Now that we’ve talked about the kids that just missed out list, our countdown of Roma’s ten best U-23 players can begin in earnest. While the list only numbers ten, it runs the gamut—attackers, defenders, Argentines and Turks, we’ve got it all!
So we’ll start off the top ten with a young man who was ranked significantly higher last year....
Number Ten: Ezequiel Ponce
Prior Club: Granada (Spain)
Current Club: Lille (France)
Rank Last Year: 5th
Future Comparison: Carlos Tevez
Who is He?
Well, things haven’t changed a ton for Ponce, so I’ll just plagiarize myself:
Ponce, 19, hails from Rosario, Argentina, a tiny hamlet on the east coast of Argentina that has produced, among others, Gabriel Batistuta, Angel Di Maria and Lionel Messi. Still just a teenager, Ponce came to Roma in the summer of 2015 from Newell’s Old Boys (not to be confused with BSC Young Boys) for the tidy sum of €4.2 million.
Signed by Newell’s at all of 8-years-old, Ponce became the club’s youngest debutant in 2013 at the age of 16. And this wasn’t just a spot appearance either, Ponce would go on to score four goals in fifteen appearances as a 17-year-old. Not a gaudy sum, but pretty impressive for a kid still slight of frame and short on experience.
He’s obviously a year older now, but unfortunately, not a ton wiser. After tearing through the Primavera in the spring of 2016, big things were expected for the Tank as he was loaned to Granada. Shifting to a new league in which youth often shines, and living amongst fellow Spanish speakers, hopes were high that Ponce would settle nicely into life in Europe.
And after scoring in his debut match some 15 days after arriving in Spain, it looked as if he was going to light up La Liga, and while he did garner over 1,100 minutes in league action, he grabbed only two goals in 25 appearances. Still, experience is experience, so a seed may have been planted.
What Can He Do?
Careful of the music in that clip, it’s awful (no offense if that’s your thing), but it does show just how explosive Ponce can be when healthy and, you know, on the pitch. As you’d guess and expect, given his position, Ponce’s calling card is scoring, which he has done with aplomb throughout his youth career. El Tanque piled up over 50 goals while playing for Newell’s Old Boys youth team, the league leaders in oxymorons, while firing home nine goals in ten matches for Roma’s Primavera team in the spring of 2016.
As we mentioned last year, Ponce is a classic Tevez-type number nine, one who grabs goals thanks to movement, deception and strength rather than sheer stature. Ponce’s 2016-2017 was essentially lost, so his move to Lille could be make or break for his Roma career, if not European football itself.
With Marco Tumminello and Edoardo Soleri in the ranks, Ponce’s path the playing time in the Eternal City is suddenly a bit rocky. Fortunately for Ponce, his 2017-2018 season is in the hands of Marco Bielsa, who not only hails from Rosario like Ponce, but is an absolute attacking madman.
What Can He Become?
At this time last year, we envisioned Ponce returning triumphantly from Granada, with anywhere from seven to a dozen goals under his belt, ready to battle for minutes behind Edin Dzeko, but it just didn’t work out that way. However, as we mentioned, getting 1,100 or so minutes of La Liga action is nothing to sneeze at—the jump from Newell’s to La Liga can’t be understated.
However, if Ponce is to fend off his Primavera pals, he needs to make a mark under Bielsa this season; failing to do so will be problematic. Lille holds an option to buy, and if they don’t see Ponce as a viable investment, he’ll enter what we like to call Iturbe Purgatory—a cycle of disappointing loan spells that lasts until his contract expires.
I don’t want that, you don’t want that and Ponce doesn’t want that. If Ponce succeeds this season, at the very least he’ll net Roma a profit, but if they can find a way to retain or buy him back, his skill set could make many a Serie A defense nervous.