Teenage Italy midfielder Zaniolo oozes Roman pedigree

Nicolo Zaniolo made his Italy debut when he came on against Finland.
Nicolo Zaniolo made his Italy debut when he came on against Finland.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARMA • Roma have long had a history of supplying Italy with top-level home-grown talent like Francesco Totti and Daniele de Rossi who have come through their ranks.

On Saturday, Nicolo Zaniolo became the club's latest player to be capped as the national team got their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign off to a 2-0 win over Finland.

While he does not share the same academy upbringing as Totti and de Rossi, such has been his rise this season that he is already thought of as an "honorary Roman".

The 19-year-old was part of the swop deal along with defender Davide Santon that saw Radja Nainggolan move to Inter Milan last summer.

Inter's loss has been Roma's gain. While the former Belgium midfielder Nainggolan has struggled for form and fitness and been embroiled in disciplinary issues, Zaniolo has gone from strength to strength.

Last September, he received his first call-up to the Azzurri, even though he had yet to make his Serie A debut, with national coach Roberto Mancini stating: "If you're very good at 19, you have to play."

Although the midfielder did not pull on the famed blue shirt then, he made his league debut later that month and has since gone on to score five goals in 28 appearances in all competitions, including a brace against Porto in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

His form has also not gone unnoticed by Europe's big boys.

According to Italian daily Corriere dello Sport, Real Madrid are reportedly preparing a €60 million (S$91.7 million) bid for his services in the summer, while Tuttosport have claimed Juventus and AC Milan are willing to match that figure.

For his part, Zaniolo is remaining grounded despite the hype.

Ahead of Italy's Euro 2020 qualifying game against Group J minnows Liechtenstein at Parma's Stadio Ennio Tardini today, he told TV channel Rai Sport: "I am making so many dreams come true and the national team is one of them. I hope there can be more to follow."

And while he is at the Stadio Olimpico, in current Roma director Totti, he can have no better mentor to model his burgeoning career after.

Zaniolo told website Football Italia: "Totti gives me advice on how to train, to play, to behave. You can tell he's a champion off the field too.

"He often tells me that it takes a moment to reach the top, but it's so hard to stay at that level."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2019, with the headline 'Teenage Italy midfielder Zaniolo oozes Roman pedigree'. Print Edition | Subscribe