Is it possible to have a silent but meteoric rise to the top? If so, it’d be fair to argue that Nicola Zalewski has had exactly that in the universe of European football. Since José Mourinho became Roma’s manager in 2021, Zalewski has become a consistent figure in the Giallorossi’s starting eleven and joined the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Wojciech Szczęsny in Poland’s World Cup squad this winter.
The hype was there even before Zalewski’s trip to Qatar, as you can see from what I had to say about Zalewski during the annual Chiesa di Totti Youth Countdown:
There are many paths Zalewski can take over the next couple seasons, and all of them are exciting. If he continues to play as a left-wing-back with strong attacking ability, there’s no doubt that he can be just as impactful as Leonardo Spinazzola has been for club and country. If he’s allowed to pursue a more attacking role, either behind the striker or as a left winger if Mourinho tweaks his tactics, he’s also shown a tendency to bang in goals and take excellent free kicks, so that could certainly become a part of his game at the senior level as well.
I’ll admit that I do have quibbles about some of the ways Zalewski has been used since he graduated from Roma’s Primavera squad. He’s been shifted from left-wing-back to right-wing-back a decent amount over the past several months, which is a surefire way to give me traumatic flashbacks to the way Alessandro Florenzi was misused throughout his career in Rome.
While I hope that can be resolved sooner rather than later, more than anything else, Zalewski has shown a determination to prove he belongs as a key player in Roma’s side, and it’s hard to ask for much more from a 21-year-old talent. As we head into springtime in Rome, there’s no doubt that Zalewski has proven himself to be the most exciting U-23 prospect in Giallorossi colors.
With that title comes transfer rumors, contract extension discussions, and more. The latest news coming out of this international break is twofold: first, the rich clubs of Europe are beginning to sniff around Nicola Zalewski, and second, Tiago Pinto and company are determined to hand Zalewski a hefty pay increase to keep him at the Stadio Olimpico. At the moment, Gazzetta Dello Sport has listed Borussia Dortmund, Leicester City, and Fulham as the clubs after Zalewski’s services, but you have to imagine that if Zalewski continues to impress under Mourinho, that list will continue to grow and become even glitzier.
As for a potential renewal for Zalewski, Gazzetta also shares that the Polish youth will be having discussions with the Giallorossi concerning a renewal “in the next few months,” presumably to give him a hefty pay raise from his Primavera grad standard €500,000/year contract.
I’m sure that the tone of this article has already given away my stance on a renewal for Zalewski, but just to make my point crystal clear: it would be financial malpractice for Roma not to renew Zalewski at this time. Even if he intends to leave for greener pastures, Roma needs to have as much leverage as possible when a club like Borussia Dortmund comes calling. I’m going to be scarred for quite some time by the cut-rate sale of Nicolò Zaniolo to Galatasaray; in the future, Tiago Pinto better make sure that Roma’s prospects are locked up for long enough that it’ll take a king’s ransom to pry them away.
For Roma to succeed in an era of Financial Fair Play, the club needs to find gems like Zalewski, nurture them, and make them key parts of the senior squad. The Giallorossi can’t make a squad full of Monstars like Manchester City; if they want to have even one-tenth of the success of that club, the Zalewskis need to be protected. Zalewski non si tocca.