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Nicolo Zaniolo: Why Monchi can be proud of €60M Juventus, Chelsea target

So AS Roma fans. He couldn't have been that bad? Monchi. After all, if you're going to leave a legacy, you could do a lot worse than young Nicolo Zaniolo...

"...and stay out!" Which was basically Roma president James Pallotta's farewell message to his former sports director yesterday. He and Monchi agreeing to terminate the latter's contract last week - before just days later the Spaniard was being named, for a second time, the top man at Sevilla.

Eusebio di Francesco's demise and the likes of Robin Olsen and Rick Karsdorp failing to meet expectations sealed Monchi's fate. But with the rough, the smooth should also be noted. And as mentioned, if there is to be a Monchi legacy for his time with the Giallorossi, then let it be this 19 year-old phenomenon. A phenonenum who was being branded "not good enough" barely two years ago when cut loose by Fiorentina.

"I started at Genoa and then went to Fiorentina, starting with the Esordienti," recalls Zaniolo. "I came up to the Allievi and then did the summer preseason with the Primavera. Then they told me that there was no place for me..."

But today, those at Fiorentina have managed to avoid scrutiny thanks to Monchi. For it was the Spaniard who saw something in the player that his counterparts at Inter Milan couldn't.

It's old news now. The fallout from the infamous swap. Radja Nainggolan for Zainolo and Davide Santon, who has now become an afterthought in the whole deal.

Even just a few weeks ago, one of Zaniolo's biggest supporters at Inter, his Primavera coach Stefano Vecchi, was adamant Monchi and Roma simply lucked out.

"In retrospect it is easy to talk about, given the performance of Nicolo," said Vecchi. "But it is also fair to say that last summer this operation was good for everyone.

"Inter needed players ready to return immediately to compete for the top and play the Champions League as a protagonist. And nobody could question a player like Nainggolan. And then the club needed to balance the books for financial fair play and in addition to Zaniolo in the deal, Santon also entered, which took a very important one to Roma.

"Roma was good at believing in him (Zaniolo), even if at first I believe he was taken as a makeweight..."

But don't you believe it. At least not according to the player's father, Igor. A former pro himself, Igor Zaniolo enjoyed a solid career in Serie B and C with the likes of Messina, Salernitana and Genoa.

And on Monchi's determination to ferry his son to Roma, Igor revealed: "Rome had insisted: if Nicolo had not gone to the capital, Nainggolan would not have moved to Milan. Inter therefore were a bit on the ropes!

"Plus, not a small factor, (coach Luciano) Spalletti strongly wanted the Belgian player, so the Nerazzurri were forced to say yes."

And now, with less than a first season of senior football under his belt, Zaniolo is being mentioned as a €60m player. The champions Juventus, no less, are prepared to throw the bank at Roma to convince them to sell. But they're not alone. The Viola reject also attracting enquiries from Chelsea, Manchester City and Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid. But tempting the youngster away will be no easy thing...

"In the end, playing in a team with (Daniele) De Rossi and (Alessandro) Florenzi, or seeing what (Francesco) Totti did, you understand how much you can be attached to this team and these fans," says Zaniolo. "It would be a dream to do the same things. I now only focus on training and playing."

Grounded. Mature. They're qualities mentioned alongside Zaniolo during his breakout year. And it's been a conscious effort for all concerned. One of Monchi's final acts as sports director being a meeting with the family about keeping Nicolo away from the spotlight. Limiting his public appearances. His media commitments. Even social media. Mum Francesca happily taking up the slack there with one of the most popular Instagram accounts in Italy.

In the meantime, Zaniolo acknowledges it's Igor who is keeping him on the straight and narrow.

"My Dad tells me that it's easy to go high, but it takes even less to go down. He repeats it to me over and over, 'don't let it go to your head', especially now. And he also tells me 'remember how you felt when Fiorentina released you'."

Indeed, Zaniolo credits one piece of advice from his father that eventually rescued his career. After his Viola axe, Zaniolo moved to Serie B Virtus Entella and admits he was ready to give it all away.

"Yes. In the first month at Virtus Entella. I was in the Primavera and I didn't play, I still had to settle down, I had arrived at the end of preseason. I found myself in my father's bar in La Spezia, crying. I told him 'if I can't play here, maybe I have to do something else in life'. And he replied: 'Do the last week, give it 1000%, do it well, without thinking'. I tried it. I made it. And from there I never left."

That was in the summer of 2016. Being in tears and ready to throw it all away. Just over two years on and Zaniolo will make his debut for Roberto Mancini's Italy this coming week.

Not a bad legacy to leave a club, Monchi. Not bad at all.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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