Even if he's just 20-years-old, Riccardo Calafiori has had quite the Roma journey so far. His name first became known when he (like so many other Giallorossi players before him) ruptured his ACL in the fall of 2018. The injury was so devastating that many feared it could end the career of one of Roma's most promising talents at just 16-years-old.
However, the young Roman recovered and regained his place among the Giallorossi's most promising prospects. This is his third consecutive appearance in our U23 countdown (#8 in 2020 and #10 in 2021) as he tries to bounce back from a disappointing 2021-22 campaign and prove why he's been so highly regarded throughout his young career. His jump to #7 in this season's rankings owes more to those ranked above him floundering than the Roman flourishing over the last 12 months.
Number Seven: Riccardo Calafiori
Shades Of: Theo Hernandez with Kolarov's physical presence
Who is He?
If you've been with us for the last couple of seasons, you probably already know all about Calafiori. He made his senior side debut under Paulo Fonseca during the 2019-20 season at just 17-years-old and was integrated into the first team full time during the 2020-21 season. He played limited minutes behind Leonardo Spinazzola (not uncommon for an 18-year-old) in an injury-riddled campaign (22 matches missed). However, he showed some flashes of his skill set, especially in the Europa League, where he made three starts—highlighted by his wonder strike against Young Boys.
With Spinazzola out injured and Matías Viña recently arriving from Palmeiras, last season should've been his breakout campaign. But, as we can all attest, the best-laid plans don't always play out, and Calafiori again saw his playing time limited in the first two months under Mourinho before a muscular issue saw him miss all of November. With Spinazzola on the mend, Roma decided to loan out Calafiori for the second half of the season.
Genoa looked like a good place for Calafiori to cut his teeth, but a coaching change shortly after his arrival didn't play in the youngster's favor. Calafiori saw his minutes limited as the Grifoni fought unsuccessfully to stave off relegation under Alexander Blessin. Calafiori played a total of just 82 minutes under the German tactician, making his loan spell a complete and utter bust.
What Can He Do?
I won't reinvent the wheel here because he played so little last season. The following is what I wrote about Calafiori during last season's rankings:
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 his wonder goal against Young Boys.
However, 2021 wasn't kind to Calafiori as he missed three separate stretches with a quad injury, costing him 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 before 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?
As you can see, before the last two underwhelming campaigns, it looked like the sky was the limit for the teenage Calafiori, who attracted the interest of many big clubs. He looked like the natural heir to Spinazzola at left back and possessed the potential to be the next Roman to establish himself as a regular in Roma's first team. Those predestinato assessments now feel so long ago that it's easy to forget that Ricky is still 20-years-old.
This season will likely be crucial in Calafiori's development and could determine his future in the capital. With Spinazzola back to full fitness, he's the undisputed starter on the left, and with Mourinho looking like he's going to stick with three in the back, Nicola Zalewski looks like he'll get the rest of the minutes at LWB. That means that Calafiori and possibly Vina will move elsewhere this summer. For Calafiori, that likely means a loan move.
The young Roman was linked with Lecce in June but hasn't left Trigoria yet. Wherever he ends up, it's vital that Calafiori lands with a Serie A team where he'll be able to get regular minutes. Calafiori needs the playing time to gain experience and hone his craft for a side with slightly less to play for than Roma. Ideally, that would be a team just above the relegation zone, but wherever it is, Calafiori will have to stay healthy and display the talent that had many so high on him a couple of seasons ago.
If he can do that, perhaps he can move back to the capital next season as the vice-Spinazzola, especially if Mourinho eventually moves to a back four and Zalewski plays higher up the pitch. Calafiori isn't an old product in Rome just yet, but the clock is certainly ticking on him to convince Pinto and Mourinho that his future lies in Rome and not at a smaller club like many Primavera stars before him.