Following a standout season narrowly cut short by injury, Emerson Palmieri may have provided Roma the solution to what has proved to be their most difficult position to fill for the past decade.
Born in the football-crazed city of Santos, Sao Paolo, Brazil in August of 1994, Emerson Palmieri dos Santos, or better known as Emerson, is the latest South American native to have landed in the Eternal City. The 23-year-old left-back finds himself on Breaking the Lines’ Top 50 list thanks to a breakout season in which he was arguably Roma’s biggest surprise on the pitch.
While Juventus fans certainly have reason to revel in the standout performances of Brazilian left-back Alex Sandro, the Roma faithful have a gem of their own in their confident, attack-minded defender. Azzurri supporters will be eager to see how he fits into coach Gian Piero Ventura’s plans after obtaining Italian citizenship in March by virtue of relatives on his mother’s side of the family.
The Brazilian-born Italian donned the white and black of hometown club Santos FC from a very young age, rising through the youth ranks before making his first team debut in April 2011. Like many before him, impressive performances in the Brazilian league attracted the interest of Italian scouts, and Sicilian club Palermo snatched him up on a loan deal with an option to buy on August 25, 2014.
Landing in the capital on August 26, 2015, Emerson’s stint as his current club began by shadowing the talented young Frenchman Lucas Digne (now at Barcelona), hardly a role to be ashamed of. His debut arrived in early October and his first Serie A goal for the Giallorossi would have to wait until the following May, when he sealed the deal in a 3-1 win against AC Milan. After a loan extension in the summer of the same year, Emerson’s stay in the Italian capital was secured on December 6th when his side purchased full rights for a price tag of €2 million. The left back is now on contract until 2021.
Emerson’s skill set includes an impressive combination of pace, dribbling, aerial prowess, positional awareness, and accurate passing. Many left backs find themselves bombing forward with relative ease while neglecting their defensive duties, but Emerson has demonstrated an acute awareness of when to join in attack and when to stay home.
On the offensive end, Emerson has proven to be a headache for managers when planning to face Roma, evidenced by a remarkable completion rate of 71.43% when taking on other players. When not terrorizing opposing defenders with runs of his own, he possesses the ability to pick defenses apart with quick, decisive passing. Roma’s system brought out the best in this regard as Emerson completed 87.4% of his passes, the best rate of any starting full-back in Italy.
Furthermore, Emerson’s speed and stamina are invaluable at full-back, a grueling position both physically and mentally due to offensive and defensive responsibilities. Even in the latter stages of matches, he was rarely on the losing end of individual battles, but his sheer pace allows him room to recover when a mistake is made. There is certainly room for growth in this area, but all signs point to him staking claim as one of the most complete full-backs in Italy.
Emerson ultimately tallied one goal and assist in a commendable 25 appearances in Serie A (36 in all competitions), but the 2016-17 campaign did not get off to the smoothest of starts. During Roma’s Champions League playoff tie with Porto, center back Thomas Vermaelen received a second yellow for recklessness and Luciano Spalletti elected to thrust Emerson into the match in winger Diego Perotti’s place. In the second leg, the left-back earned his side’s second ejection of the match, virtually sealing Roma’s ugly exit from the tournament.
While failing to become a mainstay in the early stages of the campaign, Emerson’s big break came as the season progressed when Spalletti played him in 12 straight matches. He has not looked in the rearview mirror since, definitively becoming first-choice in his position through exceptional performances.
Emerson’s breakout season for the Giallorossi came to an unfortunate end during the last home match of the season, a dramatic 3-2 win over Genoa in Francesco Totti’s farewell at the Stadio Olimpico. In just the 18th minute, a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament resulted in an exit by stretcher and the daunting task of several months of rehabilitation. To make matters worse, the 23-year-old had only just received his first international call up from the Italian National Team before a friendly against San Marino.
Ahead of what could be the most competitive Serie A season in recent memory, Emerson issued an upbeat statement on July 24th concerning his recovery process and assured the Giallorossi faithful that he is on track to be back to full strength by the expected date of October 28th.
“In ten days time, it will be two months since the operation and I’m feeling good,” he relayed to Roma TV in Boston during their American tour.
Emerson will look to thrive in the ambitious 4-3-3 system of new manager Eusebio Di Francesco. When asked about initial communication with Di Francesco and his potential role in the squad, the left-back noted they had already spoken on a couple of occasions and expressed excitement at the prospect of playing under a coach committed to wing play.
“He always has some suggestions for me, where I can and should be improving. This makes me happy as in some way I feel I’m part of future plans. I really like the way the coach plays football. He wants to play on the wings. Playing against Sassuolo, it wasn’t easy to mark their full-backs and wingers. I prefer to play this way.”
Contingent on a successful recovery process, Emerson will look to return to action alongside an expanded stable of talent at the full-back position following the summer acquisitions of Alexander Kolarov and Rick Karsdorp. If he is able to produce the same magic we witnessed last year, particularly in the latter stages of the campaign, Emerson may very well solidify his spot in Di Francesco’s lineup in a position Roma has largely struggled to fill with confidence in recent years.
In bocca al lupo, Emerson Palmieri.
By: Wesley Davidson/@wndavidson2