The 20-year-old Roma starlet was supposed to be cutting his teeth further down the ladder, but has instead emerged a rising star of the European game
Cengiz Under wasn’t supposed to be playing, not for his parent club anyway.
A 20-year-old of immense promise who inspired Instanbul Basaksehir to the unlikeliest of title challenges in Turkish football last season, he arrived at Roma a promise, a rough diamond yet to be polished.
He’d already turned down a move to Manchester City after learning a loan move was being arranged – and then it appeared Roma were set to do the same, with Sassuolo keen to borrow Turkey’s latest wonderkid.
After all, outside his homeland he remained largely anonymous. “He is probably the least well known of our new signings for the fans,” Roma sporting director Monchi said upon the youngster’s arrival in the Eternal City.
But Monchi had forged a reputation as the best talent-spotter in modern football following 15 remarkable years at Sevilla. And he felt Under was ready. Coach Eusebio Di Francesco was on board, too.
“When the manager and I started looking for a left-footer who could play on the right, we thought of him right away,” said Monachi. “He is a footballer with great potential who can also play an important role right away.”
And Under grabbed the opportunity with both hands. “I like to prove people wrong and exceed expectations,” he told the Guardian. “I’ve been doing it since the age of 10.”
A decade later, those expectations are becoming increasingly difficult to exceed. The secret is out.
He’s already matched his record goal tally for a single league campaign, despite only making 14 starts, Under is proving that Roma were right to take the risk.
His seven goals in just 25 appearances in Serie A this season leaves him the club’s second-top scorer behind Edin Dzeko.
Under has also added more to his overall game, too, creating 22 chances for his team-mates and kept up a consistent 73.8% pass rate throughout the campaign.
He broke his duck against Verona with a goal that has become typical of what is expected of him, cutting in from the right-hand side and unleashing a fierce effort with his left from all of 25-yards.
Much like Arjen Robben, who typifies the role of a left-footed right-winger, defenders are all too aware of what the young Turkish international is planning, but like the Bayern Munich veteran, there usually is no stopping it.
“He has this great quality of being able to line up his shot while still hiding it,” explained Di Francesco.
Roma’s league campaign has been impressive, but it’s in Europe where they made headlines this term, beating Barcelona 3-0 at the Stadio Olimpico to reach the semi-finals.
Whilst they may have fallen to Liverpool, Under came off the bench against the Catalans to whip in a devilish corner in the 82-minute which Kostas Manolas only had to glance passed Ter Stegen to give Italy’s capital club a famous victory.
And this is just the start – there’s more to come from Turkey’s latest jewel in the crown.