“I’m very happy, it’s almost impossible to describe with words. I will never forget this night.” Nicolò Zaniolo scored both Roma goals – his first in the UEFA Champions League – in the 2-1 round of 16 win against Porto on Tuesday night. UEFA.com shines a light on a 19-year-old with a brilliant future in store.
Name: Nicolò Zaniolo
Debut: 19 September 2018 v Real Madrid (UEFA Champions League)
Position: attacking midfield
Born: 2 July 1999
Preferred foot: left
They say …
“His physical strength is incredible for a guy of his age and he combines it with great technique. He is already a great player but he can become a champion.”
Roma captain Daniele De Rossi
“I called him up with the national team before he made his Serie A debut because we saw him playing with Italy U19s and he really impressed us. Now he is improving game by game in a fast, unpredictable way. He has qualities that Italian football have missed for years.”
Italy coach Roberto Mancini
“His combination of strength and technique is unique. He can become a phenomenal player.”
Inter youth coach Stefano Vecchi
“He is becoming a very good player; he just need to keep working hard to remove a few mistakes from his game. Sometimes he is almost too eager to win the ball in midfield when he should play with more patience. Certainly, however, we cannot complain.”
Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco
“He is a prototype of the modern attacking midfielder, with great physical strength and a delicate left foot.”
Roma favourite Francesco Totti
Zaniolo slipped through the fingers of Genoa, Fiorentina and Inter before joining Roma last summer. He spent 2016/17 at Virtus Entella in Serie B, but his real breakthrough came in September 2018. First a shock call-up by Italy before his debut for the Giallorossi at the Bernabéu, home of the UEFA Champions League holders.
The son of Igor, a striker who spent his enjoyed moderate success career in the lower rungs of the Italian football ladder, Zaniolo notched up his first Serie A goal on 26 December with a Totti-esque chip against Sassuolo. He quickly added two more before making his name known across Europe with two against Porto.
Playing style …
Physically strong and technically gifted with both feet, Zaniolo is a modern midfielder who has demonstrated great versatility despite his tender years. He can play as a central midfielder (probably his favourite position) but Di Francesco has also deployed him as a fantasista behind the forwards, and wide in attack as against Porto.
Shades of …
According to Vecchi, his former coach at Inter, Zaniolo can become a box-to-box midfielder who scores plenty of goals along the lines of Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard. The 19-year-old has similar designs.
Eureka moment …
‘La prima volta non si scorda mai’ (You never forget the first time) as they say in Italy, and Zaniolo’s first career goal was certainly one to remember. He burst down the right, leaving a Sassuolo defender on his backside before placing a delicate chip over the goalkeeper and into the far corner. A beauty.
Best-case scenario …
Maintain this level of performance and Zaniolo could have a memorable date at the Olimpico Stadium on 12 June 2020: the opening game of UEFA EURO 2020. Of course, Italy have to get there first and, considering how much Mancini rates him, Zaniolo could well play a key role in qualifying.
He says …
“Celebrating under the Curva Sud was an incredible emotion; I hope I will score many more important goals for Roma.”
After scoring twice against Porto in the round of 16
“I have to train hard day after day because the best is yet to come.”
“I always liked Kaká. I know I still have to improve a lot but I hope one day I will become like him because he has always been a role model for me.”