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Ranking Roma’s Youth: Honorable Mentions

It’s a new season, which means it’s time to search the Roma U-23 ranks for A New Hope.

AS Roma v Avellino - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Silvia Lore/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We didn’t find much time (if any) to keep up with the Primavera campaign last season, which is just as well as it was mostly a bust. I’ve read it been said on CdT that Alberto De Rossi doesn’t set up the U-19s to mirror the senior setup. But honestly, said without snark, I don’t know where that notion comes from or where it got started.

I first started following the Primavera team on Sportitalia (it’s free-to-air outside of Italy) around 2017, taking a break from it last year when I had less time to write about sport in general. But having dug through the match ratings in years gone by, it’s evident that when Enrique, Zeman or Garcia were playing 4-3-3 at the club, Alberto De Rossi was playing 4-3-3 with the Primavera. When Spalletti switched it to a 4-2-3-1 at senior level, ADR gradually brought in both 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 with the youth system.

Idem for the Di Francesco era. And when Paulo Fonseca switched from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-2-1 this summer, guess which formation Alberto De Rossi played in Roma Primavera’s first ever friendly fixture last month? You guessed it, 3-4-2-1.

As Roma U19 v FC Internazionale U19 - Primavera 1 Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

These changes don’t happen overnight. It’s not like once the senior men’s coach changes on a whim, then immediately ADR hops to it. But if an idea sticks at the top level, De Rossi will adjust his setup further down the pipeline in just a matter of months.

Literally the only anamoly in that pipeline is Alessio Riccardi - a kid who plays almost without a position, and certainly doesn’t have a ready-made role for him to slot into in the senior side, unless you were to hand him the phenomenal task of subbing in for Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Anyway, that’s just a little Primavera by-the-by; the squad spent last season mired in 5th place and barely gripping onto a playoff position. But at no point did De Rossi’s charges look like legitimate contenders for the 2019/20 Primavera title.

Unfortunately there was a constant lack of ability to defend the 18-yard line, where Roma would either rush a clearance and turn it over immediately, or fail to clear the danger at all. To top it off, the season was suspended mid-way and the title awarded to Atalanta. Missing a few months of football can be damaging to a player’s prospects of avoiding getting lost in that twilight zone between U-19 and U-23 level, and Roma are willing to write off last season’s “lost generation” with a hefty number of new incoming signings to the youth ranks this summer just gone by.

None of those new signings make our list, though.

Instead it’s a few familiar names below, but let’s start things off with a distant look into the future. You know, so that when 2025 comes around we can look like geniuses if it goes right.

Riccardo Pagano, Luigi Cherubini and the Class of 2004

AC Milan U15 v AS Roma U15 - Serie A & B Under 15 Playoff Final Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Age: 16
Position: All
Prior Club: Roma Golden Generation
Future Comparison: Man Utd Class of ‘92

Not since the Roma Primavera golden generation of the early 2010s, featured in Steven’s Deep-Dive into the Primavera, has a team looked collectively as good as the up-and-coming Roma class of ‘04.

Not only did they win the U-15 title at a canter in 2019, but they were running away with the U-16 league before play was suspended in 2020. This season, it’ll be up to the 2004-born team to go one better at U-17 level than Roma did when they were losing finalists against the Inter U-17s in 2019.

Among the 2004 names are talents like Etienne Catena and Cedrick Koffi, who were already fast-tracked to U-17 level last season (skipping U-16 altogether) with admittedly very little success. It’s thought the change came to soon and neither player benefited from being separated from the group they’d won so many games with, prior.

Then there’s forward Luigi Cherubini, who’s shown technical strength and creativity on the ball all over the final third, not to mention doing his best to heat up the Lazio-Roma rivalry by signing, leaving and re-signing between both clubs before he was reached fifteen years of age. But the most promising talent is captain Riccardo Pagano, who was one of the first names to be signed to Francesco Totti’s new scouting agency CT10 Management, and the very first Roma player to do so.

CT10 Management Instagram

That’s probably because Pagano has been performing a Totti-esque duty at the club so far. The class of 2004 were short of a striker in their ranks, and so midfielder Pagano moved up to play false nine to roaring success. He and the team have never looked back since.

The best thing Roma can do is keep this team together, and hope that 2 or 3 of these names make it to senior level by the time they hit 23 years of age. Once you’ve hit eighteen years old, it’s purely about winning from then on in. And that’s what Primavera football is all about, if you believe Rinus Michels’ book on the matter. The larger part of your technical schooling is done, and you’re meant to show that you can make decisions that benefit to team as a unit on the pitch at U-18 and U-19 level.

The great benefit of a team like the Class of ‘04 is they’re already showing that collective spirit. That leaves more free time for them to raise the technical level amongst themselves in the next five years.

The only shame, for shame, is that (if you do the maths) this is indeed Pietro Tomaselli’s generation we’re talking about. And though expectations were big around Tomaselli years ago, the kid is increasingly peripheral in Rome - ranking barely 200 minutes of play last season.

And before anyone acts, Cristian Totti belongs to the class of 2005 - the year just below this group.

But now to more immediate prospects.

Devid Bouah

Italy U19 v Nethrerlands U19 - International Friendly Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Age: 19
Position: Right-Back
Prior Club: Roma Primavera
Future Comparison: Roman Cafu

After ranking among our top ten prospects last summer, Bouah can count himself unlucky to be shoved all the way down to the basement with me in the honourable mentions list. But we drew straws on it, and that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

If it’s any consolation to Devid, none of us saw Riccardo Calafiori’s return from a career-ending injury coming, much less Calafiori being trusted with a squad role in the senior team this season. There’s nothing Calafiori can do from the left that Bouah cannot do from the right side.

Calafiori was scoring extravagant goals in the box with the Primavera (and even in Serie A - referee calls be damned) last season, but Bouah was doing that all twelve months prior. And both show a physique that has fast-tracked them to senior football.

We’ve learnt absolutely nothing new about Bouah since we ranked him last summer - he simply hasn’t played through torn ligaments and pandemic suspensions-of-play. It’s on Devid, now a year older and two separate knee injuries wiser, to show the same powers of recovery as Riccardo.

As we touched upon yesterday, Bouah has been linked with a loan move to Bologna this coming season. Which sounds like a redundant move unless Walter Sabatini plans of following through with the sale of first-choice right-back Tomiyasu to the Premier League this month.

Ebrima Darboe

Ebrima Darboe of AS Roma attends the pre Europa League... Photo by Cosimo Martemucci/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Age: 19
Position: Midfielder
Prior Club: N/A
Future Comparison: Cesc Fabregas

Though he had a less than impressive year at Primavera last season, where Roma suffered big time in the mediano area, Darboe is still one of the best readers of the game in the youth ranks. He has an eye for a pass, be it threaded or over the top. Darboe can play either attacking or deep-lying midfield, and his quality on the ball makes him hard to dispossess.

The Gambia are very serious about building a future national team that can keep on the African Nations stage, and Darboe will hope to count himself among the ranks of Serie A senior players like Bologna’s Musa Barrow and Musa Jurawa when the time comes. Maybe he just needs a call from Walter Sabatini to go play for Bologna, if Darboe’s break never comes in Rome.

He made a couple of matchday squads with Fonseca’s senior team last season, but Darboe will want to get his career back on track at U-19 level this year, after hitting the ground running two seasons ago.

Edoardo Bove

As Roma U19 v FC Internazionale U19 - Primavera 1 Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

Age: 18
Position: Midfielder
Prior Club: Roma U-17s
Future Comparison: Jordan Veretout

As we said last summer, Bove is widely considered to be, by some corners of the Italian press, the most talented youth within the walls of Trigoria right now. Perhaps that’s the reason he’s linked in a big-money swap with Napoli this week.

It’s hard to peg Bove to just one role. Last summer we compared him to Manuel Rui Costa, because Bove does have that smooth touch on the ball. But what’s become apparent is that Bove lacks nothing in the stamina department either, willingly throwing himself into tackle after tackle and block after block (despite his modest frame), like Jordan Veretout does for the first team.

Bove’s signature move is his ability to make runs into the box off the ball. It’s a trademark that has his racking up goals from midfield at all youth levels. But seriously, he’s not afraid to throw himself into a tackle either. It’s over-working himself that has Bove currently out on the treatment table, after foot surgery meant he missed the current Primavera pre-season.

Mirko Antonucci

AS Roma v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Age: 21
Position: Attacker
Prior Club: Vitoria de Setubal
Future Comparison: Angel Di Maria is still the dream

So shoot us, but we’re not giving up on Antonucci just yet. He got an assist in Roma’s first pre-season friendly this week, with the Roma TV commentators quipping that this is three straight summers of Antonucci making the pre-season friendly campaign his stomping ground.

In between those summers has been a tame move to Pescara, a loan cut short in Portuguese football, and now Antonucci is linked with a loan to Serie B’s newly-promoted Vicenza. Only when Antonucci permanently transfers out of Rome will we stop writing about him.

Riccardo Ciervo

Il Romanista

Age: 18
Position: Wide Forward, Wing-Back, Tuttafascia
Prior Club: N/A
Future Comparison: Patrik Schick without all the hooplah

You may remember Ciervo from our look our Look at the Future feature in July 2019, or you may just remember seeing him in the Youtube highlights from Roma’s 4-2 friendly win last week.

Either way, Ciervo was one of the soloists who managed to keep his head above water in the Primavera team last season, proving to be a right-wink force to match other wing hopefuls like Nicola Zalewski and Ruben Providence in Alberto De Rossi’s side.

What Ciervo holds as his ace in the sleeve above players like Zalewski is an awkward marriage of technique and physique that defies his tall stature. He’s looking far less gangly that the 2019 picture above nowadays, but he still defies stereotype. You think he might be slow on the ball for a tall guy, right before he whips it past you. And you think he might not be up for going to ground in the tackle, but he’s shown an appetite for helping out defensively.

So much so that Alberto De Rossi began to use Ciervo as a right wing-back in the Primavera’s new-look 3-4-2-1 formation. Will that really stick? Time will tell.

Lamine Tall

Age: 18
Position: Striker
Prior Club: Vitoria de Setubal
Future Comparison: Luca Toni

What’s a search for a new hope with mentioning Roma’s next hopeful to lead the front line? Zan Celar is middling on Serie B loans, and Felipe Estrella has been let go by the club and is now on his way to Genoa. That means the coast is clear for Petrachi’s last signing of 2019, Lamine Tall.

Tall was a very late arrival, but made his presence known in the Primavera side in stunning fashion. Before he scored THAT overhead-kick equalizer against Atalanta (at 3:55 in the video above), Tall was already going shoulder-to-shoulder against Inter Primavera, coming off the bench to tear a path down the flank, through to goal and setting up assists for Estrella on that matchday.

A physically imposing dribbler with pace to burn anywhere in the opponent’s half, as well as a dominant aerial presence that comes alive inside the box, the over/under for how many Primavera goals Tall will rack up this season is anyone’s call.

We hope he makes Fonseca’s squad in the future, just for the number of Walking Tall puns we’ve got waiting in the can.