The city of Rome has a fever, and the only prescription is more Zaniolo. Without a doubt, this ZanioloMania is well-deserved. You know you’re doing quite a good job as a youngster when you’re name is sharing sentences with stars like Kylian Mbappé and Marco Verratti. There’ll be plenty of time for us to continue discussing Zaniolo’s meteoric ascent in weeks to come, but all of the hype surrounding the Italian is making it very easy for Romanisti to overlook another of the Giallorossi’s most exciting prospects.
Justin Kluivert is the most-hyped prospect Roma has signed in recent years. Part of this is because Roma has always looked for the diamond in the rough (see Corrêa, Marcos Aoás, and Ünder, Cengiz), and Kluivert certainly doesn’t fit that mold. It’s not just his family name that goes against that vibe (although that certainly doesn’t help things). Whereas most Roma youngsters that Walter Sabatini or Monchi sign are from no-name sides, by the time the Dutch winger had landed at Fiumicino, he had racked up 44 appearances and twelve goals for Ajax, no small feat for a 19-year-old. Add in the face that everyone from Barcelona to Chelsea to Juventus was reportedly after his signature, and it makes sense that Monchi gloated a bit when he presented Kluivert to the media, saying “We’re here presenting Justin Kluivert. Something that three months ago would have been impossible. One of you here would have told me ‘Kluivert? How are we going to sign Kluivert? Everyone wants him.’ He’s here.”
Since that press conference in mid-July, Kluivert has impressed here and there as a substitute, but he hasn’t had the same meteoric rise as the aforementioned Zaniolo. He’s been getting onto the pitch, 24 times in total, but his nearly 1200 minutes have only turned into 2 goals and 5 assists in all competitions - quite good for a 19-year-old in a league like Serie A, but not the type of explosion many were anticipating. There are many mitigating factors at play here. Kluivert has had to learn a new language, translate his skill set to both Serie A and Eusebio Di Francesco’s tactics, and figure out how he can succeed individually while playing for a club filled with established high-quality talent. Ajax is a wonderfully good side, don’t get me wrong, but being a part of their youth movement is quite a different experience than playing up front with established players like Edin Dzeko and Stephan El Shaarawy.
The good news is that, beyond the fact that Kluivert is still an incredibly young and exciting prospect, he seems quite humble and aware that despite a slower start to his time in Rome, his time will come soon. In an interview with ESPN.co.uk, Kluivert said “The level is higher here... That’s why I chose to come here... I expect more of myself now. I want to be better every day. It doesn’t matter how old you are.” This is the type of response you want from your hot prospects. Blowing up and becoming an overnight social media sensation is all well and good, but keeping your head down and knowing you still have room to grow are the most important qualities needed for long term success. Sure, all the interviews where he and his dad say that Barcelona is the end goal aren’t encouraging, per se, but this is a kid who bought a Fiat where other Roma players buy Lamborghinis. If that doesn’t show what type of player Monchi signed this July, I don’t know what would (although I wish he wasn’t indirectly supporting Juventus).
The time will come for Kluivert to explode, just as the time came for Cengiz Ünder. Zaniolo’s meteoric rise and time played on the wing may slow down that ascent, but considering the potential sale of Ünder in the summer and the amount Roma has invested into Kluivert, I don’t think it’s that bullish to suggest Kluivert may be an out-and-out starter for the Giallorossi before the end of 2019. ZanioloMania may be seizing the city of Rome today, but don’t be surprised when Kluivert lights up the city in a similar way sooner than later.