Lots of words have already been written about Lorenzo Pellegrini’s resurgence under José Mourinho. It seems the born and bred Roman has started a new life under the guidance of the Portuguese master and his numbers this season are hitting new heights. Dazzling performances, THAT goal vs Hellas Verona.
As the attacking midfielder in Mou’s 4-2-3-1 and indisputable capitano of the team, Lorenzo is finally showcasing his talent and skills to the world and people are starting to dream of a new legacy, the next Francesco Totti or Daniele De Rossi. A Roman captain from the club’s very own Primavera. There were some doubts a while ago but Mourinho looks like the right manager at the right time for Lorenzo.
However, being compared to club legends Francesco Totti or Daniele De Rossi never comes without risk. Not because Pellegrini is a lot worse than those two or a bad player per se, but because both men have set the bar so unbelievably high at AS Roma; it's almost impossible to do better. Yet Pellegrini is slowly but surely making a name for himself and at the age of only 25, he has plenty of time to enter the hall of fame.
Yours truly has taken the liberty of comparing the 25-year-old Pellegrini to his predecessors at the same age. One thing I can already mention is that both Totti and De Rossi already won trophies at Roma before their 25th birthday. Totti, of course, won the Scudetto and Supercoppa in 2001, while De Rossi won two Coppe Italia (2007 & 2008) plus a Supercoppa in 2007 before he turned 25.
Let me first play Lorenzo’s advocate and point out that both Francesco and Dani were part of amazing teams that accomplished those feats. We all remember the legendary 2001 squad (Walter Samuel, Aldair, Cafu, Vincent Candela, Vincenzo Montella, Damiano Tommasi, Gabriel Batistuta, and the coach, Fabio Capello) while De Rossi and the 2007 Cup Champion team wasn't too shabby either: Christian Panucci, Philippe Mexes, Christian Chivu, Simone Perrotta, David Pizarro, Rodrigo Taddei, Mancini, and of course Totti and the mastermind, Luciano Spalletti.
Lorenzo joined the first team in 2014 but got loaned out to Sassuolo for two seasons before really making serious minutes with the Giallorossi. From 2017 on he has been a regular. Sadly he has already seen three coaches come and go. Mourinho is the fourth coach he has witnessed in Rome in four years' time. Not really a steady environment like Totti (Capello 1999-2004) or De Rossi (Spalletti 2005-2009) had when they won silverware.
Another point of discussion: the chairmen and sporting directors. While a prime Totti and De Rossi enjoyed life under the Sensi’s, Lorenzo has already experienced a change of ownership and numerous sporting directors. And those transitions were not exactly smooth or effortless, to say the least.
The 2001 and 2007 teams were built to win. They had time to form a strong unit with an exciting group of players. During Pellegrini’s time, we had Monchi and Petrachi building the squads. And we all know how that worked out. Monchi came, destroyed, and left. Petrachi tried to fix it but quickly left... with a lawsuit in hand. Now we have Tiago Pinto, an intriguing choice, yes, but one who at the age of 37 is still quite young in the professional world of managers and directors.
Pinto has done a great job cleaning up the mess but there are still some areas of concern. This Roma is far from the finished product like the one in 2001 or 2007-2008. But in due course, and with another set of smart purchases, it can be.
Since comparing goals and assists isn’t really in favor of De Rossi, who was mostly a defensive midfielder, let’s take a quick look at the number of appearances for each Roman through age 25. When Francesco turned 25, Il Bimbo d’Oro started his tenth (!) season at Roma, already reaching 250 games in giallo e rosso. At the age of 25, De Rossi just finished his seventh season in Rome, playing approximately 220 times for AS Roma. Finally, Lorenzo turned 25 last June, having played five seasons for Roma (I’m including 2014-2015 with one appearance) and reaching 152 games.
Or course, Pellegrini did spend two seasons at Sassuolo, which limits his stats with Roma. If he would have stayed, he would have already surpassed the 200 match milestone this season, putting him on par (more or less) with De Rossi, in terms of appearances at least. However, no one matches Totti, who simply started his Roman career sooner and made his debut at a younger age than both Dani and Lorenzo.
Totti became the captain in 1998, aged 22, while Daniele had to wait until he was almost 34 in 2017 after Totti’s retirement to officially inherit the armband. Pellegrini received the honor in the course of last season (at the age of 24) when Fonseca opted for Lorenzo as captain after the famous row with Dzeko. And with his recent contract extension and no noteworthy competitors in the team, it looks like Pellegrini will remain Roma’s capitano for quite some time.
So what does Lorenzo have to do to take that next step? To join Daniele and Francesco among the greats. To be put on the same pedestal. One word: Trophies. And that’s where our man José Mourinho comes in. A born winner. A man who has won everything in his career. We have seen in these first few weeks how José can make players better individually—a lot better. Zaniolo will benefit from it, as will Tammy Abraham, Roger Ibañez, and perhaps even Ebrima Darboe. But Pellegrini may benefit most of all.
For Lorenzo, Mourinho can be what Totti was to Capello or what Spalletti was to De Rossi; the trainer who will finally bring silverware back to town, who brings Roma and its captain to the next level. With a little help from the Friedkins and Pinto, earning the club's first trophy since 2008 suddenly seems realistic. The Coppa Italia to start with, or maybe the Conference League. Why not?
Like I said earlier, I don’t think we’re a potential Scudetto side yet. We’re not flawless but there’s a young and hungry core and it will only get better. If (and that’s a big if) the vital pieces are not sold along the way and we bring in even more talent as promised by Pinto and the Friedkins, then winning the Scudetto in the next two years or so seems plausible.
Picture Mourinho running towards the Curva Sud while Pellegrini hoists the trophy in front of a packed and crazy Stadio Olimpico while Totti and De Rossi smile in the stands, all the while knowing that, on that day, Pellegrini will finally have joined them in the ranks of Roman greats, and perhaps one day the club Hall of Fame.
My friends, Project Pellegrini has officially started. Andiamo!