From the Handbook: Lorenzo Pellegrini
This profile was originally published in the Scouted Football Handbook 2018 – our huge, 114-player profile e-book – two years ago. You can download it for free right now, here.
CAREER IN REVIEW
Perhaps no team in Europe can claim that their academy graduates feel a greater affinity to the shirt than those of AS Roma. First Francesco Totti dedicated his long and glittering career to the Giallorossi, when any of Europe’s truly elite clubs would have signed him without second thoughts. Not quite as impressive, but an outstanding player in his own right, Daniele De Rossi has also committed his entire illustrious career to the city and shirt he grew up in as a child.
A Rome native, Lorenzo Pellegrini idolised De Rossi as a child and joined Roma’s youth academy at 10. A brief sojourn for two seasons at Sassuolo under the tutelage of current Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco differentiates Pellegrini from the linear progression of De Rossi, but does not belittle his achievements so far. Contrarily, it was an excellent transition into senior footbal that he may not have experienced at a club like Roma, battling against the likes of Juventus and Napoli in an era where the stakes have never been higher for a club of their size.
Pellegrini’s final season with Sassuolo was particularly stunning. His six goals and six assists in the league in 2016/17 helped Sassuolo back-up their sixth-placed finish in 2015/16 by finishing tenth; a feat made more difficult by Europa League participation. In the process, Pellegrini became the youngest player in Serie A to have contributed to more than 10 goals. Roma always intended to bring Pellegrini home, though, inserting a €10 million buy-back clause in his contract when they initially sold the midfielder to Sassuolo in 2015.
LORENZO PELLEGRINI WAS DIRECTLY INVOLVED IN MORE GOALS IN THE 2016/17 SERIE A SEASON THAN ANY OTHER PLAYER UNDER THE AGE OF 21: SIX GOALS AND SIX ASSISTS.
The 21-year-old spoke of his own joy after returning to Roma in the summer during an interview with club media on the day he re-signed.
“It is an incredible feeling to come back,” Pellegrini said. “This was my objective from the moment I went to Sassuolo. It is the culmination of a great two-year journey with them.”
The Italian also made his full international debut in a 5-0 win against Lichtenstein just months after competing in the Under-21 European Championships. Playing a style comparable to few other Italian midfielders, Pellegrini should now have a chance to cement a place with the Azzurri. Playing at Roma, his chances of being called up multiply on the back of the club’s reputation alone.
STYLE OF PLAY
As a player that loves driving the ball forward from midfield, Pellegrini always seemed like an influential player in Di Francesco’s 4-3-3 midfield at Sassuolo. A powerful and quick ball carrier when given the space to run in a straight line, the 21-year-old pairs his style with a tall, strongly built and imposing frame.
Moving into attacking positions, Pellegrini opts for short incisive passes in his attempts to play others through. He has greatly improved his key pass figures in his debut season at Roma, averaging 2.5 per 90 minutes in the league this season as opposed to 1.2 in his final season at Sassuolo. Simultaneously, more than two-thirds of his key passes are short passes. Again this indicates his attempts to play short, tidy passes into dangerous areas; a move that make sense when the target of such delivery is regularly Edin Džeko.
Other times, the Italian decides to shoot: almost twice per 90 minutes, to be exact. With more than half of his attempts coming from outside the box, it would be nice to see Pellegrini attempt to edge into slightly better shooting locations. He has only scored twice from outside the box half-way through his third season in Serie A, although he does regularly at least test the goalkeeper from such positions.
The difficulty he faces in driving into better shooting positions is the crowd that Džeko draws towards the area around the edge of the box. Without the ball, he has proved both at Sassuolo and at Roma that he is a threat arriving late into the box both aerially and as a late runner around the penalty spot. He is very capable finishing on either foot, as well.
Pellegrini is an incredibly difficult midfielder to characterise. Especially for an Italian midfielder, his offensive streak from relatively deep in midfield is rare. Meanwhile, as a distributor of the football he is not particularly expansive. He has averaged less than two dribbles per 90 minutes in all three of his seasons in Serie A. Most of his dribbles come by virtue of being a big-bodied midfielder capable of rolling off the defenders he is backing into, though this is not to say he is limited in possession. He has a sharp first touch. In fact, he can actually do some quite mercurial things both as a dribbler and a distributor, but he seems to play at his best when he plays with restraint, at least until he moves into attacking zones where he can be most damaging.
The Italian adds bite to the midfield too. At times, he oversteps the mark. While he is not quite at Marco Verratti’s level when it comes to guaranteed yellow cards, Pellegrini already has 13 yellow and three red cards in 68 Serie A appearances. More concerning than the statistics is the 21-year-old is capable of producing some genuine leg-breaking challenges in the style of notoriously tough team-mate, Radja Nainggolan. That ill-discipline could prove costly not only in big games, but from the possible long-term suspensions it could attract.
FORECAST FOR THE FUTURE
A club still coming to grips with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations, Roma remain a selling club in the current economic climate. As a first-team player, but not a starting XI guarantee, Pellegrini’s name has routinely featured in discussions centred around a possible sale to satisfy FFP rules. While not handicapped by FFP, Roma proved in the summer with the sales of Leandro Paredes, Antonio Rüdiger, Mohamed Salah and Emerson Palmieri, that in the right circumstances, they are willing to part with prized assets.
A reported €25 million release clause in Pellegrini’s contract is also a point of concern for the Italian club in their attempts to hold onto the 21-year-old. It appears that Roma have recently tried to offer him a new contract in view of increasing the release clause, or even eliminating it completely. Until they are able to deal with it, €25 million is an attractive price for Pellegrini and it would not be a surprise to see teams like Inter, AC Milan and es-pecially Juventus try to sign the midfielder in the summer.
In saying that, Roma are still fighting on multiple fronts this season. A 2-1 defeat in their Champions League knock-out game away at Shakhtar leaves that tie evenly balanced heading back to Rome. Concurrently, Roma sit in fifth place in Serie A as they attempt to qualify for Europe’s premier club competition once more. They are still a com-petitive club, even if their transfer dealings can be dispiriting to fans wishing to see their team competing with the likes of Napoli and Juventus. At 21, with regular football guaranteed, Pellegrini might find it difficult to leave.