Riccardo Calafiori came into Roma’s senior team with high hopes and high expectations. Despite a near-catastrophic knee injury in the fall of 2018, Calafiori continued to rise through the ranks of the Roma youth system, netting his first appearance for the senior squad at the age of 18.
Despite this early jump to Serie A, he struggled to get consistent playing time in Rome, leading to an unsuccessful loan move to Genoa and then a permanent transfer to FC Basel of the Swiss Super League. I’ll admit I was truly excited to see where Calafiori could go with Roma; with goals like this one against BSC Young Boys, you can understand why.
Yet all the promise in the world didn’t translate to Serie A performance, and in my mind, Calafiori’s move to Switzerland was probably going to be the last time I ever thought about the Roman-born fullback. Riccardo looks to have proven me wrong with that assessment, as it now appears that after one season with Basel, AC Milan are now planning on making a move for the 21-year-old:
#Calciomercato I @acmilan, in lizza per l'esterno c'è anche Riccardo #Calafiori. Intanto la richiesta del @valenciacf per #Musah continua a essere alta, ma i rossoneri non hanno fretta: https://t.co/dZMEusbp5t pic.twitter.com/lxfZOX74HD— Gianluca Di Marzio (@DiMarzio) July 21, 2023
Granted, at the moment, Milan sees Calafiori as a potential back-up to French international Theo Hernandez, but this move would be a big upgrade in club and prestige for Calafiori. With that move would come a nice bonus for Roma; reports say that when Calafiori left for Basel, Tiago Pinto negotiated a 40% sell-on clause alongside the relatively small €1.5 million transfer fee. That means that if we take transfermarkt’s valuation of Calafiori (€4.5 million) as gospel, Roma can net at least an additional €1.8 million if Milan does sign the former academy product.
That €1.8 million might not seem like a lot given the astronomical fees even average footballers command these days, but for a club like Roma that is constantly fighting to stay on the good side of Financial Fair Play, every little bit helps. Beyond the immediate benefits of that influx of cash, I’d argue that this kind of deal should be the template for Roma’s selling of academy players going forward.
Until Italian football changes its rules around allowing Primavera clubs to participate in the regular football pyramid, Roma’s excellent youth academy will always be churning out players who are good but not good enough to immediately demand the senior squad minutes necessary to continue developing while staying at the Stadio Olimpico. Even Lorenzo Pellegrini, the poster boy for Roma academy players who found success in Rome, went away to Sassuolo to rack up top-flight minutes before returning home and becoming captain.
For players like Riccardo Calafiori, Cristian Volpato, and Davide Frattesi, the only way to become the best player they can be is to find a smaller club that will offer them consistent starts. Since dry loans are passé and co-ownerships are a thing of the past, selling a player with a hefty sell-on clause is Roma’s best way to give young players the chance to develop while effectively keeping them as an option for the senior team in the future. And in the case of players like Calafiori or Frattesi, even if they don’t come back to Rome, they can net the club more profit down the line.
If this deal comes to fruition, it will be odd to see Calafiori in a Milan kit. Still, I hope it does come to pass, not just for the sake of Roma’s bottom line but for the 21-year-old fullback who has clawed his way back from severe injuries and lack of opportunity to once again grab the interest of some of the biggest clubs in Europe.