Through a collective effort, Roma made the 2021-22 season one to remember – but which players deserve awards for going above and beyond?
Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge culminated with the club’s first trophy in 14 years, the inaugural Europa Conference League. Meanwhile, in Serie A, Roma improved compared to the previous season, finishing sixth.
They will hope to make further progress as Mourinho continues to build his project, but the feelings from his first season were certainly positive.
On an individual basis, there were highs and lows for most of the squad. But some of them deserve special recognition for their efforts in making 2021-22 a season to remember.
So, as is customary at this time of year, here’s who Giallorossi Yorkshire has chosen for the season awards.
Signing of the Season – Rui PatricioEmbed from Getty Images
Roma made four signings in the summer of 2021 and two more in January 2022 to bolster Jose Mourinho’s squad. Of these, two made the biggest impact: Tammy Abraham and Rui Patricio.
Either could claim this award, but it goes to Patricio on the basis of his transfer fee being cheaper, and the fact that the club had got it wrong in his position a few times before.
Patricio settled in to his new surroundings immediately, with his experience benefitting Roma. The goalkeeper instantly became first choice and provided composure that had been lacking since the days of Alisson Becker.
Consistent from start to finish, Patricio has provided something it can be hard to find from the transfer market – stability. Now, for the first time in five years or more, Roma can go into a new season safe in the knowledge of who their number one should be.
Most Improved Player – Marash KumbullaEmbed from Getty Images
Although not a guaranteed starter yet by the end of the season, Marash Kumbulla ended it in a much stronger position than he started it.
Still looking somewhat frail in his first Roma season, his second got better over time. He was part of the lineup that lost 6-1 to Bodo/Glimt, after which he was omitted from the squad. Mourinho admitted to using harsh words to him – but a few months later, he would be praising Kumbulla’s response on the pitch.
Of those that were banished after the Bodo/Glimt disaster, Kumbulla is the only one who really recovered. By the time spring was approaching, he was becoming more consistent and dependable at the back.
Hence, as the season came to a close, Mourinho’s tune had changed. Now, the manager was making it known that Kumbulla is part of his plans for the future, and it is down to his work on the pitch that he has earned that.
Most Consistent Player – Henrikh MkhitaryanEmbed from Getty Images
Player of the season in Giallorossi Yorkshire’s awards for the 2020-21 season, Henrikh Mkhitaryan had a different story to tell in 2021-22.
Becoming more of a central midfielder than the attacking one who had made such an impression in his first two Roma seasons, Mkhitaryan’s excitement levels dropped, but his functionality did not.
Putting past difficulties with Mourinho to one side, he battled on in the midfield, showing good ball carrying skills and his customary intelligence.
Mkhitaryan may not have reached the same peaks as before, but his performance levels rarely dropped below a decent standard. After previously questioning his longevity over a season for Manchester United, this time Mourinho knew he had used a reliable version of the Armenian ace all year long.
Young Player of the Season (under-21) – Nicola ZalewskiEmbed from Getty Images
Who saw that coming? Most Roma fans knew Nicola Zalewski had potential at the start of the season, but few could have predicted the way in which he would come to express it.
After Leonardo Spinazzola’s injury and Matias Vina’s inconsistency, Mourinho turned to Zalewski as a creative solution for the left wing-back role. From mid-February onwards, he was the regular starter in the position.
Still only 20, Zalewski showed maturity to compete well in both directions of the game. There will be aspects to improve, but he certainly earned his place in contention for a shirt – for the season just gone and the one coming up.
Experienced Player of the Season (over-30) – Chris SmallingEmbed from Getty Images
This award could have gone to Patricio, but since he earned recognition earlier, an equally deserving recipient claims it instead: Chris Smalling.
2020-21 had been a season to forget for the former Manchester United man, due to a range of stop-start injuries. Some also had concerns about how he would do when working with Mourinho again.
But back in shape and up to speed, Smalling established himself as the rock at the back fans had grown to love back in 2019-20. In the middle of a three-man defence, the 32-year-old excelled.
So difficult to get past, he made his experience count – never more so than in the Conference League final, in which he was the deserved man of the match. Seeing this version of Smalling will always be special.
Goal of the Season – Lorenzo Pellegrini v Lazio
There were a few contenders for goal of the season – Felix Afena-Gyan’s stunner from outside the box against Genoa, or Stephan El Shaarawy’s cushioned half-volley against Sassuolo – but the one that meant the most, and looked so impressive in the process, was Lorenzo Pellegrini’s free kick against Lazio.
During 2020-21, when Pellegrini began to take on more set-piece responsibilities, some wondered if he was good enough at them. In 2021-22, he started to show them why he was in charge of that department.
Three of his 14 goals across the campaign came from direct free kicks. Undoubtedly the most memorable and impressive was the one he scored in the derby against Lazio in March.
Finding the top corner with pinpoint accuracy, he guided the ball to practically the only place he could. With every angle throughout the replays, it looked even better. For a Roman to score that kind of goal in the derby, as captain, was a special part of a special day.
Italian Player of the Season – Lorenzo PellegriniEmbed from Getty Images
And it was not the only time Pellegrini impressed during his first full season as club skipper. Stepping up with the responsibility, the Rome-born icon enjoyed his best season for goal contributions yet.
Approaching the mid-point of his career at the age of 25, Pellegrini showed further signs of improvement both as a goalscorer and a creator. The free kick against Lazio was obviously a peak moment, but his backheel goal against Verona was another clear highlight.
Roma have been building something of an Italian core, with captain, vice-captain and third in command all being members of the national team. But there was little doubt that Pellegrini was the one who led by example the most – and will continue to do so for years to come.
Foreign Player of the Season – Tammy AbrahamEmbed from Getty Images
Roma have also had many impactful non-Italians helping them along the way over the past 12 months. Naturally, the one that springs to mind most is England striker Tammy Abraham.
The former Chelsea man had never played outside his native country when moving to Serie A last summer. But he adapted quickly, finding his feet in a difficult league.
Over the course of the season, he scored 17 league goals – the most by an English player in their debut Serie A season. He also scored on his first Coppa Italia appearance and set a record for the quickest goal in a Rome derby.
It only took Abraham a few months to become part of Roma folklore.
Player of the Season – Tammy AbrahamEmbed from Getty Images
Indeed, there was no one better for Roma in the 2021-22 season. It can be easy to focus on goalscorers, but Abraham genuinely stood out from the group.
His work rate was phenomenal across all 52 of his appearances. He more than earned the 27 goals that came from different parts of his body as a result.
Abraham quickly became encapsulated by the passion of Roma – haven’t we all? – and with the fans on-side, he began to do them proud.
The centre-forward role carries a big burden for any club, but even after offloading their third best ever goalscorer in the summer, Roma found a very high-quality one to inspire them throughout 2021-22.
Abraham certainly played his part in ensuring it ended with a trophy, scoring nine goals in the Conference League. Only one player at another club managed more, while only three men scored more than him in Serie A.
Everyone took note, both in Italy and back home in England, of how impressive Abraham had been. As far as debut seasons go, it couldn’t have gone much better.