One of the star performers for an impressive Atalanta outfit last season, Bryan Cristante’s career finally appears to be on the launchpad. I say finally, despite Cristante’s fairly young age, given the Italy international started his top-flight career nearly 7 years ago! Boasting a resume that would be the envy of most professional footballers, Cristante has already played over a 100 top-flight games including spells at AC Milan, Benfica and most recently, Atalanta. Like most Italian young players, he’s spent a few years on loan, none more effective than his last spell in Bergamo.
Number Five: Bryan Cristante
Current Club: AS Roma
Previous Club: Atalanta (on loan from Benfica)
Rank Last Year: N/A
Future comparison: Simone Perrotta, Kevin Strootman
Who is He?
Cristante grew up in Casarsa della Delizia in North-Eastern Italy and started his youth football career at the age of 11 in Liventina Gorghense. The amateur club had clearly found a diamond in the rough as big boys AC Milan snapped up Cristante at age 14. Cristante spent 4 years in AC Milan’s youth system and even made his senior debut in the Champions League during this time, coming on for Robinho in a group game against Viktoria Plzen. At the time, Cristante was clearly considered one of the Milan’s brightest prospects as he stepped onto the biggest stage of European club football before his 17th birthday. Even today, he remains the 5th youngest player to have played in a Champions League game.
Impressed by his pedigree in youth football, Portugese giants Benfica signed Cristante in 2014. However, he struggled for playing time with more experienced players ahead of him in Portugal and was sent on a series of loans back to Italy between 2016 and 2018. Despite a few slow starts, Cristante was finally able to get consistent minutes and show off his talents in Gian Piero Gasperini’s impressive Atalanta side. Last season, he made 47 appearances across all competitions for the Bergamo outfit bagging 12 goals and 2 assists in that period including 3 goals in the Europa League.
What Can He Do?
Typically deployed as a central midfielder, Cristante is stereotypically defined as a box-to-box midfielder. However, he has the potential to be a lot more than your average box-to-box midfielder. He’s an intelligent player who can hold possession, spring a quick counter attack or dribble his way out of trouble as needed. Last season, Gasperini really fueled Cristante’s success by allowing him more license to get forward and make runs into the attacking third of the pitch. As a result, he had a breakout year in front of goal breaking into double digits for the first time in his career (his previous best had been 3 goals the previous season). Romanisti everywhere will hope that EdF has been watching the tapes and will be able to find the best use of Cristante’s attacking instincts without sacrificing defensive shape.
What Can He Become?
Ok, look, I love Simone Perrotta. I wish the man would magically reverse aging and come back to poach some goals by making brilliant late runs into the box. Given that I can’t have that, I’m always on the lookout for players that exhibit the intelligence of a player like Perrotta. Cristante, by all accounts, is a more skilled footballer and plays a slightly different position than dear old Simone, but he’s shown glimpses of the same sort of intelligent reading of the game which makes me want to draw some parallels. For a more direct comparison, Cristante will look to emulate one of his current team-mates, Kevin Strootman (minus injuries please!) with whom he will also rotate minutes. Prior to his injury troubles, Strootman was one of the best box-to-box midfielders in Serie A and could do everything from recycling possession to creating scoring chances to supporting the defense with tackles and interceptions. Cristante has started to show signs that he is turning into that kind of player and if his development continues, we could have our hands on one of the brightest Italian midfielders of the current generation.
There will be plenty of minutes to go around this season as Roma will be active in three tournaments once again. Cristante will have plenty of opportunity to show his worth and I, for one, would not be surprised if he makes one of the midfield positions entirely his own.