Emerson Palmieri came to Rome with no expectations of greatness; he was just one of the countless left-backs signed by Walter Sabatini, destined to flop at the Olimpico. Yet his world-class season last year caused him to fly up to the top spot our annual Youth Countdown, jumping players brought in for tens of millions of euros more. Despite ending his season with an unfortunate ACL tear, the Brazilian-born Italian international will certainly be able to slot back into his starting spot (and more) as soon as he’s healthy.
Number One: Emerson Palmieri dos Santos
Position: Left back / Left wingback
Current Club: AS Roma
Rank Last Year: Ninth
Future Comparison: Roberto Carlos
Who Is He?
Emerson Palmieri dos Santos was born, unsurprisingly, in Santos, Brazil, on March 13, 1994. He made his professional debut for Santos FC at the age of 17, and his play quickly garnered him a transfer overseas in the form of a loan to Palermo. Although his first experience in Italy didn’t go as planned (he only played 182 league minutes during the 2014-2015 season), he caught the attention of one Walter Sabatini, Italy’s foremost believer in South American wonderkids.
Roma took Emerson on loan for the 2015 - 2016 season, where he mainly deputized Lucas Digne and had little importance to the first team. When the Frenchman took his talents to Barcelona, though, Emerson seized his golden opportunity and transformed into one of the best left-backs in Italy, if not Europe. His impressive 2016 - 2017 season led to a call-up by the Italian national team, and although he is currently healing a torn ACL, Emerson is expected to return to both the Azzurri and the Giallorossi before the end of the year.
What Can He Do?
Although quite definitively an attacking full-back (what Brazilian-born full-back isn’t?), Emerson showcased both offensive and defensive prowess last season, making 2.9 possession-adjusted tackles and providing 1.8 key passes per ninety. Looking at his more general role in the squad, Emerson provided a link between the Luciano Spalletti’s defense and offense, playing crucial short passes (completing 87.4% of them) and marauding up the flanks to give opponents tactical headaches.
Unlike many young defenders, Emerson also showed up in big matches, including one particularly memorable 2-0 victory in the Derby della Capitale. To quote bren’s review of the fullback’s performance:
Overall, this was just a superb performance from Emerson. Aside from those 94 touches, 47 passes and two chances created, Emerson did a masterful job of negating Felipe Anderson, who, aside from two chances created of his own, was a virtual non-factor yesterday. Anderson, who averages two shots and three dribbles per match, was relegated to one shot and one successful dribble yesterday, and much of that was do to Emerson’s defensive work, who made two successful tackles of Emerson deep in Roma territory.
What Can He Become?
By some metrics, Emerson is already one of the best left-backs in Europe. The biggest roadblock he has to becoming a household name is that pesky ACL tear he suffered towards the end of the season. Hopefully Eusebio Di Francesco recognizes the talent he has on his hands here and works to make Emerson fit into the new-look Roma. If he does, and if some super-club doesn’t steal Roma’s best left-back since Federico Balzaretti, the sky is the limit.