As we saw last season, you can never have enough midfielders. When the injury bug hits Trigoria, it hits hard. And before you know it, relative unknowns from the Primavera side are getting important minutes in the center of the park for the Giallorossi. It happened two seasons ago with Edoardo Bove and again this past season with Benjamin Tahirovic.
This summer, Tiago Pinto has reinforced the midfield to be two deep at each position, given that there’s now a six-man rotation of incumbents Lorenzo Pellegrini, Bryan Cristante, and Bove to go along with new signings Houssem Aouar, Renato Sanches, and Leandro Paredes. However, that doesn’t mean injuries, suspensions, and fatigue won’t accumulate to the point that Roma needs more cover than that over the course of a long season.
So, it’s a good thing some of Roma’s best under-23 prospects are natural midfielders. And few may have a brighter future than our number four ranked player: Riccardo Pagano. Pagano is now a full-fledged member of the senior squad, so let’s get to know the kid who could be the 2023-2024 version of Bove and Tahirovic.
Number Four: Riccardo Pagano
Shades of: Lorenzo Pellegrini, Dominik Szoboszlai
Who Is He?
Pagano is an 18-year-old midfielder who hails from Tivoli, just outside of Rome. He’s been a part of the Roma academy since he was 10 years old after arriving from scuola calcio Villanova di Guidonia. He was even the captain of a title-winning U-15 side.
During the 2020-2021 season, when he played for the U-18s, Pagano got his first taste of the Primavera level, making five appearances. Pagana would make the jump to full-time Primavera status the following season, scoring two goals and adding four assists. However, last season Pagano really started turning heads as he scored 15 goals and provided 8 assists in 34 matches for the Primavera side.
Those kinds of numbers make Romanisti optimistic about a player who grew up idolizing Francesco Totti and is now represented by the Roma legend. Pagano’s performances haven’t gone unnoticed by Roma’s brass either, as Jose Mourinho has integrated him into the first team full-time for the upcoming 2023-2024 season. And he’s also been signed to a contract extension until 2026 by the club, which gives a sense of how much he’s valued by Roma.
What Can He Do?
Like his idol, Pagano is a true trequartista. As highlighted by his goal and assist numbers with the Primavera last season, he can both score and set up goals for others. Pagano is a natural right-footed player but is also adept at using his left. One of his biggest assets is his shooting accuracy, which is also a strength on set pieces. Pagano has good footwork and the ability to take players on one-on-one, where his pace always keeps opposing defenders at bay.
From a tactical standpoint, Pagano can play all around the midfield. Trequartista is his most natural position, but he’s also played mezz’ala and wide in the attack, where his penchant for making late runs and nose for goal bear fruit.
What Can He Become?
From the looks of it, Pagano can become a regular starting-caliber midfielder for Roma in the not-too-distant future. His ability to score and assist from the center of the park is something that could make him a real asset. And there’s even been suggestions he could play as a second striker due to this combination of skills, depending on the system in which he's deployed.
In the near term, Pagano will be slowly worked into the first team, taking part in training every week and getting enough minutes to wet his feet. However, over the next couple of seasons, he could emerge as a vice-Pellegrini before carving out a regular role in the starting rotation. Either way, Pagano is one to keep an eye on as the Giallorossi continue to build a core of Primavera grads to follow the likes of Pellegrini, Bove, and Zalewski.