Greg Lea gives the lowdown on the defensive starlet who Antonio Conte isn't giving up on...
The 60-second story
- Date of birth: January 12, 1995
- Place of birth: Anzio, Italy
- Height: 6ft 2in
- Position: Centre-back
- Current club: Milan (41 apps, 2 goals)
- Former clubs: Sampdoria (loan), Roma
- International: Italy U21 (13 apps, 1 goals)
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 U21 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. Alongside Juventus’s Daniele Rugan, Romagnoli was marked out as a possible star of the future and one to watch in years to come.
Milan landed him for €25m last August, and after another standout year he looks poised to move upwards again. The Rossoneri confirmed on Tuesday that they'd turned down a bid from Chelsea.
Why you need to know him
Romagnoli has been likened to the legendary former Lazio and Milan centre-half Alessandro Nesta – and 2015/16's showings reaffirmed why. He lived up to his reputation by standing out in a poor Milan team, taking on responsibility aged just 21 and standing up to physical challenges impressively.
Antonio Conte doesn't look like he's giving up on the young defender – reports suggest that Chelsea will be going back to Milan with a bumper £30m bid on Wednesday.
Tall, athletic and elegant with the ball at his feet, Romagnoli is the archetypal modern centre-back. Quick across the ground and strong in the tackle, he 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's fielded alongside a right-footer at the heart of the backline. Versatility among defenders is often rarer than in other positions, and Romagnoli’s ability to fulfil multiple roles at the back is a major plus point.
Romagnoli identified one-on-ones as a potential area for improvement in a 2015 interview, but he has already shown signs of competing better against physical strikers. He was impressive in the air last season and is improving at a healthy rate – handy when you're about to join the Premier League.
Francesco Totti has always been a fan. After Romagnoli’s Serie A debut for Roma 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 bright future ahead of him.”
Last September, ex-Italy stopper Alessandro Costacurta compared the young stopper with now-Manchester City man John Stones. “If Everton are asking €50m for Stones, then Romagnoli is worth €70m,” he declared. “He has a simple game, he does the right things without overdoing it and let’s remember that he’s only 20 years old.”
Did you know?
Romagnoli wore the No.46 shirt at Roma, a personal choice based on his love of Italian motorcyclist Valentino Rossi, whose bike number is 46. Rossi’s 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?
Chelsea, surely? The Blues have the money that Milan can't refuse, a manager Romagnoli could thrive under, and opportunities ahead with John Terry and Gary Cahill both closer than ever to having their places under threat.
The west Londoners had a reported €25m offer snubbed on Tuesday but look like they're in no mood to let this deal stretch out longer than it needs to. Kurt Zouma isn't back until next month after his knee injury, and there's only one week of the transfer window remaining.
“If you look now at the Chelsea squad you can see we have only four defenders, and these four defenders started today,” Conte said after Saturday's win at Watford. “I don't want to buy just to buy, I want to buy the right player for Chelsea, for the present, for the future, with a good prospect. It's important we have a good investment for the future.”
Romagnoli fits the bill.