It is always satisfying to see Roma academy players making their first strides into the senior team, but with Ebrima Darboe, the story is a bit more special.
His journey to this point has been unique; five years after arriving in Italy alone at the age of 14 as a refugee, he found himself playing in the Europa League semi-final against Manchester United.
It was Darboe’s second appearance in the space of a few days, after his first-team debut came against Sampdoria in Serie A. When Chris Smalling had to go off with an injury in the first half against United, another chance came the 19-year-old’s way. If playing for the first time in professional football was one thing, then it was already another to be up against the likes of Edinson Cavani, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes.
Yet Darboe conducted himself in an exemplary manner, quickly rising to the pace of the game. This did not look like a teenager only a few days into his senior career; it was the performance of an assured presence in midfield who could handle the pressure.
Of course, with Darboe’s background of making a future for himself at such a young age, a simple game of football is far from the biggest pressure he has faced. But with the world watching, he could have shrunk into his shell; instead, he took his opportunity to impress.
No player on the pitch won more duels than Darboe. He completed all but three of his 44 passes, while every long ball he attempted met its target. All four of his dribbles were successful and he also made six recoveries.
Quite simply, he made a huge impression for someone at such an early stage of their career.Embed from Getty Images
At the end of the game, Pogba came up to Darboe to congratulate him on his performance. The Gambian had earned the admiration of an integral part of a World Cup winning squad. He also got to swap shirts with Fernandes, a momento he will no doubt hold dear.
Now having established himself, the focus turns to the next step for Darboe. If Paulo Fonseca could trust him on such a big stage, then surely he could give him more opportunities in the remaining four Serie A games this season.
Sunday’s clash against Crotone, who have already been relegated, would be the perfect platform. Amid all the injuries that have affected Roma’s midfield, there could even be a case for Darboe to start.
His technical qualities and confidence on the ball would bring another element to an area of the park where Roma are missing some of their biggest talents. He doesn’t just deserve such an opportunity because of the emotional aspect of his story; Darboe deserves to be there because of his merits as a footballer.
After the game against United, Darboe gave a touching interview in which his humility and dignity shone through. Well-grounded people off the pitch make intelligent players on it, and from first impressions, this young man has both the personal and technical qualities to be a success.
What will happen next season for Darboe is unclear and will likely depend on Jose Mourinho’s opinion. But until then, he deserves some more chances to add to this chapter of his remarkable story.