Recently, Monchi sat down with Gazzetta dello Sport for a lengthy interview discussing a myriad of topics. However, one quote really stood out to me.
“I’ve plenty of flaws, but two big strengths: I recognize when I’m wrong, and I like to learn. The Monchi that first arrived here had a second-hand knowledge of Italian football, today I know it better and I understand it’s better to sign Italian players when you can. Of the signings made, often the ones that have done better are Italian. That doesn’t mean I’m just going to skip looking at the transfer market abroad, but Roma will be very Italian in the future.”
As a fan of both Roma and the Italian National team, when Roma has some representation in Azzurro, it’s a point of pride. Earlier in the season, I wrote about just this topic. However, if Monchi is truthful in his assessment of his transfers both past and future, then Roma should become more and more Italian. This makes me wonder: Just how Italian can Roma realistically become?
What Roma Already Has
Unlike in past seasons, when the roster often featured less than a handful of Italians, this year’s squad already has a more azzurro hue to it. During the current season, the Giallorossi have played ten different players who are native to the peninsula; a far cry from what we saw during the Sabatini era. Back then double digits would’ve been no more than a pipe dream. This decad is composed of a mix of veterans nearing the end, some entering their prime, and others who are getting their first taste of senior team football.
The Local Boys
Daniele De Rossi
When talking about Romans playing for their hometown club, now that Totti is retired, the first name that comes to mind is Daniele De Rossi, of course. The grizzled veteran, like his fellow club legend, is nearing the end. However, it’s likely that he’ll stick it out for another season, before hanging up his gladiatorial armor.
The second longest tenured Roma player and vice-Captain, Alessandro Florenzi, has a contract that runs until 2023. Expect Florenzi to be part of a more Italian Roma going forward, whether he remains a fullback or is freed up to play other positions remains to be seen.
Lorenzo Pellegrini has emerged as the next potentially great Roman to play for Roma. After, a slow start to his Roma career, the young midfielder has emerged as one of the squad’s most influential players. He’s begun to attract attention from around Europe, but recently stated his desire to stay in the Capital long term. With Roma’s tradition of keeping her most talented sons around long term, expect Pellegrini to be pulling the strings in the Roma midfield for the long haul; unless he has a change of heart and requests a transfer.
The other (unrelated) Pellegrini on Roma’s roster, Luca, has just begun to get his feet wet at the Olimpico. According to scouting reports, he has the potential to become one of the best left backs in Serie A. Luca only turns 20 in March and might be well served with a loan spell to gain invaluable experience; something that has been hard to come by as Aleksander Kolarov’s deputy. Expect Luca, to be given every chance to continue the long Roman tradition at the club.
Incredibly, five Romans have donned giallorosso so far this season; the last of whom is Primavera player Alessio Riccardi. At just 17 years of age, Riccardi made his senior team debut in a recent Coppa Italia match. There’s still plenty of room for growth with such a young player. However, he very highly thought of and should have a future with the club.
Stephan El Sharaawy
El Sharaawy has been at Roma for three seasons now. In the big picture it’s not a long time, but for many Roma players it may feel like an eternity, considering the frequent roster turnover. Il Faraone has often been rumored to be on the way out of the club, but has stuck around, much to Roma’s benefit; since he’s having his most productive season to date. El Sharaawy, doesn’t have an incredibly high transfer value, and likely is more valuable to the club on the field than as a bargaining chip. Therefore, I find it more likely that El Sharaawy sticks around and Diego Perotti is shipped out before next season.
Cristante is the first of four new non-Roman Italians on this season’s roster. The former Milan youth product arrived from Atalanta to mixed reactions. He got off to a slow start, but since has been in top form for I Lupi. Cristante has taken over the holding midfield role in DDR’s absence and looks like he could be his long awaited heir. With this in mind, expect Cristante to stick around for some time.
Remember all the outrage at the Radja Nainggolan sale? Well, the kid who looked like a throw in, has actually made that deal a steal for Monchi. Zaniolo has begun to show the talent that should make him Italy’s next big thing. He could lead a Roma midfield into the future that features a plethora of young Italian talent; along with Lorenzo, Cristante, and Riccardi. Roma will probably have to work hard to keep the 19-year-old around though. Real Madrid, among others, are already rumored to be circling.
Santon was the other player that came to Roma in the Nainggolan deal. The Italian veteran has been a serviceable part time player for the Giallorossi and is likely grateful for the change of scenery. It’s likely he sticks around a few more years in his current role, if he continues to play reasonably well.
The Italian veteran was brought to the Capital as a back-up plan to new signing Robin Olsen. With Olsen’s better than expected play, Mirante has barely seen the field. With Daniel Fuzato waiting in the wings, it’ll be interesting to see if Mirante would stick around in a reduced role if Fuzato is promoted to second choice.
Who Could Arrive
The most persistent rumor in recent days has been that of Mancini’s arrival to the capital. You can read more details here. I don’t know if Atalanta will let Mancini leave in January, while it’s in the thick of the European places race. However, I get the feeling that if Monchi wants Mancini badly enough, he’ll be here by the summer; whether he’d replace or partner Kostas Manolas is another story. Let’s hope it’d be the latter.
While this transfer would be highly unlikely, Belotti’s name has come up a few times in recent weeks. For hypothetical purposes, let’s just say Roma move on from Dzeko and find the money for Belotti. That way we can build a line-up built around an Italian striker. This can be our dream transfer, you know, for kicks and giggle.
It’s very likely that Cengiz Ünder is the player Roma sacrifice this off-season to bring in revenue and finance the next mercato. If he’s the most likely sale, then Roma will need a winger to replace him. Berardi has often been linked with a move to Roma to play for his ex-manager, EDF. Perhaps this off-season would be the time, if the Giallorossi can get him at a cut rate.
What Could It Look Like
Let’s say Monchi is able to ward off interest for Zaniolo and Pellegrini is true to his word, and the DS is able to bring in the above-mentioned potential targets. What could the line-up look like? Well, the entire XI wouldn’t be Italian, but the potential would certainly be there for as many as 8-9 Italians to start on any given night with a handful of Italian subs on the bench. Let’s looks at possible XI if EDF were to stick with the current 4-2-3-1.
El Sharaawy, Zaniolo, Berardi
Cristante, Lo. Pellegrini
Florenzi, Mancini, Manolas, Kolarov
While this strictly hypothetical, it’d be interesting to see if Roma can become the standard-bearer for the national team, the same way Juventus during Antonio Conte’s reign as Italy boss. Monchi has certainly already laid the foundations for this with players like Zaniolo, Pellegrini, and Cristante, and seems to have his scope fixed on some other that are in the national team talent pool.