HomeFootballCharting the rise of Bologna’s Riccardo Calafiori

Charting the rise of Bologna’s Riccardo Calafiori


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Bologna haven’t just been the biggest surprise package in the Serie A, but have probably been the biggest surprise package in the top five European leagues this season. As Thiago Motta’s side continue to create history for the Rossoblu, it is easy to pick the obvious names that have made an impact for the side.

From Riccardo Orsolini and Joshua Zirkzee to Jhon Lucumi and Lewis Ferguson, multiple obvious names have carved out a name for themselves and have already been linked with moves away from the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, but Riccardo Calafiori’s name often skips the attention of watchers. The 21-year-old’s young career has witnessed a fair share of ups and downs but it seems as if his stock is surely on the rise now.

Calafiori’s impressive rise has come about after he had disappeared from the radar for a while after his spell at childhood club Roma. If not for injuries, the then-teenager may not have become a first-team asset for Roma. Towards the end of the 2020/21 season, Paulo Fonseca’s side had witnessed an injury crisis that led to the Portuguese using Calafiori and Ebrima Darboe, as Amadou Diawara also become a regular feature of the team.

For Calafiori, there was a higher chance of breaking into the team. Leonardo Spinazzola was the Giallorossi’s only regular option for the left-back or left wing-back spot, with the younger the only left-footed option on the side. He did well in Roma’s march towards the Europa League semi-finals in the 2020/21 season, scoring once and also playing thrice in the Serie A. It did seem as if he was going to be the club’s long-term option for the role and Spinazzola’s serious injury during an inspired European championships further escalated that feeling amongst Roma supporters.

The summer of 2021 also coincided with Jose Mourinho’s arrival at the club and this saw Nicola Zalewski get promoted to the first-team, as Matias Vina also came in. As game time reduced, Calafiori found himself in the peripheries of the Mourinho project. A loan move to Genoa followed, where Calafiori could never really make a mark and a result, he was judged by the Giallorossi negatively. As a result, he was moved on to Basel in Switzerland in the summer and right from the very start of his time RotBlau, he became a regular part of the side and also played at centre-back, apart from playing at his preferred left-back position under Alex Frei.

Being Italian, a return back home was never too far for Calafiori. Only a season later, Bologna roped him in for a fee of only €4 million. In a way, his usage at centre-back at Basel has sparked a career resurgence for the 21-year-old. While he has played some games at left-back under Motta, the demands of the system make sure that Calafiori is well-suited to playing at centre-back on either sides of the backline.

In Motta’s system, centre-backs often operate in midfield to create numerical overload in central areas and Calafiori is often tasked with that role. His heatmap shows that, as he constantly comes into midfield and it suggests how progressive he can be on the ball.

As per FBRef, Calafiori ranks at 85 percentile for progressive carries, which is a very left back-like trait. He is also a solid 63 percentile for progressive passes, which again shows his traits as a defender. And his left-back background makes sure that even in central areas, he’s always keen on taking players on and progressing past them, as he is at 89 percentile for successful take-ons, with the Italian contributing to both the first phase and the second phase of the possession phase.

These traits make sure that Calafiori is also one of the most creative defenders in Europe, with the 21-year-old currently at 98 percentile and that shows how much value the defenders offers and how much the system favours him. Juventus would be licking their lips at that prospect, especially if Motta and Calafiori reunite at the Bianconeri.

It isn’t just his on-ball abilities that standout, though. The ex-Roma youngster is an effective presser off the ball and he comes across as a front-foot defender who thrives on operating in a higher line.

He has won 1.88 interceptions per 90 minutes, ranking at 96 percentile in that department. He is key for the Rossoblu when it comes to winning the ball back, having made more recoveries than anyone else in the side (174), with second-placed Ferguson way behind. Combine that with his on-the-ball abilities, Calafiori is Bologna’s potent weapon is multiple ways and he is extremely pivotal to how they operate under Motta.

He is essentially a modern-day defender and a swiss army knife, who can operate in two positions. It isn’t certain whether he will play at left-back regularly in the future or not but football systems are becoming increasingly dominant on overpowering the centre of the park. Motta could take a similar approach at Juve and Tottenham boss Ange Postecoglou does the same at the Lilywhites, using full-backs invertedly and Spurs have also been linked with the 21-year-old.

The future certainly looks bright for Calafiori, whose stock will only rise once he is part of the Azzurri squad for the Euros. And he deserves a spot, considering how Luciano Spalletti sees the game and how versatile the Roman is positionally.

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