It’s easy to gripe about how few Roma academy graduates turn into bona fide players in the senior squad. We hear over and over again that Alberto De Rossi’s Primavera side is one of the best in Italy, and that Roma’s academy is one of the best in Europe, yet as of right now, the only academy graduates consistently plying their wares at the Stadio Olimpico are Lorenzo Pellegrini and Riccardo Calafiori. Sure, others like Alessio Romagnoli and Matteo Politano have found success with other big Italian clubs, but that’s not enough for many Romanisti.
Fortunately, those fans should be satiated to find out that three academy graduates are now one step closer to becoming consistent members of the Giallorossi squad for years to come. They should be even more excited to discover that those graduates are Edoardo Bove, Ebrima Darboe, and Nicola Zalewski.
Darboe exploded onto the Roma scene last season under Paulo Fonseca, becoming one of the few bright spots of spring 2021 as the rest of Roma’s squad fell apart at the seams. The Gambian logged six matches and 384 minutes last season with the Giallorossi, earning him the number four spot on our Roma Youth Countdown this summer. Although he’s only found the pitch once in Serie A this season, his four Conference League appearances have apparently convinced José Mourinho that the Gambian midfielder has what it takes to be a long-term piece for the Giallorossi.
While Darboe only had one season with the Primavera before moving up to the senior squad, Nicola Zalewski and Edoardo Bove joined up with the Giallorossi as children, meaning they’ve been long-term projects for the development experts with the Giallorossi youth sector. That time spent on their development has been paying off in 2021, with Bove becoming a frequent substitution choice for José Mourinho in Serie A and Zalewski’s getting his opportunities more evenly split between the Europa Conference League and Serie A. In addition, both Zalewski and Bove have been receiving international call-ups; Zalewski was recently capped by the Polish senior side for the first time, while Bove has become a regular for the Italy U-20 side in recent months.
These renewals come at a time when several transfer rumors had linked these prospects to moves to some major clubs continent-wide, including Tottenham Hotspur, Fulham, and Manchester United. With Bove and Zalewski now signed until 2025 and Darboe signed until 2026, Romanisti have real confirmation that The Friedkin Group is working to develop a long-term project at the Olimpico. At the very least, the next time a superclub comes knocking for a Giallorossi wonderkid, they’ll have to pay up.
The open question following these renewals is whether or not they will give Tiago Pinto more comfort in sending Bove, Darboe, and Zalewski out on loan this January. Some sources have suggested that José Mourinho wants to carve out a role for the three prospects now, and considering how thin the squad is in some places, those rumors may have merit.
However, with the first order of business for the winter mercato reportedly being the signing of Boubacar Kamara, I’d wager that the extensions of Bove and Darboe are primarily meant to reassure them of their place with the club before a six-month dry loan to a smaller Serie A side. Such a loan could give both midfielders consistent starting minutes against Roma’s regular opponents without needing to push past Jordan Veretout, Bryan Cristante, and a new winter signing in the depth chart.
Nicola Zalewski seems more likely to stick around the club for the next six months, as the injury concerns surrounding Stephan El Shaarawy, the age of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and the poor form of Eldor Shomurodov all mean that Mourinho may need the Polish international when the going gets tough.
Still, don’t be shocked if Zalewski moves away on a dry loan next month either; like Bove and Darboe, he’s at a crucial juncture in his development as a player, and particularly if José Mourinho sticks with a 3-5-2 formation, it may be best for Nicola to play elsewhere to allow him to continue his development as a winger. There’s no doubt that Mourinho will look to switch back to a 4-2-3-1 at some point, and preparing Zalewski for a role in that formation via a loan would be smart player management.
Here’s what Roma GM Tiago Pinto had to say in the announcement of this trio of renewals:
“The extensions of these three contracts serve as further evidence of the approach the club wants to continue taking with its young players.
As a club we will continue to put our faith in the raw talent that comes through the academy system, guiding them as they develop as players and instilling in them the right work ethic and approach to their craft. I also hope these three renewals will provide further motivation – and satisfaction - to all those who dedicate their work to the club’s youth sector, and that this proves to be just the beginning of a productive approach that brings with it many more great rewards.”
These extensions look to be the first of many in the next few months, as various sources have also suggested that Roma is close to extending Leonardo Spinazzola and Gianluca Mancini. Although the Giallorossi certainly still have several holes to fill in their squad, Pinto’s insistence on renewing the contracts of key players is just as important to the Giallorossi’s long-term hopes. We’ll keep you posted on any more renewals as they occur.