AS Roma fans may not see 22-year-old midfielder Nicolò Zaniolo, arguably one of the top prospects in Italy, in a Giallorossi jersey come next season as his future with the club is up in the air. During Tuesday's post-deadline day news conference, general manager Tiago Pinto talked about his methodical approach to the market and hinted that he "can't guarantee that he will stay at the club, and nobody else can guarantee so."
Those are obviously strong words that put a question mark on Zaniolo's future and it's the kind of news that will not sit well with Roma supporters. So how did the club and the player reach this point?
Zaniolo arrived at the club in the summer of 2018 within one of the most talked-about swap moves of recent years in Italy that featured the transfer of Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan to Inter Milan. Then-Inter coach Luciano Spalletti, who previously coach Roma, pushed to sign Nainggolan and the club was forced to include a young player in the deal with AS Roma. The choice was between goalkeeper Ionit Radu and Zaniolo, who at the end was paid €4.5 million by former sport director Monchi. Nainggolan joined Inter Milan for €38 million, but soon enough we all realized that the real winners of the swap were Roma with a young budding star on their roster.
Already in September of 2018, Roberto Mancini called Zaniolo in the national team even before he made his Serie A debut. On Sept. 19, AS Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco decided to include him in the starting XI at Santiago Bernabeu against Real Madrid in the Champions League group stage, which proved to be a night that changed his life forever.
From that moment, Zaniolo was quickly deemed as the best Italian talent and the future looked bright for AS Roma, who immediately offered him a new contract despite the interest of several outside suitors. AS Roma was his clear-cut first choice, so in 2019, the two sides agreed to a new contract extension that would keep him around until 2024.
For the past two years there have been talks regarding a possible contract renewal which, however, has not yet been agreed upon and put two sides in this precarious situation. In the meantime, his career has been derailed by a pair of ACL injuries that have kept him away from the pitch for the second part of the 2019-20 season and the entire 2021-22 season. It also kept him sidelined during the Euros in the past summer, stripping away an opportunity to represent the national team.
Now back at 100% and being managed by Jose Mourinho, his performances have not lived up to the pre-injury hype, scoring only two goals in 19 Serie A matches. For all we know, a new deal could be on Pinto's agenda now that the January transfer window is behind him. But if talks for a new contract reach another impasse, AS Roma may choose to sell him in the summer to improve the club's financial situation despite his desire to stay at the club, according to Sky Sport Italia.
In Italy in particular, Juventus and AC Milan would be ready to start negotiations if the club were to sell him, but it's certain that other European clubs would also express interest if he were to hit the market. Tottenham director Fabio Paratici has been an admirer of Zaniolo for years during his time at Juventus -- to the point where he wrote his name on a piece of paper found by a waiter in a restaurant in Milan that was leaked to the press. We will likely know more about Zaniolo's situation in the next few weeks as he could be one of the names to remember this summer.