At this point in our U-23 countdown, most of the focus has been on the meat and potatoes: a goalkeeper, a pair of holding midfielders, and a couple of center-backs at opposite ends of the U-23 curve. From Mile Svilar to Dimitrios Keramitsis to Giacomo Faticanti, Roma has no shortage of intriguing talents coming down the pike. But this next kid, though an enigma to fans of Italian football, could be an absolute game-changer.
A tall, lean, left-footed playmaker, Julen Jon Guerrero has the goods. And while he was relatively unknown on the peninsula, as the son of Atheltic Bilbao legend Julen Guerrero, the younger Guerrero has been under the spotlight since day one. And much like Cristian Totti, Guerrero has decided to blaze his own trail away from his father's sphere of influence.
With most of his experience at the U-18 and U-19 levels, Guerrero is still a bit of a mystery, but let's take a closer look at a player who could usurp all his U-23 peers in no time at all.
Number Three: Julen Jon Guerrero
Shades of: Javier Pastore, Kaka, Paulo Dybala, and, of course, his dad
Who is He?
A Bilbao native, Guerrero began his path to Rome in Malaga before signing with Real Madrid in 2017. After a steady climb through the youth ladder, Guerrero exploded in 2020-2021, scoring in eight consecutive matches for the club's Juvenil B side, eventually scoring 11 goals in 11 matches... as a 16-year-old midfielder. Thanks in part to that scoring binge, Guerrero was included in The Guardian's “Next Generation 2021: 60 of the best young talents in world football.”
Despite those plaudits, Guerrero decided to leave Real Madrid and Spain altogether, signing with Roma last month on a rather unique deal: a one-year loan with a free option to make the deal permanent, with Madrid retaining a 50% sell-on clause. This is about as close to the old co-ownership paradigms as we're likely to see nowadays. Roma gets to develop Guerrero essentially for free, and if he ever becomes good enough to sell, they split the profits with Madrid. It's a win-win.
What Can He Do?
Tall, lean, left-footed, and with a hairdo straight out of NYC circa 2001, Guerrero looks like an absolute wrecking ball, possessing a young Javier Pastore's elegant gait, Kaka's close control and balance, and Dybala's wicked left foot. He'll likely experience growing pains as he works his way through the Primavera ranks, but he is arguably already the most promising attacking prospect in the entire system. He can operate as a number ten, out wide like Dybala, or even slightly deeper in midfield, freeing him to crash the box.
And at only 19, he likely still has room to grow, literally and figuratively.
This begs the question...
What Can He Become?
The comparison to Cristian Totti was more of a narrative device; he's light years ahead of the younger Totti. But much like Francesco's kid, getting away from his comfort zone could be a boon in his development, too, as he was reportedly clashing heads with Raul, the legendary Real Madrid forward and current manager of their reserve team.
If he hits the ground running in the Primavera this year (and even if he doesn't), triggering that free option should be a no-brainer for the Roma brass. But if he takes to Primavera manager Federico Guidi's tutelage and really takes off, he could be the heir apparent to Paulo Dybala. With no other attacking midfielders/trequartistas of note rising through the ranks, Guerrero's path to the Olimpico is relatively clear.
We try to restrain ourselves in this section, but if Guerrero hits all his marks, he could usher in the next great era of Giallorossi football. He has the size, technique, vision, creativity, and je ne sais quoi to be an extraordinary attacking talent. And to top it all off, he's a lefty. If everything goes according to plan, he can be everything that Javier Pastore once promised to be, with a dash of Dybala’s brashness thrown in for good measure.
Pair him with Riccardo Pagano and Giacomo Faticanti and there's your Roma midfield from 2025 to 2035.