In the years since the departures of Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi from Roma, the club have struggled to fill a leadership void.
It is unlikely any player will ever live up to the reputations of Totti and De Rossi in particular. However, Roma have still needed to find sources of inspiration to be their guiding lights.
Edin Dzeko led by example when he was captain before Paulo Fonseca stripped him of that title. Lorenzo Pellegrini has succeeded him, returning to the tradition of the club being captained by one of their own.
But behind these figureheads, Roma have lacked players who lead without an armband. Back in the latter years of Totti and De Rossi’s careers, there were the likes of Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman who didn’t need a piece of fabric to inspire their teammates. Their exits have also been felt in that department.
But now, Roma’s leadership group is widening again. Bryan Cristante has been elevated to the role of vice-captain due to his commitment and attitude, and on Sunday 11th April, in his and Pellegrini’s absences, it was Gianluca Mancini who led the team out.
In the week before his 25th birthday, he captained a rotated side in a 1-0 win over Bologna. There were older players than him on the pitch who have been at the club longer, such as Antonio Mirante and Federico Fazio, but thanks to his status as a first-team regular, Mancini got to be the skipper for the day.
The Italy international has come a long way since joining Roma as one for the future in 2019. He soon established himself as Chris Smalling’s first-choice partner thanks to his combative, committed performances.
Throughout his first season in Rome, Mancini played more games than any other Roma centre-back. However, he still felt like a young prospect.
If last season he was in Smalling’s shadow, then this season he has become the main man. If in 2019 he was one for the future, then in 2021, that future is now.
With Smalling having missed a lot of the season through injury, Mancini has become Roma’s most important defender. He has taken significant strides forward to become the beating heart of the backline.
When his teammates were picking up injuries at an alarming rate in the first few months of 2021, Mancini was commended by Fonseca for playing through the pain barrier. He gritted his teeth and put himself at the disposal of Roma.Embed from Getty Images
The club have reaped the rewards on the pitch. Passion flowed through Mancini’s veins when he scored a late equaliser against his childhood team Inter in January, for example. But it is in the defensive phase where he has most made an impact.
Able to see the full picture ahead of him, Mancini can provide instructions to his teammates. His communication skills are among his greatest qualities; last season he made it clear that he and Smalling could understand each other with just a look, but he can be a vocal presence as well. Either way, his teammates respect him.
Always brave and passionate, Mancini epitomises not just what Fonseca wants from his defenders, but what is expected of a leader. Hence, having already worn the armband on occasion before, he has now established himself as third in command.
There is an argument that Cristante – despite the strong season he is having – would not get in Roma’s strongest XI if everyone was available. Hence, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Mancini wearing the armband a lot more whenever Pellegrini is absent.
In his mid-twenties, Mancini is no longer a young prospect. But nor is he the finished article. And as he continues to develop, so too will his importance to Roma.
Gianluca Mancini has become a leader.