Almost a year after suffering a second anterior cruciate ligament injury, Zaniolo stepped onto a pitch with his number 22 stenciled on the back of his shirt. Yesterday’s friendly against Serie D side Montecatini was the first official outing for the youngster who was kept out for the entire duration of last season in order to maximize his recovery.
Mourinho knew how important it was for Zaniolo to finally get some playing time back into his legs. The manager, who got to know the 22-year-old over recent weeks (and even before his arrival in Rome as the two exchanged numerous text messages), decided to boost the youngster’s confidence by entrusting him with the captain’s armband.
Considering the circumstances (Dzeko, Pellegrini and Veretout were absent for the friendly), the match started out with defender Gianluca Mancini wearing the armband and ended with Zaniolo leading the team and scoring a penalty to seal the game. According to Corriere dello Sport, Mourinho’s initiative paid off as Zaniolo felt the manager’s trust and was proud to carry the responsibility that comes with the armband.
It remains to be seen whether the Special One will hand the youngster the armband in games other than friendlies, but this episode marks an important chapter in Zaniolo’s career at Roma. He felt the club’s belief in him and demonstrated to be up to the challenge of fighting for these colors no matter what.