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Totti Today: The Pellegrini Perplexity

Is Lorenzo (Ro)man enough to take over the reins after Florenzi and Dani?

UC Sampdoria v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images

After 2 splendid seasons at Sassuolo, Lorenzo Pellegrini was brought back by Roma in the Summer of 2017. Mainly due to Di Francesco, who personally transformed Pellegrini from an unknown Roman youth product into one of Serie A’s rising stars and, to top it all off with a cherry, a member of the Azzurri. The world was at Lorenzo’s feet last year, and he chose to follow his mentor, EDF, to the Eternal City. He would become the next great Roman prince, after De Rossi and Florenzi. AS Roma lost one Roman symbol in 2017, but it gained a new toy to play with. But is it really a valuable toy? Or will we lose our interest in it soon enough?

When talking about youth products and prodigies from its hometown, the Giallorossi are the best of the best. Or.... the worst actually. Primavera players are instantly local heroes, are being put on a pedestal and can do no wrong. They’re better than the Mbappe’s, Dembele’s, Asensio’s and Donnarumma’s of this world. One or two good games in the U21 and they’re ready to conquer Europe, will be worth 50+ million euro and will attract the interest of Real, City or PSG. Yup, it’s pretty logical, f*ck science!

Too much have we been left with empty hands after hailing a Primavera product. Numerous kids have been loaned out to Serie B sides or given opportunities to train with the first squad, only to be forgotten in the lower regions of professional football and our minds. Davide Petrucci, anyone? Or what are Mendez, Pettarini, Piscitella, Scardina and Matteo Ricci doing right now? Can you name their clubs on the top of your head? I thought so.

From time to time there are indeed kids who make it. Destined for fame and glory in red and yellow. Totti, Daniele and Florenzi are the most used examples. Totti donned the shirt until he was 40. Dani is stil going strong at 34 and Florenzi has no intention of leaving soon and he’s almost 27. A fourth knight, Alberto Aquilani, was destined for greatness as well, and would guide his Roma alongside fellow captain De Rossi until his late thirties. Alas, he went to Liverpool in 2009, not even playing for the Giallorossi past his 25. Such a shame.

After the Totti debacle last season, suddenly Roma were left with only two Romans in the team. One month later, in June 2017, Pellegrini returned home and reunited with trainer Di Francesco. A double Sassuolo swoop. Lorenzo enjoyed his breakthrough under EDF and his 4-3-3 and would have no problems making a name of himself at Roma as well. De Rossi and Nainggolan weren’t getting any younger while Gerson was still up for debate at the time.

Some might have forgotten it, but Lorenzo already made his official debut for Roma before this transfer. Back in March 2015, an 18-year-old Pellegrini got subbed in by Rudi Garcia in a game against Cesena for Salih Ucan. You know, everybody’s second favorite Turk at Roma, after Cengiz.

So enter Pellegrini, a new chouchou for the fans. But after eight months, reality has caught up with us. Yes, Pellegrini has played quite often and even scored two goals, but he has never really ‘thrived’ under the Roman version of Di Francesco, unlike his Sassuolo counterpart. Whatever Lorenzo does, he does good. It’s just... He’s not ‘exceptionally good’ in something. He can run, make a pass, shoot or tackle, but not with the flair of Under or Radja. He’s no DM like De Rossi, no regista like Pjanic or CAM like Totti. He’s a jack of all trades, a club needs those too. Ow, and did I mention he’s Roman born and bred, so that means something, no?

The whole team is facing difficulties, from young guys like Gerson or Pellegrini to established names like Radja, Strootman, Fazio and Dzeko. But for guys like Lorenzo this is an extra tough period.

Dzeko, SES, Florenzi and Radja, they’ve all had their ups and downs, they’ve been here before. They’ll survive. But for Pellegrini this season is his first real test. A loss here and there is okay when you’re at Sassuolo. No one will shed a tear about it. At Roma though, everyone has a magnifying glass and they’re not afraid to use it. Lorenzo and EDF are best buds, but if DiFra is out of the picture and a new coach comes in, will he still be ‘good enough’? Or will a let’s say 18M offer suffice for Roman management to part ways?

If Roma safely ends in the top 4 this season then Di Francesco’s job remains secure and thus is Pellegrini’s career in Rome, well, at least until 2019. But if Roma keeps slipping away from the top 4 (and with an away game in Napoli coming up that’s not so unrealistic), not only Eusebio’s job is on the line, also Pellegrini could be affected by it. A new boss means new rules and he, just like EDF with Defrel and Lorenzo, could bring his favorites to Rome.

Radja and Strootman are established names, Pellegrini could be an easy scapegoat and sacrificial lamb if we miss the CL jackpot. Or do we totally revamp the team and build around the young core: Alisson, Manolas, Pellegrini, Gerson, Under, Schick? Do you take the risk of letting go of warriors Radja and Strootman, lifelong Roma fans, men who have battled through some sh*t, for a 21-year-old who still has it all to prove? Is that the smartest solution short term or long term?

Right now everybody needs to step it up in order to rescue this season and Roma’s CL ambitions. The loss in Shaktar is not unbridgeable and Inter/Lazio will still lose points here and there. Whether it’s the old guard or the kids, someone needs to slap some sense into the team and turn it around. A lot of careers are on the line. And one of those most valuable ones is Lorenzo’s.

Losing two Roman gems like Aquilani and Pellegrini in nine years time would be bad, especially for a club like AS Roma that highly regards its Primavera. Guys like this don’t come around very often. They’re like mascots. It’s the ultimate link between the club and its fan base. The dream of your local small town boy who visits the Olimpico every two weeks: Playing for the magical colors you once supported as a child.

Pellegrini is one of those boys, and he got the chance to return on the big stage, thanks to Di Francesco. But that same Di Francesco could very well lead to an abrupt end of his Roman hopes and dreams.