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How Nicolò Zaniolo ended up at Galatasaray

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How Nicolò Zaniolo ended up at Galatasaray

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Nicolò Zaniolo, the Roma player who remained out of the team after trying to move elsewhere in the winter window of the transfer market, and who for this reason had been at the center of the sports news in recent weeks, will eventually be purchased from Galatasaray, the Istanbul team at the top of the Turkish league. The transfer will be possible because in Turkey the winter window to sign players ends tomorrow, Wednesday 8 February, while in Italy it closed on 31 January.

Roma had bought Zaniolo in 2018 from Inter, who had in turn included him as a counterpart to taking on Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan. Zaniolo was still eighteen and had previously been noticed by the then sporting director of Roma, the Spanish Monchi, during a match in the Primavera championship.

Zaniolo was valued at 4.5 million euros and it was a remarkable deal for Roma. He was called up to the national team by Roberto Mancini before even making his Serie A debut, and then played his first match for Roma in the Champions League against Real Madrid. At Inter, on the other hand, Nainggolan lasted less than a season, amidst physical and disciplinary problems, despite the almost 40 million euros paid for him.

Already in the first season Zaniolo became a regular in Rome and a great resource for the reconstruction of the national team, fresh from the failure to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. He proved to be a rather complete and modern footballer: above average both technically and physically, and akin to scoring. In January 2020, however, he broke the cruciate ligaments in his right knee: he returned to the resumption of the championship after the break due to the pandemic, but in September he injured himself again, on the other knee, missing the entire 2020/21 season.

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He then returned to play in the new Rome coached by José Mourinho at the end of August 2021, in the season which ended with the victory of the Conference League, decided in the final by one of his goals.

In recent years, Zaniolo has shown that he can be a top-level player, but has often been blocked, if not hindered, by a whole series of problems. Physical first of all: at 23 he has already had two serious injuries and many small ailments. Also for this reason he has never found a real role: he has played midfielder, winger, attacking midfielder and second striker, often to cover the shortcomings of the squad if necessary, without ever finding his definitive space.

Zaniolo with the Conference League trophy (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

In the first part of the current season, despite playing regularly, he didn’t score as expected, and this weighed particularly heavily on a team that is already struggling to score in itself. He then played his penultimate match of the season for Roma on 8 January against Milan: in the next, last one, against Genoa in the Italian Cup, he was even booed by the Olimpico crowd.

In recent months, part of the Roma fan base had become hostile to him. In addition to the performance on the field below expectations, also for more personal matters. In fact, Zaniolo’s career has not been facilitated at all by the great media exposure he has had in recent years, as a young talent apparently destined for ever higher levels. His private life has often ended up in newspapers, radio and television in a rather invasive way, which has complicated his relationship with a city that does not have half measures in football and is known for quickly bringing the most loved players to triumph, and to rage against them just as quickly when things go badly.

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Zaniolo would have asked to be sold in January, leveraging the expiry of his contract scheduled for 30 June 2024. As the deadline approaches, clubs know they can get less and less from the sale of a player, who can wait for the end of the contract and get signed at no cost by another team: the closer we got to the summer of 2024, in short, the more Roma would have risked losing him without gaining anything, or at a decidedly reduced value, at best.

Negotiations therefore began, with Milan and with English side Bournemouth, both of which however failed because they did not meet the demands of either Roma or the player. At the end of the market, with the prospect of staying in Rome, but out of the team for at least the next six months, Zaniolo had therefore made himself “available”, even if he would hardly have resumed his role. Towards the closure of the Mourinho market He said that “unfortunately” Zaniolo would remain, also criticizing his own club for the too soft line with which he had handled the affair.

In the end the situation was resolved by Galatasaray, a team that cyclically returns to invest heavily in the market and especially takes advantage of these opportunities to sign high-level players at low cost. This is how, for example, last summer he took on loan Mauro Icardi, made redundant at Paris Saint-Germain, or two players at the end of his career like Dries Mertens and Juan Mata.

In the case of Zaniolo, Galatasaray will get away with paying around 20 million euros to Roma, less than the offer presented by Milan, and rejected, at the end of January. For the player, a transfer abroad could be the best choice, given how things had turned out. He will be able to restart the season in a competitive squad, vying for a national title. And above all, he will be able to get away for a while from certain certainly not favorable environments.

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