Reported Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool target Nicolo Zaniolo can become an ‘extraordinary’ footballer if he fulfils his dazzling potential, according to Italian national team coach Roberto Mancini in quotes reported by Rai Sport.
If the days of the old-school number ten are over, with Mesut Ozil, James Rodriguez, Mario Goetze and Philippe Coutinho looking increasingly out of place in a game obsessed with running stats and the collective over the individual, Zaniolo looks every inch a midfielder for the modern era.
He is far closer to a Paul Pogba, a Kevin de Bruyne or a Bruno Fernandes – a powerful number eight who combines stunning technical ability with the lungs and the stride of an Olympic athlete.
Roma, in their heart of hearts, know they could be forced to sell their floppy-fringed talisman if they fail to qualify for the Champions League, which looks like a very real possibility right now.
Mancini, however, won’t care where Zaniolo is strutting his stuff as long as he evolves into the top-class midfielder he always looked destined to become.
“Zaniolo may be a very important player,” said the former Inter Milan and Man City boss, who has handed the 6ft 3ins dynamo five caps so far.
“If he continues to train seriously and live an athlete’s life, he could be an extraordinary player. He is young and does not yet have many Serie A matches in the legs, so that not all responsibility falls on him.
“I think he has not yet found his role. He can play in two or three.”
Zaniolo, who has six goals in 24 games this season, is one footballer who has certainly benefitted from the European championships being pushed back to the summer of 2021. After suffering a cruciate ligament injury in January, he had looked certain to miss out if the tournament was to go ahead as normal in June.