Over the years, we've seen a lot of young players make their Roma debuts and generate significant amounts of buzz one minute only to disappear from public consciousness just as quickly. It's just part of the business of football; memorable debuts don't always translate into memorable careers. Despite that harsh reality, I'm not sure we've ever seen a story quite like Ebrima Darboe, the 19-year-old Gambian midfielder who has taken the capital by storm over the past two weeks.
Darboe has perhaps the most amazing backstory of any kid we've covered since our inception in 2012. A native of The Gambia, Darboe arrived in Italy via a refugee boat from Libya, landing on Italian shores as an unaccompanied child. Shortly after his arrival, Darboe was enrolled in a special program for refugees and/or asylum seekers and was assigned a social worker and de facto host family in Rieti, where he soon linked up with a local amateur team.
From a refugee to an intriguing amateur talent, Darboe was quickly snapped up by Roma, who signed the teenager to a Primavera contract in 2019. Darboe was a bit of an unknown, but his star quickly rose through the Roma ranks, and he even landed on our list of honorable mentions in our 2020 U-23 countdown.
But we've seen plenty of intriguing prospects fritter and waste away in the youth ranks, never making a senior debut, so when Darboe made his professional debut against Sampdoria on May 2nd, our ears perked up. And when he played an hour against Manchester United in the Europa League semifinals, our curiosity quickly turned to rapt attention.
Following those cameos, Darboe has started three consecutive Serie A matches, earning rave reviews for his performances against Crotone and last week's derby victory over Lazio. Darboe's poise on the ball and willingness to mix it up with Serie A veterans was so impressive that many fans are now worried that Roma will lose the 19-year-old who is quickly drawing comparisons to N’Golo Kanté and Yaya Toure.
And today, in an interview with Calciomercato, Darboe's agent, Miriam Peruzzi, spoke on her discovery of Darboe, his future with Roma, and a possible name change for the 19-year-old:
As a women scout, I had to fight three times more than others...When I saw Ebrima for the first time, I understood he has outstanding tactical skills, he was always turning his head around, looking for the best passing solution.
He had always played in clay fields in Africa and has gone through a lot in his life. He had arrived in Italy from Libia and when he had his trial with Roma he could not speak a word of Italian.
She then continued to speak on Darboe's personality and his ongoing adoption process:
Darboe is a very polite guy, a nice person. Everybody knows him at Roma because of this
My father is a coach and we have decided to adopt him. He will soon complete the process so that Ebrima can become part of our family. He will become a Peruzzi: Ebrima Darboe Peruzzi
We decided it many years ago, not now that he is playing in Serie A. I am really happy, he deserves so and he is fully integrated into our family
And finally, Peruzzi hit on the topic of the day: Darboe's future with Roma:
We are on good terms with Roma, his contract expires in 2023. If he stays, it’s because he could have a chance with Mourinho. Otherwise, he will leave the club, but he won’t stay in Italy
It’s still too early to discuss that, but an experience abroad would be good for his characteristics and because in Italy it is often difficult to give opportunities to young players.
Take a second and think about how we got to this point. Darboe was really only given his debut because Roma and Paulo Fonseca had nothing left to fight for this season, so giving a 19-year-old kid his professional debut didn't seem that strange. What was strange, however, was how quickly Darboe acclimated to life in an Italian midfield.
Not only did Darboe survive his first taste of professional football, but he thrived, turning in man-of-the-match quality performances against Crotone and Lazio. So much so that, a mere two weeks after making his debut, we're already fretting about losing him to an English club—what a remarkable turn of events.
If Paulo Fonseca were returning for a third season at the helm, Darboe's place in the squad would feel a bit more certain, but his agents are right to be cautious about Roma's impending managerial change.
Will José Mourinho appreciate Darboe's talents as much as Paulo Fonseca seemingly does? And, more importantly, will he have enough patience to weather Darboe's inevitable growing pains?
Three weeks ago, this conversation would have sounded absurd, but that's how quickly the worm turns in the Eternal City. Yes, Roma actually hired José Mourinho as their manager, and yes, it appears as though they have a star in the making on their hands.
How these two forces collide, how they gel, and how they work together will go a long way to determining the success of this next great Roma project.