Greg Lea gives the lowdown on the defensive starlet on the wanted list of many a European titan...
- Date of birth January 12, 1995
- Place of birth Anzio, Italy
- Height 6ft 2in
- Position Centre-back
- Current club Roma (14 apps, 1 goal)
- Former clubs Sampdoria (loan)
- International Italy U21 (6 apps, 0 goals)
The 60-second story
Alessio Romagnoli was born in the coastal town of Anzio, 32 miles south of Rome, in 1995. He was spotted by Roma scouts as a youngster and spent a few years at the club’s academy before being handed a shock first-team debut by Zdenek Zeman at the age of 17 in 2012, playing the entire 90 minutes in a 3-0 Coppa Italia win over Atalanta.
His first league appearance followed soon after with a promising cameo against Milan, before Romagnoli impressed again in March’s triumph over Genoa, completing a full game in Serie A for the first time.
Sporadic participation evolved into more substantial involvement the following campaign, the centre-back playing a part in just under a third of Roma’s 38 Serie A games. Rudi Garcia then elected to loan Romagnoli out to Sampdoria for the 2014/15 season, and it proved to be a wise decision with the Italy Under-21 international forming a key part of a solid Blucherchiati spine.
A sustained run in the team – Romagnoli enjoyed 30 outings in the league – gave the loanee vital experience in a competitive and high-quality environment, helping Sampdoria to an excellent and unexpected seventh-place finish. Indeed, it was last term that people really began to sit up and take notice of Romagnoli’s fantastic potential. Alongside Juventus’ Daniele Rugani – who has spent the last two campaigns at Empoli – Romagnoli was marked out as a possible star of the future and one to watch in years to come. Now back at Roma, the Giallorossi are debating whether to retain or cash in on one of European football’s biggest defensive prospects.
Why you need to know him
The ‘next Alessandro Nesta’ is how Romagnoli has been dubbed in Italy, with fans and pundits alike drawing parallels between the 20-year-old and the legendary former Lazio and Milan centre-half.
Awareness of Romagnoli’s ability extends far beyond the peninsula, though: Real Madrid were thought to be sniffing around at times last season, with recent reports in both the Italian and English press linking the youngster with moves to Arsenal and Chelsea.
Tall, athletic and elegant with the ball at his feet, Romagnoli is the archetypal modern day centre-back. Quick across the ground and strong in the tackle, the 20-year-old has also demonstrated maturity, knowhow and tactical awareness beyond his tender years by rarely being caught out positionally and never letting his concentration dip. He also possesses a fine left peg, which has allowed him to play at full-back on occasion and helps the balance of the side when he is fielded alongside a right-footer in the heart of the backline. Versatility among defenders is often rarer than in other positions, with Romagnoli’s ability to fulfil multiple roles at the back a major plus point.
Romagnoli identified one-on-ones as a potential area for improvement in a recent interview, while there is also a feeling that he is prone to being overpowered by strong, physical strikers. Although Alessio will presumably start to fill out as he gets older, spending some additional time in the gym this summer should help him become better equipped to deal with burly frontmen by the time next season rolls around.
Current Milan boss Sinisa Mihajlovic coached Romagnoli at Sampdoria last year, and it is no surprise that he wants to bring the centre-back to San Siro after comments such as these.
“He did very well,” the Serbian said following an accomplished performance from Romagnoli that helped Samp to a 2-1 win over Chievo in September. For him it was a great first start. I think that if he can find continuity, he can become a key player for the national team for the next 10 or 15 years.
“He reminds me of Nesta but with more technical qualities. It’s a pity he’s not ours and that we’ll have to return him [after the loan period]. Roma will have a ready-made player.”
Francesco Totti, too, has always been a fan, which is no bad thing for any Giallorossi hopeful. After Romagnoli’s Serie A debut against Milan in 2012, the eternal captain from the Eternal City put on record his belief that the defender’s prospects looked extremely bright. “I have to praise Romagnoli,” he told reporters after the game, which Roma won 4-2. “In my view this kid has a luminous future ahead of him.”
Did you know?
Romagnoli wears the number 46 shirt, a personal choice based on his love of Italian motorcyclist Valentino Rossi, whose bike number is 46. Rossi’s own choice was based on his father Graziano wearing the same number when he won his first Grand Prix in Yugoslavia in 1979, in case you were wondering.
What happens next?
Milan have made a take-it-or-leave it £17.4m bid for the 20-year-old, with chief executive Adriano Galliani publicly stating: “if Roma accept it then very well, otherwise we’ll make other assessments.”
- Shooting 6
- Heading 8
- Passing 7
- Tackling 8
- Pace 7
- Dribbling 4
- Creativity 6
- Work-rate 8
Even if the Giallorossi do give Milan permission to talk to Romagnoli, there's no guarantee the player will agree to the move.
“Romagnoli to Milan has a big obstacle: the Rossoneri’s lack of European competition,” agent Federico Cavalli admitted to Sportitalia. “If Juventus called, however, then Roma could let him go. He wants to play in Europe.”
Juve look pretty well-stocked for central defenders, but that line suggests that Champions League participants Arsenal would be in pole position to land Romagnoli if they turned their interest into a concrete offer. Ready to play now but also with potentially a decade and a half still ahead of him, the signing of Romagnoli could prove to be one of Arsene Wenger’s shrewdest investments.