Aston Villa’s New Golden Boy – The Gamble of Nicolò Zaniolo

A Beginner’s Guide to Nicolò Zaniolo

Nicolò Zaniolo is finally at Aston Villa, after at least 10 confirmation tweets today from Fabrizio Romano. After Emi Buendia suffered a season-threatening ACL injury, there was a definite need for Villa to swiftly address their need to replace the Argentine with someone who could bring a touch of X-factor in the final third. Villa’s President of Football Operations, Monchi, already had Nicolò Zaniolo’s number, having signed the player for Roma. Thus, it’s not overly surprising that he reached out to Galatasaray to bring him to B6.

Here’s the brass tacks skinny guide on Vila’s latest signing…

Nicolò Zaniolo – The 5 W’s


Nicolò Zaniolo, a 24-year-old Italian international forward, hails from Tuscany and progressed through the youth setups of Genoa and Fiorentina. He marked his Serie B debut for Vertus Entella at the young age of 17.

Despite his signing with Inter Milan, he did not make a senior appearance for Internazionale during the 2017-18 season, despite being part of the senior squad.

Zaniolo’s breakthrough occurred during his time at Roma. He earned recognition by winning the Serie A Young Player of the Season award and securing a nomination for the esteemed Golden Boy award in 2019. He finished 9th in the rankings, with eventual winner Joao Felix and Erling Haaland ahead of him, among others. Zaniolo garnered significant attention, with Fabio Capello even suggesting he had the potential to win the Ballon d’Or, while some Roma fans whispered that he could become the new Totti.

Despite facing two debilitating ACL injuries that blunted his rise, Zaniolo made a triumphant return to the Roma lineup under Jose Mourinho. Notably, he contributed to Roma’s victory in the Europa Conference League, achieving a hat-trick against Bodo Glimt in the quarter-finals and scoring the only goal in the final against Feyenoord in 2022.

However, Zaniolo’s time at Roma ended on a tumultuous note. In January 2023, he signed with Galatasaray, where he played a supporting role in securing the title during his initial half-season with the club.

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Zaniolo has the potential to be a class act on the pitch, and he’s regarded as one of Monchi’s only good signings for Roma.

Playing anywhere across the front or even in attacking midfield, he is tall and powerful, with the cliched ‘good feet for a big lad’.

Injuries have definitely stopped him from reaching the heights of the other nominees for the 2019 Golden Boy Award, causing him to miss the majority of two years of his career.

Despite being 24-years-old, he’s already got the air of an Italian wild card maestro type, ala Benito Carbone, Paolo Di Canio and Fabrizio Ravanelli. Those players were largely signed by clubs happy to put up with their hot headedness just to get a bit of razzle dazzle for their supporters. That Premier League precedent for a particular brand of Italian talent will be a concern for Unai Emery, as he will want a player to buy into his team’s ways and not be a mercenary individualist.


Where he will fit in is again a good question. In terms of build and skillset, Zaniola is very different to any of Villa’s other attackers.

At 6 feet 3 inches and noticeably powerful in his running, he will give Unai Emery a chance to change his approach in attack if necessary. He will provide an additional physical presence for defenders beyond just Ollie Watkins.

The transfer certainly fills the void left by Buendia and gives the squad a much-needed morale boost, but the presence of Moussa Diaby perhaps complicates there being an obvious role in the team for Zaniola. For Roma, the Italian certainly liked to cut in from the right on his left foot. He can play in several positions though, but just off Watkins in either an advanced midfield position or even as a second striker, seems likely.

In terms of creativity, he registered 18 assists in 128 games for Roma and 24 Goals, so he tends to lean towards taking the chance on himself rather than playing in others.


Like a number of recent Villa signings, this is a player who would have been out of their league had it not been for injury and circumstance.

The precious relationship with Monchi is key here, as Zaniolo had just landed at Galatasaray, won the league and had a Champions League campaign to approach.

It’s no secret that Villa were a forward player short even before Buendia’s injury, so Zaniolo would have been a good addition considering his versatility and potential.

For Zaniolo, this is also an interesting cross roads in his career. Players from major European leagues, normally get sold off to Turkey further down the road in their careers. This will be an excellent chance to prove his doubters wrong and fire himself back into the limelight.


Injuries, attitude and settling into the league.

To get the injuries out of the way, these are a double-edged sword. ACL’s are obviously potentially catastrophic, and to have two in a short space of time is career-threatening. In Zaniolo’s case perhaps it was too much football at too young an age. Plus, maybe he was brought back too early from his first ACL in January 2020, considering the second one happened in September of the same year (albeit different legs).

The upside is once a player is clear of these, their mentality cannot be questioned.

To mitigate the risk, Villa have agreed on a loan-to-buy option, with Villa paying an initial £4.25m loan fee. However, there has been much talk about a “conditional compulsory purchase option” – allegedly triggered on appearances, which could see a permanent signing for a reported £19.2 million with substantial add-ons, if Zaniolo is a hit. An alternative take is it seems to be a structured move with one eye firmly on navigating FFP.

The other concern is how he left Roma. Whilst a falling out with Jose Mourinho can happen to the best of players, there were other incidents that soured his time there.

Zaniolo faced difficulties contending with the physicality of opponents in Serie A, who employed robust defensive tactics against him. Mourinho’s remark, “If I were Nicolo Zaniolo, I would start thinking that perhaps playing in Serie A means things will be stacked against me,” encapsulates this sentiment.

Following his pivotal role in helping Roma lift the Europa Conference League, Zaniolo angled for a pay rise to be one of Roma’s top earners.

The fans did not take kindly to this and with performances on the field dropping off, Zaniolo was booed off the pitch in a cup game vs Genoa and subsequently handed in a transfer request. This led to an angry mob surrounding his house and him being barred from the Roma training ground to appease the Ultras.

While it is unlikely he will encounter an angry mob at Aston Villa, the off-field drama is something that won’t play well in the Premier League and UK media.

Zaniolo is still a young, and remains an exciting signing for Aston Villa full of possibility. If he remains injury free, he will bring some swagger and a winning mentality to the squad.


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