This has been a tough season for the Nicolò Zaniolo Hype Train. As that train’s conductor, I can tell you that my belief in Zaniolo to become a consistent superstar hasn’t wavered, despite his slow recovery from his two ACL tears. However, it’s undeniably disappointing that Zaniolo’s first full season back has been notable more for Serie A referees deciding to let opposing defenders foul The Kid with no consequences, instead of a return to the world-class form we saw from Nicolò in 2019.
Even given Zaniolo’s underwhelming play so far this season, his sheer star power made it inevitable that José Mourinho’s decision to keep him on the bench for the Derby Della Capitale would have a huge impact on the Italian sports media landscape. Sure enough, the start of the international break has seen an explosion of transfer rumors surrounding Zaniolo, with La Gazzetta dello Sport leading the way:
In sum, the rumormongers will have you believe that Juventus’s interest in Zaniolo hasn’t diminished due to his poorer form this season; to the contrary, their questionable decision to let Paulo Dybala walk in the summer has apparently turned Nicolò into their primary target for the next mercato. Gazzetta posits that it’ll take a €70 million fee for The Friedkins and Tiago Pinto to hand over Zaniolo to one of their biggest rivals in Serie A, and other sources are also taking pains to remind Juventus supporters that the Roma hierarchy still plans on attempting to renew Zaniolo at the end of the season.
Now, even the Zaniolo Hype Train Conductor has to admit that €70 million would be a good fee for Roma’s #22, but I still think that the Giallorossi would be incredibly foolish to let Zaniolo go, particularly to a rival like Juventus. It’s Roma’s long-term goal to contend for the Scudetto, and hopefully win one; sending Zaniolo to Turin and letting him play alongside Dusan Vlahović would kneecap the Giallorossi’s Scudetto chances for the next decade, if not longer.
The only way you could sell me on this move is if Zaniolo was immediately replaced with another young, exciting, Italian attacker, one who could also be the face of the Azzurri going forward, one who might even be able to convince some of his talented friends from his current club to move to the Stadio Olimpico.
Speaking of which...
La Gazzetta dello Sport is also reporting in a separate article that if Roma does decide to move on from Zaniolo this summer, they would jump to the front of the line of the Giacomo Raspadori Sweepstakes. If you’ve followed Serie A at all in the past few seasons, there’s little to no chance I have to introduce you to Raspadori; he’s quickly become one of the most exciting attacking talents in Italy, if not Europe, and the idea of pairing him with Tammy Abraham is nearly as exciting as the idea of Abraham playing with a 100% back-to-normal Zaniolo. Add in the idea that Raspadori moving to Roma might entice the likes of Davide Frattesi to move back to his boyhood club instead of Inter, and there’s no doubt that this kind of transfer would soften the blow of losing Zaniolo.
Nevertheless, “soften the blow” is the key phrase here. Despite his poor form this season, Zaniolo is still far and away Roma’s most talented player; in all my years following Roma, I’d argue that he’s the best player in terms of sheer talent that I’ve seen since Francesco Totti. This is a player who prompted discussions of whether he should be given Totti’s sacred #10... while he was still a teenager. Sure, he’s not a born-and-bred Roman, and the performances of Tammy Abraham and Lorenzo Pellegrini this season have taken some of the burden off of Zaniolo’s shoulders to be the superstar for the Giallorossi, but if you’re a club like Roma, you have to acknowledge that players of Zaniolo’s talent level don’t sign for Roma every single mercato. When they do find their way to your club, particularly at such a young age, you have to do everything you can to hold onto them for as long as possible.
On the flip side of this, I would personally argue that moving to Juventus would be a mistake for Zaniolo right now. Sure, by moving to Turin, there’s a good chance he’d win domestic silverware every single season he plays until retirement, but you’d be a fool to think that he could become anything remotely close to the face of Juventus. The Old Lady just signed Dusan Vlahović, an attacking superstar of similar wattage to Zaniolo, and their spending shows no signs of slowing down. Who’s to say that Zaniolo will even be starting for Juventus by the time the 2024-2025 season rolls around?
Moving to Juventus for €70 million will undoubtedly be a tempting offer for both Roma and Zaniolo. If they’re smart, and if the Friedkins truly believe in this club’s potential to win silverware, they’ll keep The Kid in Rome for a long time, regardless of how long it takes for him to be the Zaniolo we all know and love.