Nicolo Zaniolo made his Roma debut during last night’s Champions League clash with Real Madrid.
At just 19 years of age, he was thrown in right at the deep end as he faced Luka Modric and Toni Kroos; but was helped on his way by the experience of Daniele De Rossi, 35 and Steven Nzonzi, 29, alongside him.
Here are five things you know about a player who could be a mainstay in the Azzurri for years to come.
1. Arrived as part of Nainggolan transfer to Inter
This summer, Radja Nainggolan ended his four-year spell with the Giallorossi when Inter Milan signed him in a deal worth €38 million — going the other way were a youth-team player and a back-up left-back as makeweights in the deal.
Most football fans are familiar with one of those, ex-Newcastle defender Davide Santon, but Zaniolo? Nainggolan is a household name in Italian football and produced his best form under Luciano Spalletti in the Italian capital.
Sacrificing a youth-team player with just seven Serie B appearances at Virtus Entella to his name is surely a no-brainer especially considering their history. In 2001, Inter sold Andrea Pirlo to rivals AC Milan and were given Drazen Brncic as a makeweight.
2. “Next Lampard, Gerrard”
Zaniolo’s former manager at Inter’s Primavera, Stefano Vecchi, had very high praise indeed for the young central midfielder.
“He will go places,” Vecchi told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “He has the characteristics to become a modern mezzala [half-winger] — he’s a [Steven] Gerrard, [Frank] Lampard-type player.”
Luckily, no manager will need to fit all three in the same team.
3. Italy call-up
After impressing during the summer’s Under-19 European Championship, Zaniolo naturally progressed to the main squad.
However, he was called up by manager Roberto Mancini for the UEFA Nations League matches against Poland and Portugal without ever having made a first team appearance in Serie A. Marco Verratti, Massimo Maccarone and Raffaele Costantino are the only players to have “achieved” such a feat.
Zaniolo did not feature, and his call up was seen by many as Mancini’s way of demonstrating the lack of homegrown talent at his disposal — but perhaps the Roma midfielder genuinely had been in contention to feature.
4. He had to revive his career after Fiorentina exit
Zaniolo, born in Tuscany, started his career with the biggest team in the region in Fiorentina.
He was overshadowed by the likes of Riccardo Sottil, who remains with La Viola, and was allowed to leave in 2016, aged 17. Serie B side Virtus Entella were the only side ready to take a punt on him and his impressive performances led to a call-up for Italy’s U18 squad.
From there, he regained his confidence and, at the end of the campaign, decided to join Inter — despite interest from Juventus.
5. Figlio d’arte – son of former footballer
Zaniolo’s father, Igor, was also a professional footballer, playing as a forward in Italy’s lower leagues for 21 years.
He started his career with Alessandria in 1992, before appearing at 16 teams across the country and retiring at Real Valdivara in 2013.
Igor was born in *Genoa. It* was in that *city, at Virtus Entella,* where Nicolo’s career took an upward turn.