Nicolò Zaniolo is a name that not many would have heard until his remarkable two-goal performance against FC Porto in the UEFA Champions League last 16.
The 19 year old became the youngest Italian player to score two goals in a UCL match – ever. He’s also the youngest player to score in a UCL knockout tie since Kylian Mbappe in May 2017, and the second youngest ever to score a brace, once again after Mbappe (April 2017). Zaniolo also broke a Roma record, becoming their youngest player to score in the competition.
Having recently said in an interview that he hopes to stay at Roma forever, in the eyes of the fans, he can do no wrong at the moment. Can he emulate the great Francesco Totti? Only the future will tell, but for now he is, and rightly so, one of Football Owl’s ‘One to Watch’.
Nicolò Zaniolo stats – Background
Born in Massa, a town in Tuscany, Italy, Zaniolo was a product of the Fiorentina academy who have produced the likes of Juventus’ star Federico Bernardeschi and former Italy international Cristiano Zanetti (brother of Inter Milan legend Javier).
He was plucked from the Fiorentina academy by the then Serie B side Virtus Entella. He made just seven appearances in one season before being snapped up by Inter Milan, where he failed to make a single first team appearance in his only season there.
However, well renowned Director of Football, Monchi, must have seen something in him as he was used as part of a makeweight deal between Inter Milan and Roma for the transfer of Radja Nainggolan in the summer of 2018. Former Newcastle United defender, Davide Santon, also made the switch to Roma as part of the same deal.
Zaniolo reportedly signed a five-year contract, for a fee of €4.5 million with a 15% resell clause.
Nicolò Zaniolo has been capped on numerous occasions for Italy at youth level, but has recently been called up for the first time by Roberto Mancini for Italy’s upcoming first team fixtures.
He is the son of Igor Zaniolo, a former footballer who spent most of his playing career in Italy’s Serie B and Serie C.
Nicolò Zaniolo – Stats
As mentioned above, Zaniolo was included as part of the Nainggolan deal which saw the 30 year-old Belgian move to Inter Milan last summer. Many felt that, even with the inclusion of Davide Santon, Inter Milan had got by far the better deal.
A very interesting statistic however, tells us that even after Nainggolan’s winner at the weekend, Nicolò Zaniolo still has 1 more goal and 2 more assists than Nainggolan, after both players have now made 23 appearances in all competitions this season.
When looking at Nicolò Zaniolo stats from face value, they’re not exceptional for an attacking midfielder: 23 apps, 5 goals, 2 assists.
However, if we take a deeper dive we can see he made a slow start to the season with most of his appearances coming off the bench as he adjusted to life in the Serie A with Roma. Zaniolo featured in just 190 minutes of the first 14 games of the season.
His first goal came at home to Sassuolo in a 3-1 victory on 26th December 2018, a few days before the Serie A went on their winter break. Zaniolo must have returned from the break rejuvenated, as his next six appearances resulted in 4 goals and 2 assists in all competitions.
Zaniolo is currently one of most in form players in the Serie A and has commanded a starting spot in Eusebio Di Francesco’s lineup, ahead of the likes of former PSG man Javier Pastore.
Nicolò Zaniolo stats – Play Style
Standing at 6 foot 3 inches with great ball control and natural technique, the attacking midfielder has bared comparisons recently to Manchester United and France World Cup Winner, Paul Pogba.
Zaniolo is a very versatile midfielder, who’s best position is arguably a central attacking midfield role. However, he has recently been deployed on the right by Di Francesco in the absence of Turkish starlet Cengiz Ünder.
He has flourished in this role, having the ability to drift inside and constantly find himself in a goal scoring position.
If we take a look at where Zaniolo’s goals tend to come from, we can see he has a bit of a poachers instinct. All three of his Serie A goals this season have come from within the penalty area, including the tricky goal against Torino to send Roma back into the top 4.
Having the ability to arrive in the right place at the right time, is an invaluable asset for any midfielder – just ask Frank Lampard.
The old phrase “great touch for a big lad” is certainly relevant here, as his ability to beat his man effortlessly despite his tall frame, is one of Zaniolo’s major strengths.
His first goal for the club was a memorable one, running at the defence, he cuts inside and sends one defender to the floor, whilst gracefully looping the ball over the goalkeeper. It was a goal reminiscent of Mesut Özil’s magnificent solo effort against Ludogorets in the UEFA Champions League in 2016.
Nicolò Zaniolo certainly has a long way to go if he is to reach the heights of Pogba, Lampard and Özil. However, he has made a very promising start to his career in Rome and hopefully he can be the player that they, and the Italian national team desperately need.
Definitely One to Watch.