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Ranking Roma’s Youth 2019: Honorable Mentions

It’s a new season. Once again, we warm up our top ten U-23 countdown with those who just missed the cut.

FC Porto v AS Roma - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Now we’ve expanded our coverage beyond the men’s senior team, the CdT U-23 rankings are a more congested affair than before. We won’t pretend the rankings are based on anything more than us panel of writers huddling together to consensus, but the list below works more as a feature for players who could earn their break at Primavera level this season (for the most part, with obvious exceptions).

These names may still surprise everyone with a senior appearance, under Paulo Fonseca, when the 2019/20 season is said and done.

Ante Coric

Roma v Spal Serie A 20/10/2018. Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Age: 22
Position: Midfielder
Prior Club: Dinamo Zagreb
Future Comparison: Luka Modric

What happened? No one knows and no one’s telling. Under 3 different coaches to date, Eusebio Di Francesco is the only man to have given Ante Coric any action in a Roma jersey. In that short amount of time, Coric looked useful as a wide player who can threaten by moving into the middle of the pitch with the ball.

But if the Croatian does got out on loan to a fellow Serie A club this season, he’ll most likely play in the middle of the pitch as a playmaker—deep midfield, further up front, full back—wherever playmakers make their plays in today’s football.

William Bianda

AS Roma v FC Internazionale - Serie A Primavera Playoffs Photo by Marco Luzzani - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

Age: 19
Position: Centre-back
Prior Club: Lens
Future Comparison: Rafael Varane

Much has been made of the 6+5 million euros spent on signing Bianda last summer, but the fact is his main nemesis at Trigoria is the injury table. The French teenager has spent over six cumulative months recovering from injuries in his year-long stay so far.

“I still haven’t found a house as I live in an apartment in the heart of the training centre,” Bianda told Onzemondial this summer. “That was agreed with my family and Monchi so that I’d take as little time as possible to adapt. I stay in the training centre and I’ve got everything I need to focus on the football.”

Adapt he has, but not on the timetable some expected. Yet another mid-match injury picked up in the friendly against Rieti last week didn’t help move things along.

Bianda has shown himself a good footballer who may turn into a good defender. That is no different to what we’ve been saying about Elio Capradossi, except Capradossi is now 23 years old (and permanently gone to Spezia) whereas Bianda is still a teenager. He’s still compared by the media to Varane for the shared Lens connection, but we’d say he’s more of a potential Willy Gallas.

Patrik Schick

AS Roma v Udinese - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Age: 23
Position: Forward
Prior Club: Sampdoria
Future Comparison: N/A

Let’s not forget Schick. Truth be told, absolutely none of us had him on any list this summer. But it can’t be that the Czech attacker goes from #2 hottest prospect at the club in 2018 to not mentioned at all, a year later.

Schick has shown he can fight to win the ball, both in the air and on the ground. He’s shown inventive would-be assists, even better assists and inventive goals. He can score in the air and he can score running through to goal. As a matter of fact, in his two seasons as a Roma player, Schick has just about done it all.

We also can’t dismiss the work-rate of a guy who won 6 aerial duels in a single game against Empoli this past spring. And not many players can say they’ve walked away from the Juventus stadium having won more aerial duels against Giorgio Chiellini on the night. Schick is willing to put his body on the line for the cause, and it’s too easy to paint him as a kid who’s into the light tricks and not there for the rough stuff, given the gritty performances he’s actually put in. But what Schick is guilty of is never hooking it all up consistently over 90 minutes, let alone a full season.

It’s painful to now watch Schick spend 2 full seconds bringing a ball under his control, before he feels comfortable to think about (let alone do) his next move. It’s as if the speed of his game and thought works through sequential gears alone, and you’re left waiting for the day Schick discovers that he can, once again, walk and chew gum. That’s unlikely to happen in Rome.

Not at a club that needs goals, and not while Schick looks an impostor at the prima punta role. You can see this guy rejuvenating his career at any number of clubs in Serie A, Bundesliga or elsewhere—counter-attacking clubs that play games with a lot of space in behind the opponents’ defence would do nicely for the Czech forward. Not clubs like Roma, who inevitably wind up needing to carve open opponents that sit back each Sunday. And isn’t that ironic to say about Schick?

For all his tricks on the ball, he’s not someone you’d rely to unlock games in tight spaces. It’s flat-out weird how confidence (or lack of it) can drastically alter the course of a player’s journey.

Edoardo Bove

Il Romanista

Age: 17
Position: Midfielder
Prior Club: Roma U-17s
Future Comparison: Rui Costa

It’s wishful thinking for Bove to skip two categories and break onto the senior squad bench, let alone the senior first eleven this season. But skipping years ahead of his class is nothing new for Bove. He is widely considered to be, by some corners of the Italian press, the most talented youth within the walls of Trigoria today.

We haven’t seen much of Bove play outside of a couple of Primavera games and his U-17 run to the Alkass Cup final this past winter. We’re guilty of including him here on reputation more than anything, but look out for Bove in Alberto De Rossi’s ranks for the coming campaign.

Matteo Cardinali

SOCCER: AUG 07 International Champions Cup - Real Madrid CF v AS Roma Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Age: 18
Position: Goalkeeper
Prior Club: Roma Primavera
Future Comparison: N/A

Cardinali made our honourable mentions list last summer, after an U-17 title won with Roma and transfer market interest from Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Then Cardinali spent most of last season as the Primavera number 2 keeper behind Stefano Greco.

Greco is now overage and sent on loan to Serie C’s Vibonese to start his senior football career in earnest, while it’s Matteo Cardinali’s time to lead between the sticks for Alberto De Rossi’s Primavera. Let’s see what he can do.

Francesco Semeraro

AS Roma v FC Internazionale - Serie A Primavera Playoffs Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Age: 18
Position: Left-back
Prior Club: Roma Primavera
Future Comparison: Amedeo Carboni

There’s unlikely to be a more competitive face-off than Francesco Semeraro and Riccardo Calafiori gunning for the same left-back spot at Primavera this season.

Calafiori was the golden boy, the chosen one, the guy guaranteed to make it big at senior level with Roma. All this before Calafiori was mercilessly taken out in a UEFA Youth League game against Plzen and left recovering from a knee shattered to pieces. The club responded by sending Calafiori for surgery and rehab in the United States, and recently extended his contract to 2022.

In the meantime, Semeraro has just gotten on with it.

Italian U-19 international Semeraro was a constant fixture for country and club in Calafiori’s absence, and Semeraro is exactly the kind of tireless full-back that Paulo Fonseca likes to dominate the flank in all phases of play. Roma have a log-jam of young talent at left-back, even after selling off Luca Pellegrini, and Semeraro now figures at the very front of that queue.

Gennaro Nigro

Age: 18
Position: Midfielder
Prior Club: Players Development Academy, United States
Future Comparison: Thiago Motta

New Jersey-born Gennaro Nigro spent most of last season coming off the bench for the Primavera, as a make-shift right-back, while he adjusted to his new surroundings. That wasn’t spectacular. But once he start getting games towards the back end of the season at his preferred position in midfield, Nigro showed a poise and calm in possession that belies his years.

He’s one of those players who instantly makes you feel more relaxed about your side’s chances of staying on top of the game. There’s no more Pezzella to stand in his way this season, so this is Gennaro Nigro’s big break at Primavera for the taking.

Ebrima Darboe

AS Roma v FC Internazionale - Serie A Primavera Playoffs Photo by Marco Luzzani - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

Age: 18
Position: Midfielder
Prior Club: N/A
Future Comparison: Cesc Fabregas

In less than six months of officially playing for Roma Primavera, Darboe is one of those players visibly pulling the entire centre of gravity of play around him on the pitch. He can play short passes, long-passes, slip through defences with and without the ball. He can do everything.

Darboe visibly changes the course of games for his side when the pressure is on, and he’d look at home in Paulo Fonseca’s football just as he already does with Alberto De Rossi’s demands for short, one-two-touch, fast-paced play through the middle of the field.

Zakaria Sdaigui

Italy U17 v Hungary U17 - International Friendly Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images

Age: 18
Position: Midfielder
Prior Club: Roma Primavera
Future Comparison: Yaya Toure

Here’s a kid who’s just plain unlucky. Sdaigui (pronounced ‘Ess-Daje-Gwee’) was already making waves with the Primavera two seasons ago, well ahead of his time back then. Last summer, he suffered a torn ACL and then - on his comeback this spring - suffered a leg fracture unrelated to the previous injury.

The kid is Firenze-born and an Italian youth international, though the “K” in his first name gives away Zakaria’s foreign roots. He has a freakishly good centre of gravity, given his long limbs and stature. You rarely see a youth player who’s both physically dominant and yet can dribble through the tightest of spaces left by double-teams failing to close Sdaigui down as he eludes them.

In truth, Sdaigui’s eagerness to show off flicks and tricks can be unnecessary at times, but he doesn’t struggle for goals, killer passes or dribbles that’ll take the pressure off his teammates and advance his Roma side both up the field and on the scoreline. If only he can put his injury nightmare behind him, Sdaigui can be a difference-maker at any level.

Felipe Estrella

Age: 18
Position: Striker
Prior Club: Ferroviaria, Brazil
Future Comparison: N/A

With Zan Celar now gone on loan (but not forgotten in our upcoming top 10 countdown), it’s up to Brazilian talent Felipe Estrella to assume the role of bomber for Alberto De Rossi’s Primavera this season. He’s only been at the club since January, but shown a lot of threat (and goals) in comparatively little amount of time.

We’ve no idea who to compare Estrella to in world football. We just know he’s been every bit of a nuisance to opposition defenders as Celar was before him.

Daniel Fuzato

Age: 22
Position: Goalkeeper
Prior Club: Palmeiras B
Future Comparison: Three guesses...

The Brazilian keeper spent most of last season on the bench with the big boys, but the policy around him changed once Di Francesco was fired. Fuzato dropped down a level to start making a handful of appearances with the Primavera team, from February onward, and showed the full range of weapons.

Javelin-throws to put his team right back on the counter attack (including a direct assist in Roma’s 5th goal at 2:29 in the video above), playing the ball out the back, aggression and physical domination of his penalty box, and superb reaction saves like the one in the video above to stop his own teammate Nigro from scoring an own-goal at the death.

His performance against Torino isn’t even his best. That came earlier in the season in a 4-1 win over Napoli (where the only goal Fuzato has conceeded to date was from Napoli’s direct free-kick in that game).

It’s unclear what Fonseca has in mind for Fuzato, after Fonseca played the Brazilian for a half in last week’s training game against Rieti. The keeper may still go out on loan, or he may just serve as Pau Lopez’s understudy off the bench.

Ludovico d’Orazio

AS Roma v FC Internazionale - Serie A Primavera Playoffs Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Age: 19
Position: Wide Forward
Prior Club: Roma Primavera
Future Comparison: Angel Di Maria

Here’s a guy who has that weird quality of getting overlooked, but never overshadowed, by headline-grabbing teammates around him. We passed over naming him as Primavera Player of the season last year for Celar’s goals, and he’s just missed out on our top 10 countdown this summer, while he was also moved out of position to help Gianmarco Cangiano last season too.

Then Napoli-born Cangiano skipped town by refusing to sign a contract extension and leaving for Bologna this summer, so maybe the club should have shown more faith in Roman player d’Orazio all along.

d’Orazio is now an over-age player retained for the Roma Primavera 2019/20 season where he’s expected to lead the side. That’s a far cry from three years ago, when d’Orazio was being told he doesn’t have the stamina to make it. He was already the third-most lethal man in the Primavera attack last year from his less-favoured position at right wing, and a future candidate for the interchanging trequartisti roles behind the striker that Fonseca likes to see in a 4-2-3-1. He can play all along the front line, and even carry the ball from deep. His goals and assists record proves as much.

He has competition from new-signing Ruben Providence and fast-paced Vicente Besuijen this season, so don’t count on any favours falling d’Orazio’s way. But what’s new? That suits the tireless Roman just fine. He’ll come up big anyway, constantly fighting to retain control of the ball for his side when their backs are up against it. Watching two-footed Providence and d’Orazio respectively tear up each flank for Roma Primavera this season is going to be fun.

Look for our Top Ten countdown starting tomorrow, and we're thrilled to announce we're also running down the Top Ten U23 prospects on the women's side starting in mid to late August.