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Marcos Leonardo Emerges as Roma’s New Target at Striker

Santos striker Marcos Leonardo has emerged as the favorite in the post-Scamacca world. What the Brazilian wonderkid lacks in experience, he makes up for in potential.

Santos v Botafogo - Brasileirao 2023 Photo by Ricardo Moreira/Getty Images

If you’ve been paying any attention to Roma’s summer mercato so far, you know that one month in, the Giallorossi have made many intriguing free-agent signings... and not much else. I’m still excited to see what Houssem Aouar, Evan Ndicka, Rasmus Kristensen, and even Julen Jon Guerrero can provide for the Giallorossi this season and beyond, but despite those signings, there is still a gaping hole at striker in Jose Mourinho’s starting eleven.

That hole is noticeable enough that today, Mourinho and Gianluca Mancini posed with an “invisible man” ... Roma’s striker of the future. That is, to put it simply, not great, Bob!

Writing up all of these rumors about major signings only for the price tag to end up ruining the fun has made me feel pretty beleaguered over the past few weeks. Davide Frattesi is off to Inter; Gianluca Scamacca looks to be following in his footsteps despite the backlog at striker the Nerazzurri currently face. With the homegrown options looking elsewhere, it appears that Tiago Pinto is now looking across the Atlantic for Roma’s next striker, as Gianluca Di Marzio is reporting that the Giallorossi is in serious conversations with Marcos Leonardo of Santos:

Marcos Leonardo Santos Almeida has been touted as one of the most exciting South American prospects in football over the past few years, and it doesn’t take too much time staring at a highlight reel to understand why. He’s been Santos’ starting striker for the last two seasons and has racked up 28 goals in 81 Brazilian Serie A appearances since he graduated from Santos’ youth academy. Those goals are often a result of the Brazilian wonderkid’s ability to combine a poacher’s nose with on-the-ball skill — a combined skillset that one could argue Roma has been looking for for quite some time in a striker.

While he’s certainly on the shorter side as a striker at 5’9”, that hasn’t stopped Marcos Leonardo from becoming a key part of Santos’ build-up play, and at least in the Brazilian league, he’s showcased enough strength on the ball to typically avoid being bullied off his attacking plans by larger defenders. Add in the passing and off-the-ball skill he’s shown in bits and pieces for Santos and it’s clear that Marcos Leonardo has the promise to become a major player in European football.

The promise to become is the key phrase here, however. While there’s no doubt that Marcos Leonardo is an intriguing prospect and would unquestionably become Roma’s most intriguing U-23 player since Nicolò Zaniolo, the fact of the matter is that at age 20, it may be asking too much of the Brazilian to become Roma’s focal point in attack from the moment he touches down in Rome.

With Tammy Abraham out until the spring and Andrea Belotti looking like a shell of himself, does Tiago Pinto really think it’s the wisest idea to entrust the keys to Roma’s offense to a 20-year-old? Is that the kind of decision a club makes if it’s trying to hold on to the likes of Paulo Dybala and José Mourinho?

There are rumors suggesting that Marcos Leonardo wouldn’t be Roma’s only signing at striker, with some suggesting that Marko Arnautović might be brought in from Bologna as a veteran counterbalance to the wonderkid. In my mind, that would be the best-case scenario for all involved, but even if Roma isn’t able to secure Arnautović to allow for Leonardo to have some growing pains, I’m on board with Tiago Pinto bringing in the Brazilian.

He may be a Plan C right now for the Giallorossi, but he has the potential to be a Plan A very, very soon (or at the very least help Roma balance the books if and when a club like Real Madrid or Barcelona comes knocking).

While Roma has agreed to terms with Leonardo, this past month has taught all Romanisti once again that all of that is meaningless until the player lands at Fiumicino. Time may be on Roma’s side here, as the Brazilian transfer window comes to a close tomorrow evening; if this move becomes reality sooner rather than later, we’ll have even more to say on Marcos Leonardo and if he can truly fit into the space between José Mourinho and Stefano Rapetti.