Roma can't yet compete with the likes of Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Barcelona for space in the world's headlines, but every so often they do something so shocking or so unbelievable that they become the darlings of the 24 hour news cycle. We saw it last season after their stirring comeback against Barcelona in the Champions League, which was as epic as it was unexpected, and we saw it when they dared to employ Simone Loria (I kid, I kid) but after yesterday's first leg against Porto, the world has once again temporarily embraced Roma.
Front and center in that rousing 2-1 victory over the reigning Portuguese champions was Nicolo Zaniolo, Roma's 19-year-old star in the making. After slotting home two goals in the span of six minutes, and receiving some of the most thundering applause and chants we've seen since the days of Francesco Totti, Zaniolo was the topic du jour for the past 24 hours, clogging up social media feeds from Copenhagen to Christchurch.
We certainly weren't too cool for this school either:
I hate to say it, but I think Tottis #10 might be coming off the shelf soon— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) February 12, 2019
We're obviously miles away from that decision, but if nothing else, Zaniolo has made it a topic of conversation, and that’s not something I imagined happening for at least six or seven years—but he's been that good and that transformative at all of 19-years-old, already equaling feats achieved by Roma's legendary number ten when he was star on the rise.
However, as amazing as he might be, Zaniolo is merely one of many adolescents and young millennials eager to make their mark on the Eternal City, a topic club president James Pallotta broached with the media today.
Speaking on the club's broader approach with youth, Uncle Jimmy focused on the club's creative, nurturing and increasingly attractive environment:
We don’t feel like we need to sell these young players. About three years ago we made a concerted effort; Rome should be an attractive place for young players to come and play. We didn’t have a great process that we inherited when we took over the team, and maybe in the first few years we had other priorities too. But if you look at our youth teams right now, from Under-19 to the 10-year-olds, when you look at the aggregate points we are on the top of all of Italy. So we feel like we have some tremendously good young talent that is going to be coming up.
Now, I know what you're thinking, I'm not going to do what everyone thinks I'm going to do. I'm not going to flip out, man. I'm not going to unleash another diatribe on Pallotta's double talk when it comes to selling young players; I'm past that, I really am—it is what it is and there's no point fighting city hall—Although I'm trying hard to fight the urge at the moment.
But I do have to agree with him in one regard; the club's ability to attract youth over the past several years has been astounding. Sales or no sales, Roma has recruited and developed the likes of Erik Lamela, Marquinhos, Alessio Romagnoli, Cengiz Únder, Alisson and now Zaniolo and the Pellegrini boys, among others. Unearthing those gems, and landing highly touted players like Justin Kluivert and even Kevin Strootman back in the day, is testament to Roma being a sought after locale for up and comers.
On Zaniolo specifically, Pallotta was quick to praise his maturity:
All these other kids, like Nicolo and Pellegrini, they are very, very intelligent and thoughtful and mature beyond their ages - like it would surprise you. You are talking about people like Lorenzo, that are clearly in my mind going to be future leaders at Roma.
Again, this is really, really hard for me to bite my digital tongue here, but you can't discuss Roma prospects without addressing the 800 lb. gorilla in the room; their penchant to sell to the highest bidder as soon as possible.
But, if you've been with us for any measure of time, you know that Roma (supposedly) has a solution to all of that: the Stadio della Roma.
The stadium is owned by AS Roma holding company, which some people don’t realise, they think it is my boy toy. It is owned by the team, so what happens with the stadium is that all revenues, the incremental revenues that we’re getting, it will only make us have - hopefully - more financial strength to have more flexibility.
The stadium is key. It is just 100% key. If Roma is going to compete as a top-five or six team in the world consistently, then it has to have that stadium. It just has to. It’s a matter of economics. When Real Madrid and Barcelona are knocking on the door of billion-dollar revenue numbers, or passing that, then there is no other way to do it. You can try to be as smart as you can in player acquisitions, and that can work for a while - but [to do it with] consistency is going to need some of those finances – it’s just a fact of life.
I hope he’s correct. I'd love nothing more than for Roma to become a true heavyweight, and finally breaking ground on the House that Totti Built will go a long way towards deciphering whether or not Pallotta's repeated prophecy is true.
If it is, then Zaniolo may very well be exalted in the same fashion as Totti or De Rossi someday. If not, well, you may want to avoid the headlines for the next 15 years.