This article is part of Football FanCast’s Expert Roundup feature, which provides three quotes from those in the know in order to illuminate a reported transfer target’s fundamental strengths, weaknesses, quirks, kinks, stylistic comparisons and general observations.
According to Italian outlet Corriere dello Sport (via Daily Mail), Tottenham target Nicolo Zaniolo is enticed by the prospect of playing his football in north London next season.
Zaniolo has been linked with a move to Spurs for a large portion of the transfer window, with some reports claiming that Toby Alderweireld could be used as a makeweight in a potential part exchange deal.
The Italian was deployed in a variety of positions last term, scoring six goals and chalking up two assists in 2,256 minutes across all competitions, spread over 36 appearances – add to that record the fact that the player is only 20, and it’s clear as to why Spurs want to add him to their squad this summer.
Having already smashed their transfer record to bring Tanguy Ndombele to north London, Mauricio Pochettino and co have given Lilywhites fans plenty to be excited about after two transfer windows bearing no arrivals.
Competition in the former Southampton boss’ midfield is already hot and the addition of a young, hungry attacker to the mix will only make it more so.
Here’s what those in the know have had to say about the coveted talent’s ability and potential…
Italy boss Mancini didn’t hesitate to draw comparisons between the left-footed star and an established Premier League midfielder:
“I have seen some qualities he has, and some he doesn’t. He is different from [Nicolo] Barella, Jorginho or [Marco] Verratti.
“The comparison with Pogba is there. But we need to be calm and show some patience because he will at some point struggle as well.”
Both Pogba and Zaniolo excel given freedom in the attacking third and license to get up and support the strikers in a number 10 role, while their surprising technical and athleticism given their respective frames is also shared.
Manchester United man Pogba completed 1.7 dribbles per game in the league last term, while Zaniolo completed 1.5 per game – given that the World Cup-winning number 6 is renowned for his powerful bursts forward, this stat is a testament to the young Italian’s ability on the ball.
Pogba also enjoys playing on the left of a midfield three, where he can drift outside before coming back in to cause damage – this dynamic features in Zaniolo’s game, as the Italian is able to play on the right wing, where he can chop inside onto his stronger left foot.
The recently-departed midfielder was full of praise for his teammate after Roma’s 2-1 victory over Porto in February:
“It’s another small milestone, perhaps not even a small one, that adds to what he is showing game after game and even training session after training session.
“He has an incredible natural physique for someone who is only 19 and also has great technical quality. In my opinion, as perhaps with everyone now, he is already a very good player – and can become a great one.”
The youngster stole the show in his side’s Champions League first leg victory over their Portuguese opposition, scoring both goals and thus becoming the youngest-ever player to net a brace in the competition on his first-ever knockout rounds appearance.
Clearly, the number 22 has ice in his veins to not just prevent the undoubted nerves he must have been feeling from throwing him off his game but to produce one of his best displays of the season.
De Rossi already rates the starlet very highly it would seem and is confident that he can become even better – what better environment for him to hone his abilities than Spurs, where he will have the opportunity to work with a manager who is renowned for his development of young players?
Roma’s all-time record goalscorer suggested that the 20-year-old was beyond his years in terms of both skill and physical abilities:
“He’s like a veteran. He keeps it simple. Little by little, he’s finding continuity and showing his ability. Nicolo is explosive – he’s strong, skillful. He’s got everything to become a great player. But don’t let him know I said that. If anything changes, it’ll be my fault.”
Totti is right to be wary; heaping so much praise on a young player is risky but the legendary number 10 isn’t far wrong – Zaniolo’s decision-making and extraordinary power on the ball betray his age and it’s frightening to imagine what the midfielder could become in the future.
Given the form of Son Heung-min and the heroic rise of Lucas Moura in 2018/19, Zaniolo will have a job on his hands to displace either from the starting XI but there’s little doubt that Totti thinks he’s absolutely capable.
You’d be foolish to bet against a player who has earned such high praise from a legend of the game.