Now that we’ve arrived at the cream of the crop in our U-23 countdown, the debates between production and projection become more intense. For any player 23-years-old or younger, having a solid season on your CV is a feather in your cap, as it symbolizes, to an extent, that they’ve arrived. However, the appeal of potential always looms large; what the player might be is somehow more important than what they already are. The last two men in our countdown straddle this line, each fresh off their first full, solid season in Serie A, and in some ways the dividing line between number one and number two simply came down to position.
Nevertheless, we’re talking about two tremendously valuable assets here. First up, the local boy, one who may very well take the top spot next year.
Number Two: Lorenzo Pellegrini
Prior Club: Sassuolo
Current Club: Roma
Future Comparison: Isco/Pjanic/Iniesta hybrid
Who is He?
As we all know, Pellegrini is the latest in a long line of talented local boys to suit up for Roma. LP joined up with his neighborhood football club back in 2007 when he was only 11 years old, making his senior team debut eight years later under Rudi Garcia, coming on as a second half sub for Salih Ucan against Cesena. That token appearance was well justified, however, as Pellegrini not only captained Roma’s youth side, but tallied 14 goals in 60 some odd appearances.
Pellegrini is a tall (6’2”), athletic and technically gifted midfielder, one who contributes in all facets of the game.
What Can He Do?
Ordinarily this section is full of speculation and educated guessing, but thanks to his successful stint with Sassuolo, we have a pretty good grasp on Pellegrini’s still developing talents. In 33 appearances last season with the Neroverdi last season, Pellegrini was instrumental in EDFs attack, scoring seven goals and dishing out seven assists between Serie A and the Europa League.
Pellegrini’s numbers will naturally depend on what role he assumes, but broadly speaking he is a playmaker, one who can pick out a key pass while also threatening the goal himself, in addition to being a burgeoning set piece threat. As an added bonus, all this offensive talent comes in a massive package. While he isn’t exactly comparable to an in-his-prime Daniele De Rossi, Pellegrini averaged three defensive actions per match last season with Sassuolo, most of any midfielder with at least 20 appearances.
In essence, Pellegrini is a massive, athletic and agile attacking midfielder, one who can, depending on his role, being the silent orchestrator or the flamboyant finisher.
What Can He Become?
Set aside all his physical gifts and footballing skills, which are enormous, and Pellegrini profiles as future leader and bannerman for this club. With his Roman blood and leadership experience at the youth level, Pellegrini will assuredly take over the role of captain someday, or at the very least serve as Alessandro Florenzi’s faithful lieutenant once Daniele De Rossi steps aside.
But back to the pitch for a minute. On the surface, Pellegrini seems a bit like Kevin Strootman, in that he’s an imposing presence in the midfield, one that looks merely like a bruiser yet has a subtle touch. And while all that is true, Pellegrini exceeds the Dutchman in athleticism and should, once his understanding of the game grows more nuanced, surpass Dutch Jesuus’ playmaking ability.
At only 21-years-old he’s found the perfect steward of his young talent in Eusebio Di Francesco, who deployed him on the right hand side of a three-man midfield, ostensibly as an offensively tinged box-to-box midfielder, hence the Strootman and De Rossi comparisons.
However, Pellegrini is so much more than the sum of his parts. Like Iniesta or Isco, Pellegrini appears capable of not only dictating the pace of play, but if he’s given the freedom to push forward, he has that killer instinct to not only make fools out those who dare get in his way, but to make that final, incisive pass.
From combo guards to stretch forwards to safety/linebacker hybrids to super utility infielders, seemingly every sport on earth is careening headlong towards increasingly positionless paradigms. So in that sense, Pellegrini is like the calcio version of Giannis Antetokounmpo, a player to whom traditional labels don’t and shouldn’t apply.
Put simply, Pellegrini is the ideal 21st century footballer: talented, flexible and effective; his mishmash of talents will enable Roma to do so many different things over the next 10 to 15 years. And what’s more, he’s a Roman through and through. If everything goes according to plan, Pellegrini will be the building block for the post-Totti era.