COMMENT: Just a few months ago, exactly after the Europa Conference League final between Roma and Feyenoord, no one, and it must be emphasised no one, could have ever imagined a similar situation.
Nicolò Zaniolo and Roma have come to clash, they hardly speak to each other anymore, like two lovers at the end of a broken love story. In January the young striker asked Jose Mourinho (this is the version provided by the Portuguese coach and nobody has ever denied him) not to play him, because he no longer had the right mind to play, he wanted to leave.
He tried to depart in the transfer window that has just closed, but things didn't go the way he wanted: he wanted a transfer to AC Milan, who however couldn't buy him, he refused Bournemouth who would have bought him outright, only to change his mind a few hours from the end of the market. And now he risks being in the stands for six months, without playing, waiting for a transfer in the summer.
There was an agreement with the Rossoneri, with Paolo Maldini, who however did not receive the ok from the owners in January to invest the approximately 30 million euros requested by the Friedkins. And so Zaniolo remained trapped, stuck between his own frustrations and the hope and dream of a new project, in which to feel like a protagonist again.
Nicolò, his family and his agents did not believe that Roma would go this far, even keeping him out of the team, allowing him to train in Trigoria (the team's sports centre), but without the possibility of taking the field in official matches with his companions. A tough, strong decision that the Friedkins have come to make following the boy's demands to leave. Why, though? How did we get to this?
In the summer, the arrival of Paulo Dybala, the team's new star, the fact that Lorenzo Pellegrini (the team's captain and symbol) and Tammy Abraham (the team's top scorer), received a higher salary, Gianluca Mancini's and Bryan Cristante's (supposed, in his case) new contracts at about €3m-a-year: Zaniolo wanted a higher salary, he wanted practically double. In recent months he and his agent had made precise requests: around €4m-a-year, possibly more. Roma took their time, a long time, waiting for high-level performances, which however did not arrive.
The number 22 in January, when he was informed that the renewal would not come because the performances had not been up to par, forced a break. The club has acknowledged his intention not to play again, he missed three games in January, he was not taken into consideration for the match against Cremonese in the Coppa Italia and the fans lined up against Zaniolo, with banners scattered around the city and even at the stadium.
Literally incredible, if you think of young Nicolò's debut, that blond and explosive boy who had made the whole city fall in love with him, who had chosen real magic for his first goal against Sassuolo, the first appearance that arrived in the Champions League, the goals scored against Porto, the kisses on the coat of arms after a few goals (an important gesture, to be done only if you really love these colors): Zaniolo's first year seemed like the beginning of a love story destined to fill the hearts of fans for a very long time.
Then the injuries, first an ACL, then the second: the number 22 practically lost two years of his career due to bad luck and unfortunately his return was not up to what we had seen previously. The "first" Zaniolo has never been seen again, but the affection of the fans has never been lacking, on the contrary, they have always pampered him, waited for him, as one does with a younger brother.
The wait was repaid by the goal scored in the Conference League final, a kiss that seemed to be the beginning of a new start, a new start for Zaniolo and Roma. The city continued to celebrate him, pretending not to notice his discontent in the summer, when perhaps the club and the player had already decided to separate, leaving with a heart full of joy and not sadness, as it is now, with a boy who managed to waste, to extinguish, the love of an entire city, who always made him feel as if he were a son of Rome, like those players born and raised wearing the Roma shirt, fans of this team.
All that trust has been unexpectedly betrayed, precisely in the moment of greatest need, of greatest necessity, when the team asked Zaniolo to give back all that trust, all that unconditional love that he was able to enjoy in previous years. Roma supporters, as we know, go beyond results: Nicolò was not loved (only) for the goal he scored in the final, but because he seemed to have fallen perfectly into reality, he seemed to care about his shirt, he seemed to respect the fans and he seemed to feel at home. All things more important than the standings, the goals scored. If there's one thing that Roma fans can't and won't accept, it's the betrayal of feelings, their trust and their incomparable passion.
Zaniolo did it, after kissing the shirt, after hiding behind the love of the people, and all (also) for a question of money, because he wanted a higher salary, because he no longer felt like a protagonist with the shirt of Roma, "overshadowed" by Abraham, Dybala and Pellegrini, players who, however (some in 6 months, some in five years and some in one and a half), have shown more than him.
The story between Zaniolo and Roma is a sad story, born well and ended badly, born among roses and ended between indifference, with the request for a medical certificate requiring a 30-day rest period, because right now, Nicolò doesn't feel like playing in the Giallorossi shirt. Who would have thought that some time ago? Who would have imagined it, after the kisses on the shirt, the runs towards the fans after a goal, the party in the city after the Conference League victory? After being defended by Mourinho and his friend and captain Pellegrini, there's nothing worse than seeing a young boy risk throwing away his talent for bad choices.
From now until June, he risks not playing even a minute for the Roma shirt, this seems to be the club's intention: perhaps they could have waited a few months and asked hm to leave in the summer, at the end of the season, after having fought again for the Roma shirt.
He chose another path, the saddest one. Nicolò seemed like a son of Rome, now he could leave as a traitor: the family is a serious matter and so is Roma. A love story gone wrong. Let's hope it doesn't get worse. For the good of Nicolò and for the good of Roma.