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Ranking Roma’s Youth: Revisiting Last Year’s List

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How did last year’s top 10 U23s turn out during the 2017-2018 season?

Italy Walk Around And Press Conference Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

If it’s late July/early August that means one thing at CdT: time for our annual arbitrary assessment of the top ten U23 players in Roma’s senior team and/or youth system. It’s hard to believe it, but this is the fifth such countdown, dating back to the summer of 2014 when we narrowed it down to two young men, Juan Iturbe and Mattia Destro. My how things have changed. We recently learned that Roma gambled with Iturbe’s future by reportedly ignoring a torn ACL during his first season, while Destro simply wasn’t able to make his torrid run through the spring of 2014 a permanent fixture.

What sprang from a simple point of curiosity and/or desire to jerry rig a baseball-style prospect countdown to calcio has now become an annual rite around CdT. Each and every year we try our best to weigh and measure Roma’s best U23 players based on a combination of current accomplishments and the always nebulous concept, potential. We’ve been on the mark more often than not, but we’ve certainly had our share of misses.

So, before we start this year’s countdown, which will begin this week, I thought we’d take a quick look at least year’s top ten; sort of a check-in on their status. Sound good?

Last Year’s List

#10: Ezequiel Ponce

Club: Lille

Stats: 32 appearances, 4 goals, 1 assist

What We Said

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.

What Happened?

Exactly that.

Now What?

Ponce’s next stop will be a season long loan with AEK Athens, for whom he will probably toil for a year before being sent to...oh, let’s say Cesena. Why not? His days as a Roma prospect are likely dead and gone.


#9: Daniele Verde

Club: Verona

Stats: 30 appearances, 2 goals, 3 assists

What We Said

He may not end up being the Italian Messi or even Lorenzo Insigne, but Verde could end up being something like Iago Falque: a contributing member of a good squad, just not necessarily the star. Verde’s unlikely to become the right winger Roma’s desperately searching for overnight, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him back in Rome in a year or two as a solid backup for whoever the club brings in

What Happened?

Verde was decent enough for Verona, earning 22 starts and logging nearly 2,000 minutes of Serie A action. Despite that consistent playing time, Verde wasn’t much of an attacking threat for the Mastiffs.

Now What?

Who knows? As I’m writing this Verde is in limbo; he wasn’t brought to the States for the ICC and the club hasn’t yet found a new home for him. Verde would probably be best served finding a permanent home somewhere else in the peninsula because he’ll never be more than a backup at Roma.


#8: Marco Tumminello

Club: Crotone

Stats: 9 appearances, 3 goals, 1 assist

What We Said

With left-back Luca Pellegrini out with A.S. Roma’s 10,000th ACL tear, Tumminello is arguably Roma’s best healthy Primavera prospect...

What Happened?

I’m afraid we cursed him! Not long into his loan spell with Crotone, Tumminello tore his ACL, missing what was looking like quite a promising season

Now What?

Tumminello was sold to Atalanta this summer for €5 million, a club that has a decent record developing young players lately. Roma holds buy back options for each of the next two seasons, and failing that is entitled to 50% of any future sale. In essence, Tumminello is on loan with Atalanta for two years and barring a complete failure in Bergamo, figures to be in Roma’s plans at some point in the early 2020s.


#7: Luca Pellegrini

Club: Roma (Injured)

Stats: Two friendly appearances

What We Said

Well, we sort of just hinted at it. While he’s still so incredibly young, and we’ll have to see how he recovers from this injury, but the sky is the absolute limit for Luca. He has the size, speed, agility and technique on both sides of the ball to be an absolute star

What Happened?

Pellegrini’s injury happened so early in the summer, it predated our countdown. However, he’s been fully equipped in training and seems like he might log some serious minutes behind Aleksandar Kolarov this year...knock on wood.

Now What?

Pellegrini has dove headlong into Roma’s summer program and has made the trip across the Atlantic for Roma’s almost annual tour of the United States. Kolarov is still entrenched as the starter at left back, but Pellegrini has shown flashes of the brilliant kid we all thought he was last summer and should figure to carve out a role of some sort behind Kolarov. This is a critical year for his development, needless to say.


#6: Sadiq Umar

Club: Torino, NAC Breda

Stats: 15 total appearances, 5 goals (NAC Breda)

What We Said

On the whole Umar seems to possess many of the characteristics a striker needs to have success in Serie A. The Nigerian international has a solid foundation to build on, now he just needs to start building. The next step in his development is a solid loan spell. Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco certainly took notice of Umar’s goal against PSG

What Happened?

Welp, the entirety of his loan spell at Torino amounted to 226 minutes, or about as long as it takes me to do a load of laundry. Sadiq turned things around in the Eredivisie, though he wasn’t able to make NAC Breda a permanent home.

Now What?

Sadiq’s loan life will continue with Rangers this year, and if he stands a shot at carving out a place with Roma, he’ll at least have to put himself ahead of Tumminello in the prospect pecking order.


#5: Gerson

Club: Roma

Stats: 31 appearances, 2 goals, 1 assist

What We Said

I’m still holding out hope that Gerson can be Roma’s long-term replacement for Miralem Pjanić - he’s certainly got the potential to do so, he just needs a manager who can trust him more than Luciano Spalletti did. Considering the playtime that he’s received from Eusebio Di Francesco so far, it looks as if Gerson may have a spot in the new manager’s side. If he seizes his chances and forces himself into Roma’s best-in-class midfield, the Giallorossi will have some beautiful playmaking ability to add to their squad.

What Happened?

Despite those 30+ appearances, Gerson barely cracked 1,000 minutes on the pitch and, for whatever reason, didn’t seem to earn the consistent trust of Di Francesco last season. So while 2017-2018 was undoubtedly the best of his European career, it was yet another lost year on the path to stardom.

Now What?

Gerson will spend the season on loan with Fiorentina, the team against whom he scored those two goals last year, so that’s something. Given that it’s a dry loan, it will be interesting to see how the Viola use him—will they abuse him like a rental car or just ignore him?


#4: Rick Karsdorp

Club: Roma (injured)

Stats: 1 appearance

What We Said

Unlike Bruno Peres, or any of Roma’s other right backs really, Karsdorp seems to be more accurate with his crossing, which must have striker Edin Dzeko salivating. Karsdorp also has the tools to become a great defender, showcasing discipline rarely seen in defenders of his age.

What Happened?

ACL! ACL! ACL! ACL! ACL! ACL! ACL! ACL! ACL! ACL! ACL! ACL! ACL!

Now What?

Karsdorp is essentially a Dutch, heavily tattooed version of Luca Pellegrini, albeit with a longer pro resume. With Alessandro Florenzi still embroiled in a contract negotiation, Karsdorp could become a starter by default, but odds are he’ll have to prove he’s healthy before earning a consistent role behind Ale.


#3: Cengiz Ünder

Club: Roma

Stats: 32 appearances, 8 goals, 2 assists

What We Said

If he plays his cards right, Ünder could become Roma’s starting right winger this season...and with no other right winger prospects coming out of the Primavera system, it almost looks like the right winger spot is Ünder’s to lose.

What Happened?

Exactly that. Ünder seized the role and became Roma’s best attacking player throughout the spring, putting himself in the conversation among the best young players in the world.

Now What?

Ünder should be a fixture for EDFs team this season, and seems like a veritable lock for 2,500 minutes or so. However, with Malcom’s signing imminent, he may have some competition for first team minutes, but Ünder’s experience with Di Francesco should give him the early nod. If he picks up where he left off last season, we may be stressing over his transfer next summer.


#2: Lorenzo Pellegrini

Club: Roma

Stats: 37 appearances, 3 goals, 5 assists

What We Said

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...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

What Happened?

Given his seven and seven with Sassuolo the prior season, not to mention his experience with EDF, expectations were sky high for Pellegrini. While he didn’t come close to repeating those numbers, by season’s end Pellegrini established himself as Roma’s best and arguably only attacking midfielder.

Now What?

Moving into year two in the city of his birth, Pellegrini has a massive opportunity ahead of him. With Daniele De Rossi another year older and with Radja Nainggolan off to Inter, the path to even more playing time is clear for Pellegrini, who figures to be a key component in Roma’s midfield rotation and should learn a bit from Javier Pastore on the finer points of creating chances. Pellegrini has every chance to be a star for club and country, and we might look back at the 2018-2019 season as the first true step in that journey.


#1: Emerson Palmieri

Club: Roma, Chelsea

Stats: 9 total appearances

What We Said

Who cares, Roma sold him in January. Good riddance.


Well, I hope you enjoyed this look back, be sure to check in as we begin our 5th annual U23 countdown this week. Some of these names will return, some will not. Stick around and see who’s top of the heap!