something wonderful happened, Roma found him the perfect home. Since moving to Sporting Gijon this summer, Sanabria has taken La Liga by storm. After a relatively slow start in Spain, Sanabria burst onto the scene in late September, grabbing a brace against Deportivo La Coruna, but that was only the beginning.
In the ensuing weeks and months, Sanabria has made a habit of scoring in bunches, tallying two hat tricks, while his 79th minute equalizer against Atletico Madrid three weeks ago pushed his total to 11 goals. All told, Sanabria is scoring 0.61 goals per 90 minutes, tied with Antoine Griezmann for 11th in the league. The key to Sanabria's success this season has been accuracy and efficiency, as the young Paraguayan has put 62% of his shots on target (second on the club) while converting a full 33% of those shots into goals.
What ‘Tonny' lacks in brute strength or ankle breaking moves, he more than makes up for with intelligence, accuracy and intuitive movement. Check out the clip below and you'll see just what I mean--Sanabria, especially for his age and experience level, is remarkably adept at moving within tight spaces and working within a broader tactical framework.
Take a look at the video and what or who do you see? In our prospect countdown we pegged him as a Luis Suarez type striker, and while that might be a pie in the sky scenario, given his intelligence, timing and off the ball movement, at the very least this kid could be a more athletic Mattia Destro.
Point being, we don't know what to make of this kid just yet, nor do we have the faintest idea what Roma has planned for him. With Sadiq Umar, Ezequiel Ponce and even Kevin Mendez all fighting their way up the ladder, one or more of these kids will be used as transfer fodder.
Sanabria's advantage is simple; thanks to his impressive loan spell with Gijon, we now have empirical evidence that he can succeed at the highest reaches of the game. Now whether or not that success translate over a longer term and in a different league remains to be seen, but give how much he's flourished this season, we can't simply dismiss him out of hand and assume he's not "fit for Italian football". Talent like this cannot and has not gone unnoticed--should they decide to sell, Roma will have no shortage of suitors.
Sanabria's loan has played out just as Roma had hoped. He's not only gaining experience, but value. Now the real question is, to whom? Is he a building block or a commodity?