It might feel like a lifetime ago, and Romelu Lukaku's success from the word go with the Giallorossi may make it feel like a moot point. Still, it’s important to remember just how anxiously Roma searched for a new striker this summer. The rumor mill cycled through name after name following Tammy Abraham’s ACL tear in the last match of the season, with Roma reportedly being close to everyone from Gianluca Scamacca to Alexis Sanchez.
Of all these reported near-transfers for a striker, the most intriguing rumors involved Brazilian international Marcos Leonardo. The 20-year-old Santos forward has been tipped as a future star for the Seleçao, and when it became clear that Tiago Pinto wanted to bring Marcos Leonardo to Rome, it really seemed like the transfer was all but assured. And then... well, we’re not entirely sure today what happened.
One clear complicating factor was Santos’ head-scratching decision to sell Deivid Washington to Chelsea in the same transfer window while still negotiating a potential exit for Marcos Leonardo. After that sale and several protests from Santos fans, reports indicate that Santos backed out of their end of the bargain (and a gentleman’s agreement regarding Marcos Leonardo’s ability to move on from Santos for a set fee) after being only hours away from signing on the dotted line. Naturally, this caused quite a problem for Santos, and Marcos Leonardo sat out of both practices and matches in an attempt to force his club’s hand.
The transfer still didn’t go through, and eventually, things got back to normal, with Marcos Leonardo returning to the senior squad and helping Santos climb out of the relegation zone. He has now scored 21 goals across all competitions this season, helping his star grow even further than it had before Roma came snooping around. ESPN currently lists him as the third-most-exciting Brazilian prospect, behind only Vitor Roque and Endrick, two wonderkids who have already secured big-money moves to Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively.
While all reports indicate that Roma is still interested in Marcos Leonardo, to the point where Tiago Pinto very openly discussed wanting to sign the Brazilian during his end-of-mercato press conference, the lack of a done deal here looks set to complicate the Giallorossi’s transfer dreams. Recent reports have indicated that the true big-money clubs are kicking the tires on a deal for Marcos Leonardo, with Real Madrid and Newcastle United interested in securing the striker. While it’s still a vague rumor, the concern that bigger clubs will now look to sign Marcos Leonardo is very real.
If I were Marcos Leonardo, I’d prefer to join Roma at this particular juncture in my career. Moving to a club like Real Madrid too early can be a death sentence for a wonderkid’s meteoric rise. Just ask Martin Odegaard, who is now a world-class player but certainly lost some time at the top, thanks to joining Real Madrid so early. Moving to Roma will likely get Marcos Leonardo exactly what he needs at this point in his career: consistent minutes against challenging opponents. Then, when he’s 25 and banging in 30 goals a year, he can make that huge Real Madrid transfer that is the dream of every wonderkid. As for Newcastle... I don’t know, man; why would you want to join Newcastle? Rome is much nicer.
Of course, despite the rumor merry-go-round that has pulled at many Romanisti heartstrings over this potential transfer, many Romanisti might just say: who cares? We have Romelu Lukaku! Which is a fair response, to a certain extent. Lukaku has become a star in Rome, and if the Giallorossi can nab themselves a spot in the Champions League, all reports indicate that Roma will look to keep Lukaku around, along with Paulo Dybala and José Mourinho. Yet the opportunity cost of missing out on Marcos Leonardo shouldn’t be understated. If Roma can bring in Marcos Leonardo to be Lukaku’s strike partner, it ensures that Roma has their short- and long-term future at striker sorted. The Belgian isn’t getting any younger, and even if you don’t believe Marcos Leonardo would stick around Rome for very long, a couple of successful seasons at Roma could multiply his transfer value by a factor of three, four, or five.
We’re still six weeks out from the January transfer window, but one thing is already sure: the Marcos Leonardo rumors will be a focal point of silly season yet again. Let’s hope that Roma haven’t squandered their chance to sign one of the more promising strikers playing senior football today.