Just yesterday we discussed the finer points of Monchi's as yet to be described plan to make Roma more Italian. In addition to pleasing the masses, this plan may be Roma's most cost effective option at creating a winner, as young, twenty-something local talent tends to be a tad cheaper than shopping abroad. While we ran through Roma's current stock of Italians, as well as mentioning a few they might still pick up, Tuesday's waning hours may have brought us a new name, Brescia midfielder Sandro Tonali.
Tonali, an 18-year-old midfielder, has drawn rave reviews across Europe, being compared to everyone from Daniele De Rossi to Andrea Pirlo. While he certainly has the hair to match the latter, not to mention Brescia on his C.V. like Pirlo before him, he has miles to go before he approaches that class of play. And one of the most important decisions a kid his age can make is where exactly to hone that talent.
Roma fans needn't look any further than our own roster for the range of developmental possibilities for young Italian midfielders. There is the logical path tread by Lorenzo Pellegrini—spending a few seasons with a mid-table side for seasoning and maturation before returning—then there is the more circuitous and frustrating path Bryan Cristante endured—debuting with a big club, moving abroad and then bouncing between two smaller sides before finally finding a safe landing space. While they both ultimately worked out, Pellegrini's development was more linear and far less frustrating than Cristante's.
We can also look at last week's headlines for further cautionary tales about young Italian midfielders going astray. After coming on the scene with Atalanta, Roberto Gagliardini seemed poised to be the "next big thing”, quickly making a big money move to Inter Milan, only to see his career sputtering at all of 24-years-old—he'll reportedly move on loan to Fiorentina this month.
Thus far, Tonali seems to be taking the steadier path worn by Pellegrini, eschewing transfers to remain with Brescia in Serie B, for whom he has made 18 starts totaling nearly 1,800 minutes this season. Serving largely as deeper-lying playmaker, Tonali has helped steer the Swallows straight into a promotion battle with Palermo and Pescara, boosting his rep in the process.
With the likes of Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Chelsea and Arsenal keeping tabs on him, Tonali's next move could be a make or break decision; go immediately for the glitz and glamour or take a more measured approach in your career development?
While Tonali has admitted a soft spot for Milan, or at least a desire to play for Gennaro Gattuso, SportItalia reported yesterday that Roma have jumped the queue for Tonali's signature, thanks in part to Roma's working relationship with Brescia.
According to Pedulla, Roma are greasing the Brescia-Tonali wheels by pushing Andrea Marcucci, a soon to be 20-year-old midfielder, in the other direction. While Marcucci isn't nearly as heralded as Tonali, he does have two goals in 11 appearances with Roma's Primavera team and has been a mainstay for the Azzurri at the youth levels, and will be seen as a down payment of sorts for the €28 million rated Tonali.
Adding Tonali to the likes of Nicolo Zaniolo, Bryan Cristante and Lorenzo Pellegrini would not only make Roma more Italian, but it would give them four of the Azzurri's brightest young stars in one fell swoop.
So while Tonali could be a linchpin in Monchi's Italian makeover, it is fair to ask if it's the right move for him. Certainly, he stands to garner more playing time with Roma than Juventus, Chelsea or Arsenal, but would there be enough minutes behind Pellegrini, Cristante and Zaniolo, not to mention Daniele De Rossi, Steven Nzonzi and even Ante Coric, to sway him?
Wild idea: Roma goes through with this move, Brescia earns promotion, Tonali spends next season on loan with them. Done and done.
Nothing in life is that simple of course, but Tonali is exactly the sort of player for whom you move mountains; he makes everyone around him better and would give Roma cover at multiple positions and/or roles in the event of future sales.
We'll keep an eye on this one, but bringing Tonali and Atalanta's Gianluca Mancini into the fold would not only make Roma more Italian, it would make them better.