The curious case of Alessio Riccardi and a fall from a grace that was never reached

There is an idiom in Italian, ‘Conosco i miei polli’, which translates to ‘I know my chickens’ – meaning someone knows another well enough to foresee what they will be doing.

And there is an idiom in English, warning: ‘Don’t count your chickens before they hatch’. In other words, be wary not to get hopes up for something before it has happened.

This brief linguistic lesson may seem something of an aside, but put together, those phrases could be applied to Roma midfielder Alessio Riccardi. He was the one for whom big things were predicted – and almost taken for granted, as if it was known what was coming – but is now the metaphorical chicken that did not hatch.

Rome-born, Roma academy product, one-time Primavera captain – it’s a story that fans have blessedly become so accustomed to that it always seemed like the talented playmaker would be the next to follow in the footsteps of the club’s homegrown heroes.

But Riccardi’s script has not turned out to be a copy of those of Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi or Lorenzo Pellegrini. Instead, the 20-year-old now looks unlikely to ever add to his solitary Roma appearance from three years ago.

Every Roma academy graduate to make their debut in the 2010s

After spending the 2020-21 season on loan in Serie B with Pescara, the first warnings emerged that Riccardi may not reach the heights expected of him. He only played nine games for the Italian east-coast outfit, of which only two were starts and none lasted 90 minutes.

Despite scoring 25 minutes into his debut there, in a Coppa Italia clash with San Nicolo, Riccardi never netted again – or in general got the experience he needed with Pescara. Thus, he met a dilemma when he returned to Roma in the summer of 2021.

He was not following the progression plan prepared for him, and his best chance of leaving on loan this time came down in Serie C, where he could have followed Devid Bouah to Teramo. Riccardi did not finalise the deal.

With no place in the senior squad at Roma, though, he had to drop back to Primavera level (as an overage player). He made three appearances for the under-19s in the first half of the season, scoring twice and providing one assist.

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But after the closure of the January transfer window, Riccardi once again found his Roma career at a standstill. Having rejected the chance to join SPAL in Serie B, despite initially being open to the solution, Il Tempo reported that he has now been ostracised from the squad, meeting the same fate as, for example, Davide Santon from the senior side.

Riccardi will not be playing club football again – not even for the Primavera – until the summer at the earliest. As Peter Drury commentated on Roma’s decisive goal against Barcelona in April 2018 – obviously in a very different context – ‘This was not meant to happen’.

So, how did it get to here? Why hasn’t it gone to plan for someone who seemed destined for great things?

Indeed, the topic of destiny can be raised as its own debate. Perhaps what has happened to Riccardi should serve as a warning about having such expectations and taking them for granted. Despite how often Roma have been blessed with more successful stories, the idea of destiny can only be reflected on retrospectively – not in advance.

And this can be a reminder not just for homegrown talents, but any young prospects that come through – at Roma or anywhere else. Patience is required before big predictions can be made.

Alas, even this writer was guilty of assuming Riccardi would inherit big things at Roma. Many did. But it just has not gone to plan.

Is there a deeper reason behind this, then, or has it just been a case of bad luck?

Only Riccardi and his camp know the full details of loans that were turned down, for example, or why his chances at Roma became limited. Was he advised poorly, or managed as such? Is there blame to attach?

Alternatively, could the explanation be a technical one? Riccardi’s best position – as a number 10 – is a dying art. Few formations allow the role to be fully expressed. Indeed, when he made his only Roma appearance – in the Coppa Italia against Virtus Entella in January 2019 – it had to be as a holding midfielder.

Thus, he never got to play in his preferred position for Roma – and it seems he never will. Would things have gone differently if he had? It’s hard to say, but even that looks doubtable.

Riccardi will likely end up on the pile of cases of ‘what might have been’ for Roma. Other academy products will have more success than him, just like others will also fall by the wayside. But there has to be some sentiment of regret in his case.

One thing is for sure – what happens in the summer will be crucial for Riccardi. He will still have a year left on his contract, but Roma are unlikely to want to keep him now and he cannot afford another season on the sidelines.

For his sake, there will be hopes that the solution can be more fitting so he can kickstart his career – even if it might not be as glamorous as once expected.

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