41. Cengiz Ünder
It’s no longer a secret that Roma sporting director and renowned transfer guru, Monchi, has an unrivaled ability to find talent at a fairly affordable price. The Spanish wizard, who was appointed Roma’s new sporting director early in the spring, was given the difficult task of “revamping” a Roma team that seemed to have run its course. As the summer transfer window approached, there was little doubt that Monchi would deviate from his usual modus operandi; however, as anyone who reports on Monchi can attest, it is always difficult to track who the Spaniard has his eye on in the market. Enter early July: the reports emerged quickly and the transfer was finalised four days later. Monchi had purchased one of the most exciting wingers in Europe, Cengiz Ünder of İstanbul Başakşehir, for a Turkish league record fee of €13.4 million.
Many Roma fans were left wondering who Cengiz Ünder was and what he could provide to the team, who were desperate to find a replacement for outgoing attacker Mohamed Salah, and as the preseason commenced, it started to become abundantly clear to Romanisti why Monchi chose him as Salah’s replacement. Before arriving to Roma and Basaksehir, Ünder first came onto the scene while at second division Turkish outfit Altınordu, who are well known for their development of homegrown talent. After two successful seasons in the club’s first team, Başakşehir came calling and paid an astounding €4.7 million fee for the youngster.
It was here in the Turkish capital where Ünder would begin his quick ascension to fame, garnering the attention of several clubs throughout Europe. Ünder managed to bag 9 goals and 7 assists in all competitions last season with Başakşehir and helped lead the club to a Champions League qualifying position. However, his stay at the club would be brief as he joined Roma just weeks after the end of the season.
Now, we find the young Turkish international in the Eternal City under the tutelage of manager Eusebio Di Francesco and his heralded 4-3-3 formation. The now-former Sassuolo manager is well-known for his 4-3-3 formation and his attacking style of football played on the flanks. Di Francesco’s football is spearheaded a high-powered offense, but it does not lack balance. It calls for a high work rate, particularly for the wingers, organisation, and lots of movement. Given Ünder’s strengths and his abilities, it’s more than likely that Di Francesco will utilise the Turk in a similar fashion to how he used Domenico Berardi.
Di Francesco’s football usually deploys inverted wingers to allow the wide men to cut inside centrally and exploit the space behind the opposing midfield, allowing overlapping runs from the midfielders and fullbacks. This style should play right into the hands of Ünder. It’s been very early days for him at Roma, but during his preseason performances, we’ve seen a little of bit of what Roma fans can expect from the Turk under Di Francesco.
Cengiz is a feverishly quick dribbler and an intelligent passer as well, a player who has no problems pulling the trigger and shooting when the opportunity allows him to do so. His game fits perfectly into what Di Francesco calls for, though he will obviously need some time to adapt to a stronger league. There are other things, too, that Ünder has to learn before being able to become a first choice on Di Francesco’s team sheet. Serie A is renowned for its tactical strength and for the small provincial clubs being able to play compactly and counter effectively. Ünder seems to lack patience and appears, at times, to grow frustrated when he isn’t given the space on the flanks that he was often afforded while playing in Turkey.
Ünder’s teammate and fellow attacker Diego Perotti also conceded that Ünder will have to build-up his frame and gain some strength, as he is only 172 cm and 146 lbs. Ünder has, so far, clocked 82 minutes in five matches, making his first start on September 16, against Hellas Verona. However, Roma find themselves with a very packed schedule in the coming months due to their participation in the league, Champions League, and Coppa Italia. Despite finding himself currently as a second choice, Ünder will have ample opportunities to get his feet wet in the coming weeks. Given that Roma paid a fairly hefty fee for the youngster, the Giallorossi will undoubtedly be careful in their development of Ünder.
It’s more than likely that Ünder will be deployed against the smaller clubs to give rest to the first choice attackers, which will allow him to “get his feet wet” in Serie A. Ünder has everything you would want in a young footballer and is extremely mature for his age. Given his ability coupled with his fierce mentality and undeniable professionalism, Ünder possesses the qualities that the hard working Romans appreciate and is a player that Romanisti could come to adore. While the pressure in the Eternal City is always very high, Ünder seems to have the temperament to be able to handle this pressure and, in turn, rise above the expectations.