AC Milan's new signing Alessio Romagnoli: What you need to know
Alessio Romagnoli became one of the most interesting signings in Italy on Tuesday as AC Milan sealed a ?25 million deal to bring him in from Roma. Those who don't follow Serie A closely wouldn't have heard a lot about the 20-year-old centre back before the transfer saga started two months ago, so here are a few things you need to know about the man who has been tipped to lead the Milan and Italy defence gfor years to come.
1. The legendary Bruno Conti spotted his talent
Romagnoli grew up in Nettuno, about 50km south of Rome, birthplace of the great Bruno Conti, the legendary Roma and Italy winger from the 80s. As a kid, Alessio played for San Giacomo Nettuno, whose coach, Domenico Vocale, claimed that he was clearly the leader: "He played as a sole defender in five-a-side games, and his role was to set up the game. I saw great potential in him".
Conti spotted him and persuaded him to join Roma's academy at the tender age of nine. Romagnoli never looked back, proving to be one of the best talents in all the age groups.
However, during his first few years in the academy, Romagnoli played in central midfield -- which is why his technical skills are much better compared to the average centre-back -- and was only moved into defence by youth coach Sandro Tovalieri because of a lack of other options. His ability on the ball is especially important when you remember that new Milan coach Sinisa Mihajlovic was an energetic midfielder before switching to centre-back. The duo clearly enjoy a mutual understanding.
2. Mihajlovic compared him to Alessandro Nesta
Romagnoli was extremely lucky to find himself at Sampdoria last summer. Mihajlovic, who was then in charge of the club before his move to Milan, is never afraid to give young players responsibility and Romagnoli impressed him in his full debut in September, scoring and assisting in a 2-1 win over Chievo.
After the game, the Serbian coach astonishingly compared the youngster to one of the best Italian stoppers of all time: "Alessio is like Alessandro Nesta, but more technical."
Mihajlovic himself partnered Nesta in the great Lazio side that lifted the Cup Winners' Cup in 1999 and they won a historic league and cup double together in 2000. Such a compliment could potentially be damaging for Romagnoli, but he kept his feet on the ground and delivered some spectacular performances, including keeping Carlos Tevez quiet in the 1-1 draw at Juventus in December.
Sampdoria were outstandingly solid throughout the season, conceding just 42 goals in 38 matches -- the fifth best record in Serie A. It is hardly surprising that Mihajlovic made Romagnoli his top target in the transfer market, and he could have got himself a bargain if the youngster does indeed become the new Nesta.
3. Zdenek Zeman gave him his chance
Zdenek Zeman is famous not only for his outrageously attacking style, but also for nurturing young talents. The list of superstars who were given their first real opportunity by the Czech coach is impressive: Salvatore Schillaci, Giuseppe Signori, Alessandro Nesta, Francesco Totti and Marco Verratti among others.
When Zeman was appointed Roma coach in the summer of 2012, he promoted the 17-year-old Romagnoli into the first-team and gave him his debut in December. The defender's first Serie A game took place, ironically, against Milan. Zeman aspired to build his central defence in 2013-14 season around the young talents of Marquinhos and Romagnoli, but his plan was never implemented because Roma lost patience and hastily fired him in February 2013.
Marquinhos was sold to Paris Saint-Germain that summer, while Romagnoli was not used by coach Rudi Garcia until his chance came in the beginning of 2014.
When it did, another aspect of his ability raised its head. Injuries to Federico Balzaretti and Dodo forced Garcia to try Romagnoli as a left-back and the gamble turned out to be quite successful as Roma remarkably conceded just two goals in seven Serie A fixtures with the left-footed youngster in an unfamiliar position.
Rather bizarrely, though, Romagnoli's 2013-14 season ended with a 4-1 thrashing at Catania when he started in central defence under Garcia for the first time. His reputation was hurt by that performance and, ahead of the new campaign, Roma looked to loan him out -- which was good news for Sampdoria.
4. He could have played for Inter
Back in 2011, he could have ended up at Milan's city rivals Inter under Andrea Stramaccioni. The coach started his career at Roma working with the youth teams before switching to Inter's Primavera in the summer of 2011 and he made an effort to bring the 16-year-old Romagnoli with him.
"Stramaccioni told me about the opportunity to join Inter, but Roma refused to release me," the player revealed in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport last year.
Stramaccioni was promoted to first-team coach soon after, but was then sacked in May 2013 and Nerazzurri fans will be disappointed now that Romagnoli will wear the shirt of their bitter rivals.
5. Francesco Totti tried to get him to stay at Roma
"Il Capitano" Totti took Romagnoli under his wing while he was at Roma. He even presented the defender, who is very fond of dogs, with a labrador named Carlotta who now lives with Romagnoli's parents. When Roma received the offer from Milan, Totti tried to persuade Alessio to stay, but as the youngster had to choose between the club he loves and the coach he adores he eventually decided that sticking with Mihajlovic would be better for his development.
6. He is a big fan of Valentino Rossi
Romagnoli loves motorcycles and has always admired Valentino Rossi, one of the most successful racers of all time. He wore No. 46 at Roma as a tribute to his hero but Rossi is a famous Inter fan so that may cause him issues for any potential friendship. Of course the Milan faithful will easily forgive their new star if his rise continues at its current speed.