With the season fast approaching, we finally find ourselves near the end of our annual U-23 countdown. And while you may have guessed who rounded out the top-10 by process of elimination at this point, it's with no less fanfare that we introduce the number two entry on our list: Roger Ibañez.
When José Mourinho was appointed manager, many pegged Ibañez to be one of the primary beneficiaries of the move, given their respective dispositions and approaches to the game. And now, with a full year under Mourinho, Roger is primed to make a leap that we so often see in Year Two of The Special One Experience. So, let's take a deep dive and explore how the Brazilian locked up the two-spot for the second consecutive year.
Number Two: Roger Ibañez
Shades Of: Thiago Silva, Antonio Rüdiger
Who is He?
Given Roger's appearance on this list for a few years running, we'll simply turn to the club's profile on the player, this time in the form of a little cheat sheet: (You can also read our snippet from last season's countdown)
Ibanez started his footballing development at Sergipe, a small club in the city of Aracuju. It was there that he came to the attention of scouts for Fluminense.
In 2018 he joined Fluminense's youth academy. With the club in financial difficulty and quick to sell its senior players, Ibanez quickly progressed to the first team - impressing as a central defender.
With Fluminense he would make 21 appearances, 14 of them in the Brazilian top flight.
In January 2019 he was snapped up by Atalanta, who brought him over to Europe. With the Bergamo side he made appearances both in Serie A and in the Champions League - coming on at the end of the win against Shakhtar Donetsk that secured his side's place in the last-16 of the competition.
Ibanez counts compatriot Thiago Silva among his footballing idols.
Ibanez has established himself in the Roma first team - impressing with his versatility, tenacity and athleticism. He has also shown an eye for goal; having already scored in the derby, while a brilliant half-volley against Ajax in Amsterdam helped Roma reach the semi-finals of the 2020-21 Europa League.
What Can He Do?
I think the better question is, what can't he do? Blessed with tremendous athleticism and defensive acumen, Roger can go toe-to-toe with just about any attacker in Serie A—a blessing for Roma, a nightmare for the rest of the league.
Inspired by his compatriot Thiago Silva and playing with the same fearlessness and otherworldly athleticism that we once saw with Antonio Rüdiger, Roger seems to have a penchant for making the type of game-saving tackles that are often equivalent to a goal scored on the other end. Sure, there are errors and lapses in decision-making here and there, but with plenty of room to develop still, you'd wager on him sorting those out.
Speaking of goals, Roger isn't exactly a slouch in that department either. Whether it be half-volleys or bullet-headers, Ibañez has a knack for being in the right place at the right time and getting a decisive goal—look no further than his game-winner in the friendly against Tottenham. And with Paulo Dybala putting balls into the box on set-pieces, we might see Roger's name on the scoresheet more frequently.
What Can He Become?
Given his spot on our countdown, you'd have to imagine the sky is the limit for Roger. It's no secret that he's been on the radar of several top clubs across Europe, and if he continues his current trajectory, I think it's fair to assume he could very well be plying his trade with one of those clubs down the road. But, as Romanisti, we want Roger to stay far beyond what the rumor mill suggests, where he's consistently named as a potential big money sacrificial lamb should there come a day where Roma needs to balance the books.
For now, and for this upcoming season, we'll look for Ibañez to continue his development and cement his spot as one of the mainstays in defense alongside Chris Smalling and Gianluca Mancini. Expectations are sky high this season with new additions in the attack, but for Roma to achieve its objectives, the defense will need to continue producing under Mourinho's watchful eye.
A motivated Roger Ibañez putting in great performances consistently could very well be the X-factor Roma needs to reach even the loftiest of goals.