Golden boy – Roma coach urges Zaniolo not to lose his head
Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco has urged teenage sensation Nicolo Zaniolo not to lose his head after his stunning brace grabbed the Italians a first-leg advantage over Porto in their Champions League last-16 tie.
The 19-year-old scored two quick-fire second-half goals, both off Edin Dzeko assists, in a 2-1 win at the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday night to become the youngest Italian to score a Champions League double.
“After his first goal I told him to use his head,” said Di Francesco.
“He did that and scored the second by playing smart.
“We have to let him develop at his own pace and he needs to remain level-headed, as he is on the pitch.
“He played in a position he’s not used to but he performed really well. We have a great player and we knew that. We’re happy to have him and he deserves the praise.”
Zaniolo now has five goals for Roma in a whirlwind five months since arriving in the capital.
The player from Tuscany had only played for Inter Milan‘s youth team last season, and was exchanged by the northerners in a deal that included 30-year-old Belgian Radja Nainggolan going in the opposite direction.
It is a gift which ambitious Chinese-owned Inter, who have already crashed out of the Champions League, must surely now bitterly regret.
He is already being compared to Roma legend Francesco Totti, and Italy coach Roberto Mancini gave him his first call-up last September.
Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon — who hails from Carrara in Tuscany, close to Zaniolo’s home town of Massa – has predicted a stunning future for the gangling youngster.
“I remember Zaniolo’s father, a great fighter,” said Italy legend Buffon of Igor Zaniolo, who played as a forward for lower-league sides in Italy.
“If his son has the same character and humility he’ll do very well. It’s his destiny,” added Buffon, 41, who helped PSG to a 2-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford on Tuesday night.
The Italian press also hailed the rising star who is now carrying the hopes of a national team revival for Mancini’s Azzurri heading towards Euro 2020.
‘Fairytale,’ ‘Golden boy’, ‘The Little Prince,’ read the headlines on Wednesday, along with ‘Zanioro’, the last three letters meaning ‘gold’ in Italian.
However, Tuesday’s joy was tempered by Adrian Lopez scoring a potentially crucial away goal for Porto late on.
“Fairytales in football almost never have a happy ending,” said Corriere della Sera.
The newspaper added that “Roma yesterday made peace with their fans,” after the team’s recent 7-1 mauling at the hands of Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia. The club are currently sixth in Serie A, just one point off the Champions League places.
Porto coach Sergio Conceicao warned, however, that despite their first defeat in the competition this season, he was “convinced” his side would go through to the quarter-finals when the teams meet again on March 6 in Portugal.
“Zaniolo is very good, he’s a young player with lots of qualities. Physically he is very strong, technically also and I think he’ll become a player of the highest quality,” said the former Lazio midfielder.
“Our goal leaves everything open for the second leg.”