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Getting to Know Nicolo Zaniolo

Controversy and dollar amounts aside, Zaniolo may be the real prize in the Nainggolan deal.

Italy U19 v Finland U19 - International Friendly Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

As they seemingly do every summer, Roma have set adrift one of the pillars of their team, only this time the reasons aren’t quite as lucid as the looming FFP sanctions from previous years. Radja Nainggolan was never a model citizen, but he wormed his way into the hearts and minds of Roma fans like few players before him. From his wide array of hairstyles to his picture perfect hook-tackles to his thunderous right foot, Nainggolan embodied so much of what we love about Roma. And now he’s gone, sold to Inter Milan for the paltry sum of €24 million, the remains of Davide Santon and Inter youth product Nicolo Zaniolo.

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like much, even for a 30-year-old midfielder, but if we take Monchi at his word, then this haul meets Roma’s €40ish million valuation of Radja Nainggolan, and since Santon represents only a fraction of that, we can only presume they see a lot of value in Zaniolo, Inter’s 18-year-old midfield sensation.

But who exactly is this kid?

Zaniolo, who will soon turn 19-years-old, stands 6’3’’ in the air and originally came up through the Fiorentina and Virtus Entella ranks before being sold to Inter Milan last summer for €1.8 million, a figure that was likely to double once certain bonuses were met, and based on his performance with Inter’s Primavera team last year, it’s a safe bet they had to fork over that additional €1.7 million.

In 35 total appearances last season (all comps), Zaniolo was a dynamic threat, posting 14 goals and 11 assists and was instrumental in Inter’s drive to the Primavera and Supercoppa titles. Inter Primavera boss Stefano Vecchi was quick to praise Zaniolo following his match winning goal against Juventus in the semi-finals,:

Zaniolo? He’s strong, physical and has important quality. He’s not always been able to bring out the potential he has. He must improve, but he’ll become a phenomenal player if he does.

For an 18-year-old kid in arguably the most demanding attacking position, that’s high praise, though you’ll note how Vecchi was cautious with his words when referring to Zaniolo actually tapping that potential, which should really be applied to all prospects. However, based on pure numbers alone, not to mention his physical stature, he has the makings of another (ironically) Javier Pastore—a tall, technically gifted creative midfielder.

Even in today’s inflated market place, selling a 30-year-old Nainggolan for only €24 million should be considered cut rate, especially when you consider he’s going to a direct rival, the very team against whom you were competing for those last two Champions League places.

So, considering all of that, we’re only left to infer that Monchi believes Zaniolo will one day fulfill that enormous potential and be worth more than the €15 million or so by which they’re short selling Nainggolan.

He certainly looks the part and he’s entering an ideal situation, one in which he won’t have the immediate pressure (or even expectation) to produce for at least another two to three years. Throwing Zaniolo into a pile with Ante Coric, Bryan Cristante and Lorenzo Pellegrini should give the Roma of the 2020s ample options in attack, and the new kid may very well be the best of that lot before all is said and done.

Make no mistake, however. This is a massive gamble, one that could make or break Monchi before all is said and done, but if one must play the prospect game, Zaniolo may be the safest bet out there.