We’re getting into the highest part of our youth rankings now, and with that comes the transition from profiling interesting prospects to telling you about players who have already made a big impact with the senior side despite their young age. Gonzalo Villar is such a player; there were times last season where he looked as if he might cause Lorenzo Pellegrini to break a sweat about his permanent spot in the starting lineup, or at the very least provide him with a more attacking-minded long-term partner than Jordan Veretout.
Although this will be Villar’s last year in the countdown, make no mistake: Gonzalo will be just as exciting a prospect a year from now as he is today. The larger questions are if he’ll be playing with Roma and if José Mourinho’s tactics will help him continue his meteoric path to influence with club and country.
Number Three: Gonzalo Villar
Future Comparison: Andrés Iniesta
Who Is He?
Villar came through the Elche CF youth system as a child, graduating from the academy into the B team by the age of sixteen. While there, he caught the attention of Spanish giants Valencia, who signed him in 2015 for their youth team; while this move didn’t catapult Villar to superstardom, it did divvy up the rights to his contract between the two clubs. Fast forward to 2018 and Villar returns to Elche, becoming a consistent part of the second-tier side and in doing so attracting the attention of Roma’s fiery former Director of Sport, Gianluca Petrachi.
Petrachi signed Villar for the Giallorossi for €4 million in January of 2020, and although the start of the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the world of football, it couldn’t stop Villar’s development into one of Paulo Fonseca’s most important midfielders.
What Can He Do?
Simply put, Villar is a possession-oriented manager’s dream (or at least he has been to date). This past season in Serie A, he was practically unmatched in his ability to carry the ball forward and maintain possession as an attacking-oriented player. Although he nominally played as a regista in Fonseca’s Roma, he is a total footballer who can fill a variety of midfield roles with ease: trequartista, mediano, mezzala, or regista.
While Villar certainly showed promise in the second half of the 2019-2020 season, it was in the past season where Villar cemented himself as an important player in the Giallorossi squad. He was one of the best dribblers in Europe this past season, at one point being the best dribbler in Serie A period. His versatility as a player was still on display last season, and at times his link-up play outshone everyone else in the midfield.
What Can He Become?
It’s becoming clearer and clearer that what Villar can become under José Mourinho and what he can become more broadly might be two different things. Although Villar certainly isn’t in the doghouse in the way that Amadou Diawara seems to be, the current lack of defensive grit to his game makes it seem like he might be the odd midfielder out in the new Roma rotation. The same ease with possession football that helped him succeed with Paulo Fonseca might make him more of a liability in Mourinho’s tactics, which has led to rumors that the Giallorossi may look to sell the Spaniard to fund the purchase of a midfielder like Marcel Sabitzer.
Villar himself recently squashed transfer rumors linking him to an exit, so although a move away from Rome might not be on the cards right now, you have to wonder if he’ll want to pack his bags when a club like Atletico Madrid comes calling if his star dims a bit after half a season of MourinhoBall.
Despite those caveats about a potential move elsewhere or a lack of tactical fit with Mourinho, it’s still undeniable that Villar oozes talent and has become a fan favorite during his season and a half with Roma. Those are rare attributes even in the highest echelons of football, particularly in a fan base as persnickety as Roma’s. Since he’s still in the early stages of his career, there’s a good chance that Mourinho can work to mold the Spanish international into a player that better fits his tactics; I certainly hope that can happen over the next few months.
Roma’s midfield is looking crowded. The next step in Villar’s career will largely depend on how well he can make himself stand out to his manager over the next few months. Otherwise, expect those silly season rumors linking The Professor to other clubs to become a bit more real.