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Playoff Season Begins for Roma’s Summer of Youth

Three league titles are still on the line for Nicola Zalewski, Pietro Tomaselli and company in the 2020/21 season.

Ascoli Calcio U19 v AS Roma U19 - Primavera 1 Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

We’re still awaiting the official release of Roma’s New Balance kits for next season but, if there’s a reason for the hold-up running into this summer, it could very well be because three Roma teams aren’t done playing out the 2020/21 calendar. We saw Roma’s women do what the men’s sides haven’t been able to do for a few seasons in giallorosso colors: Win trophies.

But there’s still an opportunity for the men’s youth teams to collect even more silverware than the trophy haul that the women have put together this season.

Not only did Roma’s Primavera women win their second consecutive league title in the space of just eight months, but the Roma women’s senior team collected the club’s first major trophy in its brief top-flight history. Now it’s down to the promising names among the Roma U-17, Roma-U18, and Roma Primavera men’s teams to remind themselves what collective winning mentality looks like on the pitch.

Note: Because of the global pandemic, all football below U-17 level was indefinitely called off for the 2020/21 season; meaning no Cristian Totti until the next league campaign. But that still leaves us with our three men’s team in contention for trophies this summer.

First up is a return to the limelight for a kid who’s already known what it’s like to be the talk of the town, sign professional sponsorship contracts, and then be shoved back into obscurity before he’s even hit legal age:

Roma U-17 and the Revenge of Pietro Tomaselli

Roma U-17 squad - 2020/21 season
AS Roma

Next Game? Thurday’s semi-final against SPAL.
Odds Of Winning The Title? 1 in 4 by now.
Will The Revolution Be Televised? Unlikely, unless Roma makes the final and then expect it to be live on the club’s social media channels.
Any Star Names to Mention in Future Banter? Pietro Tomaselli, Cedrick Koffi and Luigi Cherubini are your best name-drops in this squad.

You may have missed his stunning return to the limelight, but Pietro Tomaselli is back with a vengeance all the same. There’s the wunderkind standing far right, bottom row in the team’s squad photo to prove he’s finally hit the physical growth spurt that the club was waiting on all this time. And if you need further proof, you can easily find the training footage Tomaselli regularly posts from his Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. The bottom line here is Tomaselli has been rewarded by becoming a first-eleven regular again.

Coach Fabrizio Piccareta had the least margin of error among all league categories this season, as the U-17 championship was split into an ad-hoc format of eight league tables made of five teams in each table during the group stage. That meant Roma U-17 had eight league games to reach the single, solitary playoff spot on offer in Group 6. But Roma did exactly that much, and even beat Lazio U-17 in both the home and away fixtures on the road to the playoffs.

Roma lost just three of their eight regular-season games, including a dead-rubber loss against Pisa on the last matchday of the group phase (by which time Roma had already won the group and fielded their second-string players). Five victories in their other regular-season fixtures meant Roma topped the table, knocking Lazio out of the playoffs on results against and reaching the Scudetto quarter-finals.

Pietro Tomaselli
Pietro Tomaselli Facebook page

That one-off quarter-final game against Crotone has already been played yesterday and saw Roma finish as 5-0 winners by the final whistle. Pietro Tomaselli played all 90 minutes of that quarter-final win from the heart of midfield, as he did for three consecutive league starts in the regular season group phase, and making some appearances off the bench in other games. That’s a far cry from the last two seasons of Tomaselli being relegated to the sidelines, watching his teammates collect most of the glory. But despite being arguably the most recognizable name of his Roma generation, there are other difference-makers in this squad.

If Roma does reach the final and it does get televised, then keep an eye out for winger Cedrick Koffi who’s regularly won the headlines for his generation of players. Then there’s Luigi Cherubini, who the club had to fight Lazio for his signature and return to the club two seasons ago. Cherubini is already good enough that he’s been alternating between appearing for the Roma U-17 and U-18 teams this season. But 2004-born Cherubini’s true level should be U-17 football on paper, and there’s no doubt that coach Piccareta will want Cherubini available for the playoffs (he’s already played him for 71 minutes in yesterday’s quarter-final in which Cherubini scored a goal) if Roma are to win the U-17 Scudetto title.

Roma U-17’s next game is this Thursday 24th July semi-final against SPAL U-17.

We haven’t heard, read, or seen anything of SPAL’s youth teams to know who should be favorites going into Thursday’s semi-final, but SPAL did beat Atalanta 3-1 in the quarter-finals to get this far. If Roma does reach the final, it’s very possible that the game will be televised either on Roma’s social media, Roma TV+ or the FIGC website.

Roma U-18 and the Kid Who Keeps Francesco Totti as His Agent

FIGC U16 Xmas Tournament Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Next Game? This coming Friday’s semi-final against Atalanta.
Odds Of Winning The Title? Second-favorites behind Inter MIlan U-18.
Will The Revolution Be Televised? Couldn’t tell you. U-18 is still a very new echelon of Italian football with the obscure scheduling to boot.
Any Star Names to Mention in Future Banter? Riccardo Pagano is easily the standout name. But signing Turin-born defender Nicolò Giorcelli from Juventus was a surprise last summer, and striker Felix may appear in the Final Four games.

Like 2004-born Cherubini, we’ve mentioned Riccardo Pagano in last summer’s youth countdown as arguably the name to watch among Roma’s very promising Class of 2004. Unlike Cherubini, however, Pagano has been exclusively fast-tracked to the Under-18 level season with no dilly, no dally. He also made five appearances for Alberto De Rossi’s Primavera squad this season.

Already performing a year (or two) ahead of his generation, Pagano was one of the first two A.S. Roma players to secure representation with Francesco Totti’s sports agency CT10—the other player being Roma Primavera Women’s right-back Eleonora Pacioni. More recently, Roma U-18 defender Nicolò Giorcelli has been added to the CT10 ranks, but it’s really Pagano who’s shown a tactical intelligence and awareness that’s led to him embracing all kinds of responsibilities (including the False 9 role) between midfield and attack for his team.

FIGC ‘Torneo dei Gironi’
Roma U-18 defender Nicolò Giorcelli
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Coach Aniello Parisi had a lot more room for error in the regular season than his peers, as the U-18 league was made of a single table of 11 teams, playing 20 games each to make one of the Final Four playoffs spots.

Roma led the league table briefly in the winter season but fell behind pace-setters Inter Milan for the rest of the regular season. Roma U-18 had a last-day opportunity to try and put the heat on Inter for 1st seeds in the semi-finals, but Roma lost their final regular-season game in a 3-2 defeat to Sassuolo.

That meant Roma U-18 go into the Final Four playoffs as second seeds, facing Atalanta U-18 in the Friday 25th July semi-final. Inter Milan will play Genoa in Friday’s other semi-final, with the two winners going through to next Monday’s Scudetto final. Parisi may want to give Alberto De Rossi a call and ask for his 2003-born striker Felix back in time for the playoffs. More on him later.

We can’t say whether the final will be televised, as U-18 football is a very new category in Italian football. It had the misfortune of running up against the global pandemic in only its second season of existence, but the clubs and FIGC should be able to work something out in terms of getting TV cameras on the touchline for next Monday.

Roma Primavera: From Invincibles to a Stuttering Spring

Ascoli Calcio U19 v AS Roma U19 - Primavera 1 Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Next Game? Tomorrow’s playoff game against Atalanta. The winner gets into the Final Four.

Odds Of Winning The Title? Not if they can’t get their act together on defending set-pieces.

Will The Revolution Be Televised? Absolutely. All games are free-to-air on SportItalia and Roma Primavera games get coverage on Roma TV+.

Any Star Names to Mention in Future Banter? Nicola Zalewski along with every other name Paulo Fonseca gave a run-out with the senior team this season. Then there’s Boer in goal, Ndiaye in defense, Podgoreanu on the wing, and Tall up front.

Talk about a Jekyll & Hyde team. Arguably nothing has been more frustrating than watching Roma Primavera this season, in a run of form that’s sometimes been maddening enough to make Alberto De Rossi openly talk about how angry he’s been from the sidelines. This Roma U-19 side went from running away with the league (and a 100% points record mixed in there) to hitting a brick wall after the winter fixture suspension.

That suspension of games in the winter was a bit of a mad one, owing to a second alarm and outbreak of the Covid-19 virus around Italy at the time. But whatever happened between December and January, Roma’s U-19 players came out of the other end of the winter break completely unable to defend set-pieces. If you see Roma concede a corner at this level, hold onto your seats as the next sequence of play is likely to be a nervous affair all the way through the playoffs.

Roma really should have sealed direct passage through to the Scudetto semi-finals this season, which is reserved for the regular season’s top two finishers in the league, but instead chucked it away as they finished 4th in the league. Throughout April and May’s turgid run of form, just booking a playoff spot in itself was looking doubtful for a Roma side that began the season looking bulletproof from back to front.

SS Lazio v AS Roma - Primavera 1 Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

This side is made up of Pietro Boer in goal, who looks like every bit the legitimate keeper in the mold of Petr Cech. In terms of players who have the physical build to realistically get a shout at senior-level football (whether with Roma or on a loan elsewhere), there’s the very solid Maissa Codou Ndiaye in defense (refreshing to see a Roma Primavera team that finally has legit center-halve talents back there), Israeli winger Suf Podgoreanu built like a tank on the wings, the unusual physique-mixed-with-technique of Riccardo Ciervo on the other flank and then Lamine Tall up front.

Tall is an odd story since he’s actually struggled to find goals this season yet looks far more adapted to senior football (according to Alberto De Rossi and other opinions within the club) than previous names who’ve torn up this competition with their goalscoring in years gone by. When Tall does score, however, he usually pulls something spectacular out of his locker (like a bicycle kick or three) to do it.

Tall’s competition for starting up front comes in the form of Felix Afena-Gyan, whose movement generally mixes better with the chemistry of Roma’s frontline. Felix has been good enough to be fast-tracked from the U-18 category, though it’s arguable whether that’s down to Felix’s strengths or Tall’s struggles in front of goal. Either way, no one will be winning the Capocannoniere award with Roma this season; though forward Nicola Zalewski has done his best to compete on that front.

Ascoli Calcio U19 v AS Roma U19 - Primavera 1 Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Zalewski has inherited Alessio Riccardi’s former role in this new Primavera generation and embraced the number 10 shirt to go with the responsibility. But what really sets Zalewski apart is his ability from set-pieces, whether it be scoring direct free-kicks (and penalties) or racking up the assists from his corner-taking ability. If that isn’t enough talent to watch for you, then keep an eye out for the tenacious play of box-to-box midfielder Edoardo Bove, as well as the intelligent, goalscoring runs of evergreen midfielder Tommaso Milanese.

Unfortunately, it looks like forward Ruben Providence may not recover from his mid-season foot injury in time to weigh in for the playoffs, which is a shame as the team really did come to rely on Providence’s influence from out wide during Roma’s stellar early season run of form. Another mystery is that Ebrima Darboe remains kept away from the Primavera side this summer, even though he’s eligible to come back and play the playoff fixtures all the same.

Fourth-seeds Roma will play fifth-seeds (and current reigning champions) Atalanta in tomorrow’s June 22nd playoff round. The winners of that match and the Juventus vs Genoa U-19 playoff match will go through to face Inter and Sampdoria in the Primavera Scudetto Final Four tournament. Atalanta are no mugs at this level, so Roma can’t afford to put their minds anywhere other than on winning tomorrow’s match.