Our columnist takes a look at the ongoing development of midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini. Captain of his boyhood club for the first time last week, the 23-year-old is showing every sign of following in the footsteps of some club legends…
It was a walk that Lorenzo Pellegrini had made dozens of times before. Standing in the tunnel, his eyes were focused straight ahead of him, with another successful performance the only thing on his mind when he stepped out onto the pitch.
But this time, there was something different. He was at the front of the queue.
For the first time as a professional footballer, Pellegrini walked out of that tunnel for Roma wearing the captain’s armband.
Having grown up a fan, it was a moment he must have dreamt of since childhood. It had not been an easy route for him to get to this stage, but now, at 23 years old, he had reached a new peak in his personal development, as he led his side out at San Siro for their game against Inter Milan.
With club captain Alessandro Florenzi and vice-captain Edin Dzeko both on the bench, Pellegrini was rewarded for his recent rich run of form with the chance to be Roma’s leading man on the pitch.
Pellegrini has enjoyed a fine start to his third season since returning to Roma after cutting his teeth at Sassuolo.
Already having provided eight assists across Serie A and the Europa League – despite missing almost two months through injury - he has been building on the promise he showed last season and establishing himself as a focal point in the team.
The Italian has not let that metatarsal injury that ruled him out disrupt his momentum. He has only been back for four games, but it has taken him no time at all to rediscover the influence he had been showing in the season’s formative weeks – with half of his assists coming since his return.
The clash with Inter marked another milestone in his career, which has followed a rapidly rising trajectory in recent months. Pellegrini, who scored his first international goal in September, took a major step towards fulfilling his potential by taking up the role of responsibility.
He may only be 23 – one year younger than fellow academy graduate Florenzi was the first time he started a game with the armband – but Pellegrini’s performances have put him at the core of the group already.
Not only is he one of the team’s key players with his creative quality, but he backs it up with relentless desire – embodying everything that a captain should.
It always seemed like destiny that he would one day become a leader for his boyhood club. As a teenager, he captained Roma’s Primavera side, already outlined as one of the most promising talents to emerge from the academy this decade. Around five years on from his original senior debut, he has now reached full maturation, with the emblematic captaincy being the reward of his hard-fought journey to the top.
He has done so with dedication. He was prepared to leave the club to gain experience elsewhere, but never lost sight of his end goal – to return and become a key figure for Roma.
That target has now been achieved, but there is certainly more to come from him. As the latest major success story from the academy – for a club that has historically prided itself on its development and integration of homegrown players like Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi, Giuseppe Giannini and Florenzi – fans will be hoping to see him kick on and continue this spell of consistency.
In establishing himself as captain material, Pellegrini has added to the growing pool of leaders within the Roma squad. Florenzi followed a similar route to Pellegrini in getting to the top of the Roman ladder, ensuring a lifelong passion for the club remains at the heart of its hierarchy, while vice-captain Edin Dzeko has become a firm favourite by bringing his experience to the frontline.
Recently, Chris Smalling donned the armband towards the end of the Europa League win over Istanbul Basaksehir – another sign of how his own qualities have been quickly recognised and appreciated by the group. Smalling has not even been at the club for half a year, but has brought his wisdom and strong mentality to the heart of the defence, becoming someone his teammates look up to.
After that game, when Paulo Fonseca was asked about the decision to pass the captaincy onto the defender, the coach rattled off a list of players capable wearing the armband. As well as Florenzi, Dzeko, Pellegrini and Smalling, it was made clear that Federico Fazio, Aleksandar Kolarov and Bryan Cristante are also considered leaders by their manager, while Diego Perotti has also taken up the responsibility on occasion.
This growing group of leaders stands Roma in good stead. The club now have a core of passionate players willing to fight for every ball, who accept no less than 100 per cent from their teammates. That will inspire those around them in even the most hostile environments – like the San Siro, where Pellegrini guided his side to a hard-earned point in a traditionally tough arena.
There is still plenty of time for Pellegrini to grow into a player who wears the armband more regularly. These are still early days in his career, and the club are clearly well stocked in the leadership department.
He has several senior players around him to learn from, who know how to deal with the pressure that being a captain entails. Those who do it right can become symbols of their club – and Roma have a strong queue of players lining up, waiting to make that their own destiny.
From this point, Pellegrini will become an even bigger part of that picture.