When Roma won the Europa Conference League final in 2022, Edoardo Bove was an unused substitute.
If Roma reach the Europa League final in 2023, then as things stand, Edoardo Bove will have been one of the difference makers.
At the halfway stage of the semi-final tie against Bayer Leverkusen, Bove’s goal is the only thing separating the two sides. It came on what was actually his first ever Europa League start, after seven substitute appearances earlier in the competition (and two Conference League outings, including one start in the group stage, last term).
Yet Bove’s presence in the lineup was no accident. True, fitness issues among the Roma squad increased his chances of featuring – with Bryan Cristante having to drop into defence and Georginio Wijnaldum only available for the bench – but Bove has been earning his opportunities recently. Now, unlike other options such as poor Mady Camara, he isn’t seen as a last resort, rather a genuine contender for a shirt.
Coming just five days before his 21st birthday, Bove’s winning goal was the climax of his career so far. How he manufactured the opportunity was emblematic of why he has been earning the trust of Jose Mourinho.
A determined and instinctive interception. A confident, momentum-building dribble. A generous pass before being on hand to react to the rebound with a carefully controlled finish. Then, a sense of jubilation at his first goal in European football – or any knockout cup at senior level, for that matter.
This season has been building towards a Bove moment like that. In 2022-23, the academy graduate has made more appearances than in either of the two previous campaigns in which he brushed shoulders with the first team. Although he has made more appearances as a substitute than as a starter, his responsibility has gradually been increasing.
All of his Serie A starts this season have come after the winter break. In May alone, up to and including the first leg against Bayer Leverkusen, he has started all three games across both competitions that Roma remain in. And although he may not be the first name on the teamsheet, it’s becoming a less unusual sight to see him selected.
Bove remains a raw talent, who has some aspects of his game to develop. Hence, it will be important to avoid the temptation of overhyping him. Yet he is winning over his hometown crowd with his committed displays; he rarely leaves the pitch without looking like he has left everything on the line.
Mourinho has recently reminded of how Bove almost left Roma on loan when the manager arrived in 2021. You simply cannot imagine that being one of the steps of his growth now. Somewhat like Nicola Zalewski, he has become a regular fixture in the Roma setup without needing to earn his stripes elsewhere – and he should have a significant role next season too.
In the here and now, for a Roma supporter born in the Italian capital, scoring for La Magica in a European semi-final – in front of some illustrious faces in the crowd, including Francesco Totti – will have been a special moment.
In terms of the overall tie, only half of the work is done, while Bove’s involvement in the second leg will depend on the recoveries of Wijnaldum – who came on to replace Bove as a substitute at Stadio Olimpico in the first leg – and Chris Smalling. Yet Mourinho will know that if he needs to depend on his number 52 in Germany or at any other time before the end of the season, he most certainly can.