With the dawn of their second season days away, we've been running through the top U-23 talents on the Giallorosse roster. In part one of our series, we touched upon a few U-17s who could very well lead the charge in the late 2020s, as well as a few utility players who will keep things nice and tidy, but today we're shifting the focus to the top five, to a handful of women who are ready to turn Roma into a dynasty right now.
So, without further delay, here are the top five U-23 talents in the Eternal City.
#5 Allyson Swaby—Defender
We first saw Swaby in a Roma shirt when she walked into the middle of the inaugural Giallorosse season mid-November, with no pre-season training and no warm-up to get acclimated with her fellow teammates or country. Despite all those setbacks, Swaby conquered regular first-team football in Bavagnoli’s backline. As Swaby has said herself: “When you’re dealing with top-level players, it doesn’t take long.”
She’s the only natural defender in the backline - besides new arrival Pettenuzzo - who has been playing as an out-and-out stopper all her life. Swaby is used to a physical, direct style of football where she looks to man-mark her opponent out of games. A stopper like Swaby is crucial to cover Roma’s other defenders, like Di Criscio and Corrado, who are natural-born midfielders.
Swaby now looks a lot more settled in Roma’s backline than she did just a half-year ago. She’s gotten herself on the scoresheet from Roma from setpieces last season, and Connecticut-born Swaby has gotten a World Cup campaign under her belt with her father’s native Jamaica. Swaby has been vocal this week about Jamaica’s need to keep financing the women’s team or face the squad going on strike, now that Bob Marley’s daughter is taking a step back from the fundraising picture. Swaby isn’t afraid of rolling with the punches or adapting to challenges; the task this season is to find consistency in her first full season of Italian football.
#4: Annamaria Serturini—Forward
It’s a testament to the wealth of talent at their disposal that Roma’s leading scorer from last season, the 21-year-old Serturini, ranks only fourth on this list. In her debut season with the club, Serturini transformed herself from the intriguing young prospect nipping at the leagues heels during days with Brescia and Bari to a full-blown star in the making. Serturini netted 11 times in league play last season (pacing the Giallorosse), was named player of the month for November, garnered her first caps with the national team, and made the cut for this past summer’s World Cup—not a bad year, eh?
Ostensibly an inverted left winger, Serturini (as you can see) is blessed with burst, speed and acceleration—whatever synonym one prefers, there aren’t many defenders in the league who can keep up with Serturini. In addition to beating opponents in a foot race, Serturini is agile and deft enough to waltz around them on the edge of the area, and has enough power and/or finesse to beat keepers with a host of shots.
With a newly resupplied attack, Serturini should have even more room to take chances, so I’d expect 11 goals to be her low water mark going forward. With athleticism for days, creativity to work out tight spots, and that killer instinct one craves from a top forward, the sky’s the limit for Serturini.
2018 was only the beginning. Expect big things Roma’s #15 in the future. Big. Things.
#3: Agnese Bonfantini—Forward
If you followed our coverage of Roma’s inaugural season last year, then you’re no doubt well aware of how enamored we are with Agnese Bonfantini, Roma’s 20-year-old whirling dervish of a winger. Brought in from Inter Milan on loan last season, Bonfantini made herself damn near indispensable for Betty Bavagnoli, logging over 1,700 minutes, scoring four goals and setting up several others.
While the goal totals won’t bowl you over yet, all you have to do is watch this kid play for, like, five minutes before you realize she’s got it. Bonfantini is an intuitive winger, one with a smooth, graceful gait that belies her true speed and power. Much like her opposite number Serturini, Bonfantini has enough raw athleticism to burst past defenders while having the creativity and intuition to make them look like fools, and with the stature and strength of a more traditional forward, Bonfantini can jockey for position with the best of them.
One gets the feeling Bonfatini’s debut season in the top flight was just the tip of the iceberg. With 40 goals across three Serie B seasons, Bonfantini is certainly no stranger to the back of the net. And now that she has a season under her belt and a vastly improved midfield keeper her well fed, Bonfantini could be poised for a huge breakout this year.
If Roma can keep this wing pairing together, they could be the marquee club in Italy.
#2 Giada Greggi—Midfielder
What can be written about Roma’s newest icon Giada Greggi that hasn’t already been written? There’s only the novelty of her appearing at #2 on this list of Roma talents, now that the club have signed the ultimate teammate - and positional rival - to truly push Greggi’s football to the next level. Unlike our #1 candidate on this countdown, however, Greggi is Roma-born and bred through the Giallorosse (formerly RES Roma) academy.
Among her many weapons in midfield, Greggi brings supreme close-control of the ball to help Roma keep control of possession in any area of the field. When you’re looking to run down the clock, give your teammates a breather or kill off the danger by holding onto the ball, then Greggi is the leader you look to carry the emotional fulcrum of play on her shoulders. She’s more than a slick footballer though, as her tireless engine and closing down off the ball help a ton.
Giada Greggi took less than a season to earn Bavagnoli and the team’s trust, rising to the position of vice-captain and undisputed started in the heart of Roma’s midfield. Still a teenager, Greggi’s next challenge is to break into the Italy senior team - something which her new midfield teammate and upcoming #1 name on this list knows how to do. Greggi has to welcome the competition in midfield as an invitation to raise her already-impressive game to the next level.
#1: Manuela Giugiliano—Midfielder
I’m an honest man; I know my strengths as well as my faults, and while I can be prone to hyperbole, let me just say this once more: In terms of pound-for-pound impact, Roma’s capture of Giugliano this summer has the potential to rank right up there with Antonio Cassano, and dare I say it, Gabriel Batistuta.
Giugliano, a somewhat diminutive #10, is precisely...and I mean precisely...what this club was lacking last season: someone who could, quite frankly, do it all. If you caught a glimpse of Giugliano during the World Cup, you know exactly what I mean. Giugliano can win a tackle, she can recycle possession, she can switch play in an instant, she can create from deep (just look at that ball she played to Serturini above), she can serve up a final ball on a silver platter and she can run for days.
Linking up Giugliano and Greggi instantly gives Roma one of, if not the, best midfields in the league. What separates Giugliano from Greggi and the other names on this list is that she’s already delivered on that enormous potential, steadily climbing the ranks of the game’s best midfielders over the past several seasons. Since becoming a full-time player with Torres in 2014, Giugliano has played more than 1,700 minutes in four of the past five seasons, emerging as a leader for club and country, and what’s more, she’s cracked an impressive 34 goals over that same span. Like I said...she can do it all.
Manuela Giugliano can step onto a pitch anywhere in the world and make an impact, but in Rome she's entering the ideal situation to take her game to the next level. With Greggi by her side, Giugliano will be able to dominate possession all over the pitch and should have room to get creative knowing that Greggi is there to pick her up when the time comes, while the blazing and darting runs of Serturini, Bonfantini and Andressa should be the perfect foils for Giugliano's brilliant and incisive passing.
In any other circumstances, we’d hail this signing as a masterstroke, but given the confluence of timing and talent, Manuela Giugliano to Roma could be a franchise altering moment. We may very well look back on this signing as the moment Roma became a force in women’s football.
And it’s all thanks to the sublimely skilled midfielder with the cheeky wink.
You can catch Giugliano and the rest of the crew when the open up the season hosting AC Milan at the Tre Fontane on the 15th. We'll have gavel to gavel coverage as well.