It feels like we’ve been talking about Riccardo Calafiori for some time now, yet he still hasn’t even reached his 20th birthday. But with everyone searching for the next big thing nowadays, players are thrust into the spotlight before they're old enough to drive or sip an adult beverage in many cases.
And for the Romans on the club, that’s especially the case as the fans look for the next heir to the Roman throne. We’ve seen plenty of the city’s native-born sons fail to live up to expectations in the days since Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi’s departures. Lorenzo Pellegrini is currently the standard-bearer, and with Roma’s captain set to sign a new contract, the armband should continue to adorn a Roman for some time.
However, the desire to see more Romans succeed in the side never really goes away, and with Alessio Riccardi looking like a bust, Calafiori could be the most likely candidate to carve out a Roma career. That is if injuries don’t get the best of him.
Number Ten: Riccardo Calafiori
Future Comparison: Theo Hernandez with Kolarov’s physical presence
Who is He?
By now, Calafiori’s name is much more widely known around Serie A circles than it was just 12 months ago when he checked in at number 8 in our 2020 U-23 Countdown. The native-born Roman, who’s been in the Roma youth ranks since age 9, made his first-team debut in the final match of the 2019-20 season at just 18-years-old against Juve.
It was a dream come true for a player whose career looked like it might’ve been over before it ever started. That’s because Calafiori suffered a career-threatening knee injury playing for Roma’s Primavera side as a 16-year-old. However, after overcoming that obstacle, his talent was enough to become a full-fledged member of the first team last season after Aleksandar Kolarov’s departure to Inter Milan.
What Can He Do?
Calafiori has the skills and size to contribute on both ends of the pitch—something that we’ve seen in flashes. However, due to an injury-plagued campaign last season, we still haven’t been able to see Calafiori play on a consistent basis. Last season, he missed seven matches after contracting the Coronavirus in October, but upon his return in the Europa League, his offensive skills were on full display when he scored this wonder goal against Young Boys.
However, 2021 wasn’t kind to Calafiori as he missed three separate stretches with a quad injury—costing him a total of 22 matches. All of this amounted to him playing just 66 Serie A minutes and 354 minutes in the Europa League. Nevertheless, Calafiori is still young and talented enough to rebound.
Here’s the scouting report on Calafiori written by Forza Italian Football prior to the start of last season to give you an idea of what makes him one of Roma’s best youth prospects of recent seasons.
Calafiori just turned 18 on May 19, but he is already physically developed, possessing the speed and strength necessary to thrive as a modern full-back.
His contribution to the attacking phase this season, be it by scoring goals or setting them up, is evidence of his impressive technical ability – good dribbling, accurate crossing and a powerful shot.
Off the ball, he has the power, stamina and intelligence required in defence, while he has shown great personality and character in his recovery process, as well as on the pitch.
What Can He Become?
Despite a disappointing start to his Roma career, Calafiori is still young and talented enough to grow into his full potential if he can just stay healthy. With Leonardo Spinazzola likely out for at least the first half of the campaign and Matías Viña recently arriving from Palmeiras, now could be the time for Calafiori to earn some first-team minutes to continue his development. If he can stay fit then last season may soon look like a speed bump in the rearview mirror of a long, successful career.
Therefore, I’ll stick with my future projection from last season’s countdown of Calafiori that read:
If the devastating knee injury is indeed completely behind him, Calafiori projects, at worst, as a quality starting left back or left wing-back in the not too distant future. However, he looks to have all the qualities to become even more than that.
His nose for goal and all-around game bring to mind Milan’s Theo Hernandez but with Aleksandar Kolarov’s physical presence. If that’s the case and Raiola doesn’t push him away from the capital, Calafiori projects as one of the better Romans to come through the club in some time.
Stay with us as we wind our way through the top 10 U-23 talents for both of Roma's senior teams over the next week!