At 18 years old, in the 2015-16 season, Sadiq Umar set himself out as a very talented prospect.
Born in Nigeria, the player had impressed at youth level with Spezia, prompting Roma to acquire him on loan. Under Rudi Garcia, the striker became hot property, scoring two goals for the senior team. Since then, his progress has been stinted, but with the 20-year-old training with Roma again, could he make an impact?
Much of Sadiq’s initial fortune came due to Edin Dzeko’s miserable first season in the capital. With the Bosnian striker misfiring, failing to live up to his expectations, Sadiq was given a chance, as the club’s only other out-and-out centre-forward. After firing a hat trick for the Primavera against Bayer Leverkusen in the UEFA Youth League, and scoring four in a domestic youth game versus Napoli, he had shown he was worthy of being handed an opportunity. His debut came in November 2015, against Bologna, as he replaced Juan Iturbe late on. Garcia would go on to give him further opportunities, his faith in the youngster repaid with goals against Genoa and Chievo.
But the French coach’s time was soon up, and the picture changed for Sadiq. Following Garcia’s January departure, the Nigerian would make only one more appearance for Roma – and that was as a 90th minute substitute. With Luciano Spalletti seeing Diego Perotti in a false nine role as a more suitable alternative to Dzeko, Sadiq would not get the chance to prove himself again that season. Despite this (he completed just 188 minutes of Serie A action all season), he still attracted the interest of the likes of Arsenal. Roma ensured they made his loan deal permanent.
Sadiq went on to impress at the Rio 2016 Olympics that Summer. He scored four goals in six games as his country secured the bronze medal, reminding the football world of his various qualities. His height is an obvious advantage, as is his pace and mobility both on and off the ball. Strength is also a major part of his playing style, making him difficult to defend against. However, it seemed Roma weren’t willing to keep him in the first team, and hence, he joined Bologna on a season-long loan deal. With the chance to impress at a decent Serie A standard, Sadiq could have increased his progression greatly. But it wasn’t to be.
Sadiq made his Bologna debut in October 2016, against his parent club’s rivals Lazio. Three weeks later, he would make his fifth appearance – and first start – of the season, this time against Roma. It would also turn out to be his last start of the season.
Having missed five games toward the start of the season with a bruised ankle, he would undergo surgery on that area in November 2016, making him miss nine games. Beyond this injury he made just two more appearances. What could have been a breakthrough season was wasted.
But now, Sadiq has returned to Roma, injury-free, joining up with the squad for the pre-season training camp in Pinzolo. Having made just seven appearances last season, he will be eager to get more playing time on the pitch. He showed glimpses of talent when he broke out at Roma, but will now need to deliver more consistently if he wants to maintain his place in the squad.
Sadiq could be a viable option as back up for Dzeko next season. He is still very young and therefore does not have the pressure of expectation weighing him down. Eusebio Di Francesco is noted for his success with young players, so he may indeed have more opportunities in mind for the Nigerian if he impresses in pre-season. Other young forwards, like Ezequiel Ponce, are being loaned out, reducing the competition that he would face if he were to remain.
However, Sadiq himself may still follow suit. Di Francesco has confirmed this week that he wants another signing to be made as back up to Dzeko, and he perhaps intends to use Perotti in a more central role again as well. Thus, Sadiq may not have a future at Roma after all, or would at least be pushed far down the pecking order. But with Champions League football returning to the Olimpico this year, a large squad is needed, and Sadiq might just be a worthwhile option to provide depth in attack for the Giallorossi. His name is one that Eusebio Di Francesco may wish to bear in mind.