With nine matches in the books, we're now roughly 25% of the way through the 2020-2021 season in most European leagues. Between the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, the spike in cases as we careen towards winter, the litany of muscle strains brought on by the unusual pre-season, the empty stadiums, and the UEFA Super Spreader League spitting in the face of every epidemiologist in Europe, those nine weeks have felt like an eternity.
But, there's a good reason for that: an awful lot has transpired since football returned in early September. We've seen Roma lose points thanks to a clerical error, take points off Juventus and league leading Milan and then get held in check by CSKA Sofia. We nearly saw Max Allegri take over (well, not nearly), Roma make in roads with New Balance, search for a new stadium location and even add a third shirt sponsor (gross).
While all these events would have likely taken place anyway, 2020's ability to warp time and space, to erase normal checkpoints and signs of progress, has made the past three months seem interminable yet somehow still rushed. This year is completely fucked and I cannot wait to see how historians surmise the past 366 days.
But, as they always do, Roma started off the season desperately trying to find new homes for some redundant pieces. While previous albatrosses like Patrik Schick, Gregoire Defrel and Maxime Gonalons each found new permanent homes, Roma CEO, and then de facto Director of Sport, Guido Fienga still had more than a dozen players in need of temporary places to play.
So, with nearly a quarter of the season gone by, let's take a look at how Roma's loan army is fairing so far.
Club: PSG | Terms: Loan w/option | Contract: June ‘23
We're starting with our dear old Ale simply because...well, because he's the only one actually playing consistently with his foster family. PSG may have been (shockingly) hunting for a bargain for the first time in their post-takeover existences, but they struck gold with Roma's former captain, whose €9 million option to buy looks all but a certainty now.
Florenzi has made 12 appearances in all competitions for PSG, scoring two goals and averaging more than one key pass, cross and shot per game; he also ranks fifth in Ligue 1 in crosses into the penalty area.
Any way you slice it, Florenzi is playing some of the best football of his career and looks increasingly likely to find a permanent home in Paris.
And that's the good news. Optimists may want to avert their gazes now.
Club: Leicester City | Terms: Loan w/option | Contract: June ‘23
For such an electric talent, Ünder struggled to harness all his extraordinary skills into a complete package during his three-year stint in Rome. With a crowded winger rotation and a new formation not exactly hospitable to players like him, Ünder was quickly on the outs in Paulo Fonseca's new Roma.
While the club nearly found a permanent home for him in Leicester, the two sides ultimately settled on a one-year loan with an option to buy; the terms of which were never officially disclosed, though it was rumored to be approximately €24 million.
It's still early days of course, but the early returns point towards an awkward Ünder Roma reunion next summer. While Cengiz has made nine appearances for the Foxes, he's amassed little more than 300 minutes on the pitch (never playing more than 45 minutes in the Premiership in one stretch), though he has chipped in three assists in all competitions, so perhaps that slow burn will soon explode into a full conflagration.
As long as Paulo Fonseca remains on the Roma bench, Ünder's chances of blossoming look pretty bleak, so it's a shame Roma could convince Leicester to take him permanently.
Club: RB Leipzig | Terms: Loan | Contract: June ‘23
Given their collective talent, collective potential and collective struggles, Justin Kluivert and Cengiz Ünder might as well be clones. Kluivert, much like Ünder, never saw his production match his potential and was summarily (albeit a bit surprisingly) dispatched this summer.
Moving to RB Leipzig on a one-year loan with no publicly disclosed option to buy, Kluivert was facing a make or break year in the Bundesliga. And if the first 25% of the season is any indication, he'll likely be right behind Cengiz in the chow line at Trigoria next summer.
Kluivert has seen all of 163 minutes in a Leipzig kit so far and seems set for an equally frustrating spell in the German league. Kluivert is still just 21-years-old, and with more than two dozen domestic matches remaining, he has ample time to prove his worth, but one gets the feeling he'll never see meaningful minutes with Roma again, so let's hope he makes a name for himself in Germany.
He's an entertaining and hardworking player, but perhaps the weight of his surname and his transfer fee were a bit too much too soon for young Kluivert.
Club: Everton | Terms: Loan | Contract: June ‘23
Olsen's Roma career was so disastrous and so quickly removed from the annals of club history that you'd be forgiven if you forgot he was still Roma property. With Pau Lopez and Antonio Mirante ahead of him, for the second consecutive summer, Roma desperately sought a new home for their massive Swedish keeper.
And that last minute adoption came thanks to Carlo Ancelotti and Everton, who snapped up Olsen on October 5th. Since then, Olsen has made one start for Everton—a 2-1 defeat to Newcastle.
With two more years on his deal, expect this dance to continue for the next two transfer windows.
Club: Pescara | Terms: Loan w/option | Contract: June ‘23
The next Great Roman Hope, Alessio Riccardi was caught in an awkward spot this summer. With nothing left to prove at the Primavera level but no real room for playing time with the senior side, Roma absolutely had to nail Riccardi's first-ever senior loan.
And rather than going the lower tier Serie A route, Roma delivered Riccardi to Serie B side Pescara, sending the 19-year-old midfielder on loan with an option to buy, while retaining buyback rights themselves.
With three appearances totaling only 65 minutes, Riccardi has been slow to adjust to life in Abruzzo. Even though he's just 19, this remains a critical season for Riccardi's development. In a perfect world, he'd at least get consistent minutes with the Dolphins, setting up a return to Roma or at least a Serie A loan next season, but so far it's been a nightmare for Riccardi and Roma.
He's too young and far too talented to give up on, but Roma can't abide by such an unproductive loan spell for one of their brightest young talents.
Club: Cosenza | Terms: Loan | Contract: June ‘21
Joining Riccardi in Serie B, 19-year-old right-back Devid Bouah has found life in Italy's minor league no more hospitable than his former Primavera partner. Bouah has played only 22 minutes for Cosenza thus far, who are ironically also known as the wolves.
Bouah has a troubling injury history but is undoubtedly a bright talent, and much like Riccardi, every season he wastes toiling away on someone's bench represents a wasted opportunity for club and player.
Club: Salernitana | Terms: Loan w/option | Contract: June ‘22
There are prospects (players like Riccardi, Tommaso Milanese, Filippo Tripi) who have the world in front of them, post-hype prospects (players like Ünder and Kluivert) who haven't yet fulfilled their enormous promise but have been given a fresh chance, and then there are guys like Antonucci, who never truly figured into his parent club's plans but nevertheless has been groomed and loaned out in the hope that he eventually becomes a useful piece of some sort.
After making his official Roma debut at 18-years-old during the 2017-2018 season, Antonucci has served stints in Serie B (Pescara), the Portuguese top flight (Vitoria Setubal), Roma's bench, the Primavera, and now back to Serie B with Salernitana, for whom he's lighting it up, scoring goals and providing assists on the reg.
Oh, he's only played 17 minutes across two matches thus far.
But at least he's doing better than goalkeeper Daniel Fuzato, who hasn't been able to turn his spot appearance against Juventus last summer into anything meaningful with Portuguese club Gil Vicente, for whom he has yet to make an appearance.
Roma also has a host of minor players playing with clubs all over Europe, but the names listed above are the only ones of any real consequence to the club's immediate plans.
The odds of becoming a regular rotation player in one of Europe's major leagues are infinitesimal. Out of, what, eight billion people on the planet, how many are lacing up their boots each and every week? Several hundred? A few thousand? Ten thousand?
Whatever the answer is, tracking Roma's loanees each year is a firm reminder of how ridiculously talented you have to be to just be given a jersey each year. So, while we can be disappointed, frustrated, or even angry at how Roma handle's the development of their young players, chances are the Giallorossi are fairing no better or worse than their colleagues.
But, since we live and die with the Giallorossi—a club that can't buy whoever they want, whenever they want—we invest a lot of emotional energy in these kid's development. And if the first quarter of this latest rotation of loans is any indication, we may be left disappointed for another year.
However, with three-quarters of the year left, there is ample time for the likes of Riccardi, Bouah and Fuzato to carve out a role with their new clubs. And with Roma posting massive, massive debts lately, they'll need to scrimp and save wherever they can—any one of these kids coming good will provide immense benefits to Roma's bottom line.
So, stick with us as we continue to track Roma's kids throughout the remainder of the season and look out for another update sometime in late winter.
Which young player is most likely to make an impact with Roma?
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