The Giallorossi’s campaign ended this past Tuesday evening, knocked out the Scudetto semi-finals at the hands of Inter Milan, but many players in this Roma side are well ahead of their class and age.
We expect the summer will be one not just of consolidation for those who still have a year to play at this level, but also one of hitting the circuit training and gaining size. It was noticeable just how often De Rossi’s players were at a physical disadvantage against bigger teams like Inter (and star man Sebastiano Esposito - who’s already made Zaniolo’s loss a thing of the past for his side), Chievo and Udinese this season.
Yet for everything Roma lacked in physicality, the Lupini more than made up for in the speed and quality of their possession game. Whenever opponents tried to muscle Roma out the game, the capital club regrouped and sliced through the ball in short, shrift passing few opponents could keep up with.
How much would we like to say the same about the Roma senior side soon?
Nor was the frontline asked to just show up and bang in goals. Even if Roma ended the season with the most prolific attack in the league, Alberto De Rossi used all the time he has with these players to train them into constant position swaps all over the pitch. The midfield worked hard to never let opponents mark Roma out of the game, and Zan Celar’s work - both on and off the ball - was exceptional when the big striker showed up in the mood.
It should be no surprise we name Celar player of the season. Here’s our CdT Roma Primavera Best Eleven for the 2018/19.
Goalkeeper - Stefano Greco
He began the season struggling with a couple of injuries and wasn’t short of competition on his return, vying with Matteo Cardinali, Emanuele Zamarion... and even Daniel Fuzato on rare occasions.
Fuzato’s presence at this level was spectacular when the Brazilian did play, but we have to give Stefano Greco best keeper of the season for the consistency. It’s no coincidence De Rossi stuck with Greco during the knockout rounds as a just reward.
Best Performance - Roma 1-2 Atalanta (Matchday 21): Disaster struck when both Roma central defenders go off with injury mid-match in this top of the table clash. The loss could have been a lot worse, but a heroic Greco saves six wide-open chances on the day.
Next Season Prediction: Greco is now an overage member of the squad and will have to make way for Matteo Cardinali. Greco will likely end up bouncing between Serie C loans by the end of the summer, like Crisanto and Romagnoli before him.
He Said (to Roma TV): ‘I came to Roma six years ago and I’ve won a few trophies. Seeing the photos on the walls is very satisfying. [My best memory] is winning the Scudetto with the U-15s. We needed that win, as we’d lost the final the year before.’
Right Back - Devid Bouah
It’s hypocritical of us to overlook Stefano Parodi here after just praising Greco for consistency, but Devid Bouah is one of the best talents in this squad. The Roman missed most of the season through an ACL injury, and his team’s attacking threat just missed that extra something as a result.
We’ve been looking for a successor to Il Pendolino for close to two decades; Bouah might just be it. It’s barely believable he didn’t make TuttoMercatoWeb’s 100 Best Italian Young Players list - when you look at some of the names that did make it - but that’s typical of Italy, given Roman-born-and-bred Bouah’s surname and heritage.
We’ll just say the right-back wasn’t called up by Eusebio Di Francesco to make a senior appearance in Roma’s friendly against Chapocoense for nothing. SportItalia commentators were complaining that they wouldn’t get to see Bouah play when the youngster made the subs bench, last week, after his long injury recovery. He’s been that good to watch.
Best Performance - Roma 3-0 Atalanta (UEFA Youth League): Right-back Bouah turns up with a cool finish inside CSKA’s box, and was generally in a period of red-hot form destroying all opponents in sight. Monchi wouldn’t hesitate to give Bouah a contract extension after he got injured soon after.
Next Season Prediction: Bouah has at least another season at this level. Use next year to come back stronger from the injury.
Centre-Back - Riccardo Cargnelutti
I didn’t see anything outstanding about Cargnelutti’s performances this season, but that’s often a compliment to a central defenders. The captain was an ever-constant trying to keep the team together from the backline. His great attitude was enough to get called up to a few senior matchday squads by Di Francesco.
Best Performance - Roma 2-0 Udinese (Matchday 15): A clean sheet kept thanks to Cargnelutti anticipating all the danger before it began.
Next Season Prediction: Cargnelutti is overage and will have to make way this summer. The departing Roma’s captain has already been linked to a bidding war between Serie A clubs Parma, Sassuolo and a potential return to Torino. Have we seen anything to suggest Cargnelutti is ready for Serie A or even B? Honestly, no I have not. But I’m not the scouting expert.
Centre Back - William Bianda
It’s true. We have commented on a lot on goals given away by Bianda in the season’s run-in. But the French youngster doesn’t lack for bravery when pushing up to lead the defensive line. When Roma needed a man to shorten the pitch and regain the ball for De Rossi’s side, Bianda grew more and more into taking the initiative. He also came up with some slick vertical passing on his left foot.
Keep in mind Bianda has barely played anywhere near as much as planned this season, owing to a few niggling muscle injuries in 2018 and a more serious injury at the beginning of 2019. Ever since he’s come back from the operating table, Bianda looks like he’s gained an extra two yards of pace.
Best Performance - Roma 2-2 Cagliari (Matchday 27): Bianda’s comeback game from a long injury layoff. He looked a player transformed on this day.
Next Season Prediction: Bianda still has a year left at this level, if the Frenchman has the patience for it.
Left-Back - Francesco Semeraro
There was no real competition for Semeraro this season after Riccardo Calafiori’s horric injury. Semeraro was an ever-present in the line up, and didn’t disappoint with his tirelessness. He’s equally able in defence as he is when popping up with assists from the opponents’ byline. Semeraro also locked down a starting place with the Italy U-18 squad.
Best Performance - Roma 5-0 Torino (Matchday 25): Roma unexpectedly slaughtered rivals Torino, and what Semeraro did to Torino’s right wing was frankly unfair. It looked too easy.
Next Season Prediction: He has plenty of time on his side at this level, but could do with more competition for his spot next season.
He Said (to Roma TV): ‘When I train with the first team, I look around a little at everyone’s game from De Rossi to Zaniolo. Nicolò talks with us like he’s one of us, and I like that because he has personal targets [to worry about].”
Central Midfielder - Salvatore Pezzella
Pezzella was marked out as one of our top 5 talents to watch this season. He didn’t disappoint. Andrea Marcucci forced to leave in January meant the team’s creativity from midfield lay almost entirely at Salvatore’s boots for the rest of the season.
Pezzella’s game is beautiful; he knows how to unmark himself with ease and he’s metronomic when it comes to keeping the engine room of the team ticking over. But Roma’s Pjanic-doppelganger has to learn to keep it simple if he’s to become an effective all-round midfielder.
Best Performance - AC Milan 1-7 Roma (Matchday 2): Early season bliss as Pezzella opens the scoring from the spot and then provides a hat-trick of assists.
Next Season Prediction: He’ll become an overage player by next January so Pezzella is at the crossroads. He will struggle physically with a jump to Serie A football at first, if he gets the chance. The club are reportedly in talks to extend Salvatore’s contract amid interest from Torino.
Central Midfield - Alessio Riccardi
It’s a bit of a cheat putting Riccardi here, as he played most of the season wide right. But our eventual front three were so good we couldn’t leave them out, and sometimes Riccardi was just as influential when starting in midfield.
It only takes a moment for Riccardi’s influence to leave a mark on a match. Forget physique or any other analysis here; when you can make something out of nothing within less than a second, people are forced to give you a shot at the top of the game. His magic right foot is the reason Riccardi collected 9 goals and 9 assists in all competitions for 2018/19.
The Italian prodigy has looked unengaged and unmotivated with Primavera football since 2019 rolled in. I don’t blame him, as Alessio spent that time getting jerked around between Italy call-ups (at multiple levels), Primavera appearances and a last-day photo-op hug with Florenzi, Pellegrini, Ranieri and De Rossi on DDR’s emotive farewell day.
It’s a lot to take for a kid who’s just turned 18 years of age.
Best Performance - Roma 3-0 CSKA (UEFA Youth League): The best (of several) spectacular solo efforts from Riccardi’s season, grabbing Roma’s opening goal on this day.
Next Season Prediction: Riccardi is still very young and anything is possible. First team squad? Loan? Either way, he looks bored with the Primavera.
Central Midfield - Ebrima Darboe
There aren’t words to do justice to Darboe’s impact since taking Marcucci’s spot this past January.
At first Darboe looked reckless in the tackle, marking his full Roma Primavera debut with both a goal and double-booking dismissal away to Chievo. But it was just a case of fine-tuning his timing. Since then, Darboe has been the guy to close down opponents and win the ball high up the pitch. But that isn’t even the best part of his game.
His eye for threading a pass through the lines and the high tempo he injects into Roma’s passing makes the Giallorossi a completely different side. He can play attacking midfield or deep in front of the defence. No matter his position, Roma constantly take the game to their opponents when Darboe is on the pitch.
Best Performance - Roma 2-2 Chievo (Playoff Quarter-Final): With Roma overwhelmed by Chievo’s pressing, Darboe comes on at half-time and puts his side firmly in charge of the possession, pushing the Giallorossi to come back from a goal down twice and win the tie.
Next Season Prediction: Darboe turned 18 this past week. Give him a full season with Primavera, where he looks like the next Nainggolan and Pizarro in one player.
Right Wing - Ludovico d’Orazio
This is the one guy we were guilty of overlooking in our first ever Primavera feature this season. d’Orazio would have been our player of the season if it weren’t for Celar’s goals and d’Orazio being shifted away from his favoured left wing to make room for Gianmarco Cangiano.
In moments where Roma were on top of the game, it was often thanks to this d’Orazio’s creativity and assists putting them there. He racked up 10 goals and 12 assists in all competitions this season and used to be criticised for not having the legs to go 90 minutes. That’s now a thing of the past as he’s the most consistent player in the team.
Best Performance - Roma 2-0 Udinese (Matchday 15): There are so many great d’Orazio performances to choose from this season. But on this day, the full time score was exceptionally deceiving. Roma would have suffered a shock home defeat to last place Udinese, who physically dominated the Giallorossi. But d’Orazio kept carrying the ball away from danger and back up the field to drive Roma’s counter attacks and bring home the win when few of his teammates fancied it.
Next Season Prediction: d’Orazio is likely looking at a loan out of the club this summer - I hope he gets a temporary move to Serie B, or that something comes of him speculatively linked with a move to Sassuolo.
He Said (to Roma TV): ‘I’d already played at Trigoria before I played for Roma. I played tryouts here, playing one half in a Frosinone shirt and another half in Roma’s. When I was younger it was stress, spending two hours in the car every morning and seeing my friends a lot less. But every time I arrived [at Trigoria] I wanted to play and stay with my teammates. If there was ever a moment I thought I’d debut for the Roma first team this season, it was against Cagliari. We were leading at half-time and Florenzi said: “We’ve got this game, at least put some of these kids on the pitch.”’
Left Wing - Gianmarco Cangiano
Pictured in our feature photo, the Napoli-born forward is devastating at this level. We’d love to tell you that Cangiano’s game is made of more than just cutting inside on his right foot and causing havoc, but that pretty much sums up his season in a nutshell.
Cangiano plays, celebrates and generally does everything like he’s a ticking time bomb. He’s just not a kid that does things in half measures, and racked up 15 goals and 9 assists in all competitions this season. He was also a regular Italy U-18 international alongside Semeraro for the campaign.
If there’s ever a highlight reel on the web of all the spectacular goals Cangiano’s scored this season (we couldn’t find one), enjoy every minute of it.
Best Performance - Roma 4-0 Udinese (Matchday 17): Cangiano has a private competition with himself for Primavera 1 Goal of the Season. The hat-trick is ridiculous all round.
Next Season Prediction: Cangiano is super young. He has eons of time on his side to grow into something truly fearsome for Serie A defences of the future. If there is any truth in the club letting him go to Torino in exchange for Gianluca Petrachi, that’s just a plain waste. I’d rather see Petrachi forced to work undercover from a Rome hotel until his Torino contract runs down than let Cangiano go the other way.
(STAR MAN) Striker - Zan Celar
When you’ve scored 28 goals and taken home the league Capocannoniere award, you can’t not win Player of the Season with us. That’s what Celar did this year, while racking up a further 4 assists on the way.
The Slovenian striker has already made his senior debut after Claudio Ranieri put Celar on for the last 5 minutes against Empoli in March, and looks the most physically ready for the jump to Serie A football out of all the Primavera outfield players.
Since his senior debut, Celar has bounced around between Primavera and international duty. Perhaps the extra attention got to him, because the striker’s 2-yard miss against Inter this week was extremely uncharacteristic of his season. But something tells me Celar has bigger fish to fry for next year.
He’s constantly a thorn in defender’s sides, looking to give them a tough day at the office even when Celar doesn’t get on the scoresheet. The kind of striker that defenders love to hate.
Best Performance - Roma 4-2 Inter (Matchday 7): Celar scores his second hat-trick in a week, and the perfect hat-trick (right foot, header, left foot) on the day.
Next Season Prediction: This club can’t afford to splash on mega strikers at senior level. Give Celar a chance at the big time off the bench.