The Giallorossi have one of the best youth academies in Italy, not to mention the continent, so it’s never surprising when a new player breaks through into the Primavera side while also impressing with the Italian National Team. The biggest question in these situations is usually not if the player has the ability to succeed at the top-flight level eventually: it’s if the player will receive that chance to succeed in Rome or if he will have to go to a smaller club with less pressure to turn into the finished article.
Roma’s certainly been burned before by letting a promising talent go; this summer’s failed attempts to bring Gianluca Scamacca and Davide Frattesi back into the fold are prime examples of Roma academy graduates turning into stars once they’re given the playing time they need, and they’re prime examples of Roma being unable to afford those same players after they’ve been cut loose by the club.
In the “good old days,” co-ownership was a way around this; Roma could sell half the rights to a player to a smaller club, allowing for the player to develop away from the spotlights of Rome while also guaranteeing that the Giallorossi had the right of first refusal if the player turned into a stud.
Those days are gone, though, with the closest thing Tiago Pinto can do to a co-ownership deal being a sale with a sell-on clause. I’m hopeful that Pinto and the Giallorossi are smarter about this round of Primavera graduates than the Pallotta Era Roma was about the likes of Scamacca and Frattesi; if they are, they may find that they have low-cost options with starter-level potential already in-house. If things go right for him this season, who knows? Maybe Niccolò Pisilli will be one of those options.
Number Eight: Niccolò Pisilli
Shades of: Davide Frattesi, Radja Nainggolan, Pre-ACL tear Gini Wijnaldum
Who Is He?
A Roman-born academy graduate, Niccolò Pisilli joined the Giallorossi at age eight from Helios, making his way through the youth team system and becoming a consistent player for the Primavera side in the 2022/2023 season. That first season at the Primavera level was a doozy for Pisilli, as he scored 12 goals and assisted seven in 34 appearances. This garnered him a contract extension until 2026 from Tiago Pinto and a first taste of senior-level football, with José Mourinho giving the midfielder his first appearance for the senior team on May 6, 2023.
Pisilli’s star has only continued to rise this summer, as he was a part of a very successful Italy youth setup twice. First, Pisilli was called up by Attilio Lombardo for the FIFA U-20 World Cup, helping the Azzurrini reach the final; then Pisilli was also called up by Alberto Bollini for the U-19 Euros, where the Italian side won the entire competition. Rumors suggest that he will be a part of Roma’s midfield rotation this season alongside fellow Primavera graduate Riccardo Pagano.
What Can He Do?
At this stage in his career, Pisilli presents as a complete midfielder; his goal and assist tallies at the Primavera level show that he has what it takes to find the net regularly, but that doesn’t mean that he slacks off on the defensive side of the ball. This ability to star offensively and defensively comes in part due to his strength on the ball and high levels of footballing IQ, suggesting that he will be ready for top-flight football sooner rather than later.
What Can He Become?
The biggest thing that Pisilli needs at this stage of his career is time on the pitch, plain and simple. His time with the Primavera side last season made it clear that the 5’11 midfielder is ready for the jump to the big time, and although it certainly won’t hurt for him to get additional playing time at the Primavera level, becoming a regular piece of Roma’s midfield rotation could do wonders to help him kick his career off right.
Of course, the problem for every Primavera graduate with potential is that being too good for the Primavera is not the same as becoming a starter for the senior side. With the signings of Leandro Paredes and Renato Sanches all but confirmed, it will be a challenge for Pisilli to break through and get consistent minutes with the senior squad.
Of course, injuries will happen over the course of the season, and that alone will likely give Pisilli a more serious chance at translating his U-19 level dominance to senior squad appearances. Best case scenario, Pisilli completes his development and becomes a Davide Frattesi-level player, all the while staying in Roma’s orbit. Worst case for Roma? Beyond him not panning out at all, a rehash of the Davide Frattesi to Inter story would sting. Let’s hope the Giallorossi can avoid that by finding time for Pisilli in Coppa Italia and Europa League appearances as soon as possible.