On August 27, 2014, Mattia Destro took the top honors in our first-ever U-23 countdown. While Mr. Right didn't have the Filippo Inzaghi-like career we imagined, with 91 goals in 304 Serie A appearances (and counting), Destro has had a fine career. From Destro to Cengiz Ünder to Stephan El Shaarawy to Gerson to Nicolo Zaniolo, our top picks always had potential, even if they were a little short on results.
Like any young player, their paths to glory were waylaid (if not diverted completely) by a litany of muscle sprains, aches, torn ligaments, and the crushing weight of expectations, to say nothing of the parade of managers that never quite figured out how to maximize their potential.
Take Zaniolo, for example. The Kid won our countdown four years running, but thanks to successive ACL tears, off-the-pitch drama, and four different managers having slightly different visions for him, Zaniolo's immense potential went unfulfilled in Rome, leading to his unceremonious exit last winter.
While all those caveats apply to this year's top U-23 player, Edoardo Bove just feels different. Maybe it's because he doesn't play a glamorous position, maybe it's the way he goes about his business, or perhaps it's just because he's Roman, but something about Bove makes you believe he'll make it. That even if he doesn't become a world-class player, he'll still leave Roma in better shape than he found it.
So, without further delay, let's shine a light on Edoardo Bove, this year's top U-23 player.
Number One: Edoardo Bove
Shades of: Daniele De Rossi, gentler Gennaro Gattuso, slightly more restrained Roy Keane
Who is He?
Born in Roma, Bove grew up in the Appio-Latino district just south of the Colosseum. Bove began his journey to the Olimpico with Boreale Don Orione before being spotted by Bruno Conti. After passing his first trial (most players need three attempts), Bove was officially signed to the youth academy in 2012 at ten years old.
After progressing through the youth ranks, Bove got called up to the senior team for the first time in December 2020; a Europa League match against Young Boys. While he didn't see the pitch that particular evening, Bove's official debut came several months later against Crotone in May 2021.
Since then, Bove's role and importance have steadily increased under José Mourinho's watchful eye, making 33 appearances in all competitions last season.
What Can He Do?
While his overall game is still a bit rough around the edges, there is one area in which Bove already excels: defending. Among Serie A midfielders last season, Bove ranked in the 90th percentile or higher in tackles attempted, tackles won, tackles in the middle third, tackles in the attacking third, dribbles tackled, dribbles challenged, and tackles plus interceptions, according to Football Reference.
Throw in his 7.26 ball recoveries per 90 minutes (which ranks in the 82nd percentile among Serie A midfielders), and Bove's playing profile becomes clear: he's a wrecking ball, a torpedo, a log-splitter, a bundle of dynamite. Choose whatever destructive metaphor you prefer. They're all apt; this kid is a disruptor.
He's filling his role beautifully at his age, but how high is his ceiling?
What Can He Become?
My predecessor and the founder of the Chiesa di Totti once famously described a young Daniele De Rossi as "Gattuso in Armani." Much like Bove, DDR started off as a bundle of energy, but as he matured, his game became more nuanced. The bone-rattling tackles didn't disappear, but instead of relying solely on brute force, De Rossi refined his game, honing his passing and playmaking, taking crisper routes to the ball, gradually becoming one of the most complete midfielders of his generation.
Time will ultimately tell if Bove can undergo a similar metamorphosis, but he's off to a good start, proving beyond a shadow of the doubt that he belongs in the big leagues. The biggest question is now, how fast will he mature? Can he expand his game and become a more complete player?
If he can, Roma fans will have plenty of reason to smile over the next decade.