While he wasn't an instant sensation upon arriving in Rome in 2018, it didn't take long for Roma fans to sense something special in the then 19-year-old Nicolo Zaniolo. Arriving in Rome as part of the Radja Nainggolan sale to Inter Milan, Zaniolo wasn't the most heralded teenager in Italy, but he wasn't far off. A 6'3” hybrid midfielder/forward, Zaniolo was fresh off a monster Primavera season with Inter, tallying 14 goals and 11 assists during the 2017-2018 season. He didn't completely remove the sting of losing Nainggolan, but he was an awfully nice consolation prize.
And since making his professional debut against Real Madrid in the Champions League on August 19, 2018, Roma fans have been constantly amazed by Zaniolo's strength, skill, creativity, and aggression; an incredibly unique blend of traits that led us to ask whether or not Zaniolo was worthy of inheriting Francesco Totti's vaunted number ten shirt.
Whether you see a bit of Totti, a splash of Zidane, or just Mega Kaka in his broad shoulders, there is no doubt that Zaniolo is a special talent. And in addition to constant amazement, Roma fans have also lived in constant fear over the past two-and-a-half years, forever looking over our shoulders for the latest rumors connecting Zaniolo to Juventus, Chelsea, PSG, or whatever mega-club happens to be in the market for a young game-changing superstar in the making.
Successive ACL injuries have quieted those stories over the past few months, but you're not a Roma fan if you're not constantly fraught with anxiety. Life under the club's previous regime conditioned us to view every signing as nothing more than a two to three-year loan, but Zaniolo's recent comments in Icon magazine should calm your fears.
In a recent feature with Icon magazine, Zaniolo opened up on his time with Rome, his ongoing recovery from those ACL injuries, the first text he received from Daniele De Rossi, and more. (Translations via Google, Football Italia and/or RomaNews)
On his arrival in Rome and his developing relationship with the club:
There I realized that something had changed in my career. Until a few weeks before I was training with kids, now I was in the same locker room as champions like De Rossi, Kolarov or Dzeko. In such a context, you have to be ready: if before I gave ten, now I have to give one hundred.
Two days before signing with Roma, I received a message from De Rossi, who was captain: “Welcome to the family”. I immediately understood what a person he was, he proved to be a champion on and off the pitch.
Before arriving in Trigoria I believed that the great players would not have listened to me: instead they have always helped me, given advice, and still today I take an example from them, because there is always something to learn.
Roma changed my life, in every sense. He got me as a kid and he’s making me a man, it gave me the opportunity to play, it gave me all this popularity. How can I not love her?
Of course, being a men's fashion magazine, Icon eventually steered the conversation towards Zaniolo's sartorial tastes (he's a big D&G fan), his hobbies (Playstation), and his idols (Kaka and Zlatan), but if we take his comments at face value, then our wildest dreams may come true: Zaniolo could be a Roma lifer.
Roma will have to be extremely careful reintegrating Zaniolo into the fold, but his return and his commitment to the club and city is exactly the ray of sunshine we need at the moment.