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Ranking Roma’s Youth, #5: Cengiz Ünder

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Can this be the year that Roma’s Turkish Khan becomes a consistent star for the Giallorossi?

Cengiz Under of AS Roma during the friendly football match... Photo by Andrea Staccioli/LightRocket via Getty Images

After a mediocre 2018/2019 season, many were hoping that Cengiz Ünder would quickly leave that poor form behind and once again prove himself to be a future star in Rome. Unfortunately, his 2019/2020 season was just as underwhelming as the one before it, and as a result, Ünder has been on the periphery of Paulo Fonseca’s Roma. Where rumors of a big-money move to Bayern Münich and Manchester United once reigned, there are now whispers that Roma may even send the Turkish winger on loan to minnows like Cagliari or middling Premier League sides like Leicester City.

That doesn’t mean that we should rule out a majorly successful career for Ünder just yet, and I’d argue that it doesn’t mean that we should rule out stardom for him either. Not everyone is Nicolo Zaniolo, and expecting a 23-year-old to have it all put together is kind of ridiculous when you think about it. It took quite a while for Mohamed Salah to make the leap to superstardom, and I’d argue that there’s still at least a couple years for Ünder to reach similar heights. If he’s going to reach those heights in Rome, though, this must be his season.

Number Five: Cengiz Ünder

Age: 23

Position: Inside Forward/Winger

Current Club: A.S. Roma

Future Comparison: Spring 2018 Cengiz Ünder

Who Is He?

We’ve had Cengiz on this list since he first signed for Roma in 2017, and in 2018 he even hit #1 on the rankings. It follows that anyone who’s been following Roma since then definitely knows who he is, but here’s a bit of a primer in case you just woke up from a cryogenic tube. Ünder has generally found the most success playing as a right winger, with his torrid spring 2018 form being the best example of that. Here’s what I wrote about Ünder heading into the 2018/2019 season:

If Ünder is able to keep this (winning) mentality into the future, there’s no doubt that he can become one of the shining stars of world football. It takes quite the player to come close to hitting double-digits in the goal tally as a 20-year-old, especially under the defensive pressure Serie A is known for. Pair this with a seemingly positive relationship with Eusebio Di Francesco, Francesco Totti, and the club in general, and all signs point to Ünder playing a large role in Roma’s success this season.

Whether you call him a young Dybala, a young Salah, or a young Ünder, he’s got the skills to pay the bills. We just have to hope that he’s paying the bills in giallorossi colors for a while longer.

Since those peaks of 2018, though, Ünder has definitely come down to earth, for both tactical and injury reasons. The Turkish winger has only scored six league goals in the last two seasons, not even equaling the number of goals he scored in the 2017/2018 rendition of Serie A.

What Can He Do?

Honestly, that’s an excellent question at this point. Back when he was the shiniest jewel in Roma’s crown, here’s how I described his play-style:

If you squint a little bit at the video above, you might find it hard to tell the difference between Ünder and Paulo Dybala. Although all player comparisons should be taken with at least a grain of salt, it’s no coincidence that Ünder has been called the Turkish Dybala for quite some time, although in my eyes Dybala is just the Argentinian Cengiz Ünder. Both players cut open opposition defenses with their pace, dribbling, and powerful left feet. Both score screamers seemingly on a weekly basis, with enough curl on the ball to force you to watch the replay again. And again. And again.

At this point, though, I think the best comparison to make for Ünder is that he’s a poor man’s Dybala (when he’s able to make the starting eleven). Simply put, he hasn’t been able to turn Dybala into the Argentinian Cengiz Ünder, and honestly, it’s kind of hard to see why he hasn’t been able to make even slight improvements on his performances compared to that lovely six-month stretch in 2018. Sure, part of the blame can be extended to Paulo Fonseca for Ünder’s return to earth, but he also had similar issues under Eusebio Di Francesco and Claudio Ranieri. So a lot of what Ünder can do has become much less clear, even though the tantalizing potential still sometimes feels as if it’s just waiting to break out.

What Can He Become?

At this point, you all know who Cengiz Ünder is, for better and for worse. He’s lethal with his left foot; his pace is otherworldly; his long shots can excite even the grumpiest Romanista. On the flip side, Ünder can he can be infuriating when he misuses his pace; his more selfish style of play can make you pull your hair out; and he flat-out disappeared on the pitch when he actually got minutes this past season.

And yet, there’s something still inherently exciting about Ünder and his potential. Particularly with Nicolo Zaniolo sidelined for a bit, the battle for the right winger position is going to be a slug-fest between Ünder and the #7 on this list, Carles Perez. Fonseca preferred Perez following the restart, leading many to think that Ünder’s days with Roma were numbered, yet surprisingly, he’s remained. Perhaps Roma doesn’t think he can get the proper ROI on the Turk just yet; perhaps there just aren’t any interested buyers.