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Talent Radar: Mattia Destro & Jese Rodriguez — the opportunists

Talent Radar is our latest feature, you can know more about it here. Updates and Performance Reports on young talents is one of its features as we track the progress of their early careers.


Top scorer Mattia Destro

For a couple of seasons now, Italian pundits and followers have sang praises of Roma’s 22-year-old Italian forward, Mattia Destro. The youngster, however, has increasingly struggled to justify the hype that surrounded the player in his early days. Now at 22, Destro is quickly running out of time to make a real claim in Italian football. But Destro’s problem lies less with his own gameplay and more to do with factors uncontrollable. Mattia Destro has been plagued by injuries since the early part of his career and this season was no different.

This piece on ESPN gives a better account of Destro’s injury crisis. It’s an unfortunate tale of the club blaming the national team (in this case the U-21 setup), for aggravating an already injured player. Last season was no different for Destro, hampered by injuries, he still managed to score important goals at important moments, most notably the braces against Inter Milan and his former side, Siena. The former ofcourse was in the Coppa Italia semi-finals. The problems of the 2012/13 season, compiled with those suffered at the U-21 European Championship, have continued to halt Mattia Destro’s progress even into the current season. After returning to pre-season training with that knee injury, Destro was out for the first half of the 2013/14 campaign.

It was only in December 2013 that Destro made a return. His first appearance came at home to Fiorentina, coming on as a second-half substitute. It took him just 10 minutes to scor his first goal, one that proved to be the winner. The following week he got his first start of the season against AC Milan at the San Siro, it took him just 13 minutes to open the scoring. A goal and an assist followed in the next game, a comfortable 4-0 victory over Catania.

This past weekend against Sampdoria was arguably Mattia Destro’s best performance. The striker managed to score two goals, helping his side to a 3-0 victory. But it was his general involvement that caught the eye. Destro was enjoying his deployment as a lone striker; he constantly involved himself in attack and tried to create chances for his side, most notably a brilliant first touch pass to Strootman which the Dutchman somehow failed to score from. Destro looked to make runs in-behind the Sampdoria defence, linking up well with Gervinho and his wing-play.


The first goal came from a Florenzi corner, a goal celebrated by Mattia Destro by removing his shirt. An unnecessary celebration right at half-time, warranting a yellow card from the referee. The neat header took Roma into the lead at half-time and after Pjanic scored from a free-kick, Destro got his second goal. Gervinho’s ball through to him was taken brilliantly by the 22-year-old. A first touch got the ball under control, a sweet turn on the ball took the defender out of it and he smashed home from close-range. Interestingly, Destro took just two shots the entire game, both resulting in goals. Much of his play involved bringing his team-mates into the game. That second goal was also celebrated by a lift of the shirt, which fortunately for him went unnoticed from the referee; something that Rudi Garcia should talk to the ex-Siena man about.

What’s more surprising to note is that Roma, who are Juventus’ only real challengers to the Serie A title (9 points behind with a game in hand), the side that have surprised many with their great start and consistency, are led by Mattia Destro. Yes, the young striker, who has started just 5 games all season, the first of which was in December, is the top scorer of the club with 6 goals in the league.

Injuries aside, Destro is quite a gifted striker with a (potentially) bright future ahead of him. He has proved in the past, and this season as well, that he knows how to take his chances. Offered the opportunity, Destro delivers. One can only hope he manages to realise his true potential; his injury record at the moment can take his career down the same path that Giuseppe Rossi has gone under. Another striker who was hampered by injuries in the early part of his career, and despite some rejuvenation this season, he has relapsed back into the sidelines.

Jese Rodriguez taking advantage

Last month we released a list of the 100 Best Young Players to Watch-Out for in 2014. Many of our readers and social media followers insisted on the inclusion of Jese Rodriguez. The youngster did make the cut, but only at #14 in our list of attackers, see the list here. Many insisted that he should have featured higher up. Now it’s hard to judge the playing time a youngster would get at any club, but at Real Madrid, given the plethora of stars available, it’s unlikely that a 20-year-old attacker could make a regular run of games. It was with this justification that we didn’t feature Jese higher in the list. It remains to be seen if we will be proved wrong, like how Paco Alcacer has already started doing, he has though made a good case for himself in the last few weeks, taking advantage of Bale’s injury and Ronaldo’s suspension.

ATT_JeseJese’s starts were restricted to the Copa Del Rey and one game in the Champions League before Gareth Bale was injured. This opened the door for Jese to take his opportunity. He started for the first time in the league against Athletic Bilbao earlier this month and makred it with a goal, giving Real the lead from a Ronaldo assist, Jese tapping it in on the slide. The game finished level and also saw Ronaldo sent off, meaning a three game suspension. Three days later he received a start against Atletico in the Copa Del Rey, and once againt was on the score sheet in the 3-0 win.

By the time Real faced Villarreal at the Santiago Bernebeu, Bale was fully match fit and ready for a start. Ronaldo, however, would be absent through suspension, meaning Jese would get another start. No surprise then that the opportunist took another rare chance and made full use of it. Di Maria sled the 20-year-old through on goal and Jese made no mistake, with a calm and composed finish. It was more of a cheek “pass”, the Spaniard didn’t rush it or get over-excited, a deft slow pass into the goal, a finish more regular with an experienced 30+ year old. He set-up Benzema minutes later to cap off the 4-2 victory.

This past weekend marked the second game of Ronaldo’s three game suspension and Ancelotti was again forced to start the 20-year-old, although by now it was more of an attacking option rather than a forced inclusion. It took him just 5 minutes to once again find the back of the net, a simple ball through to him at the edge of the box and Jese took into his stride, cut inside and calmly curled it into the far corner, an almost Ronaldo-esque goal. Another finish of an experienced veteran.

Jese has thus started four games through opportunities provided by Bale and Ronaldo’s injury/suspension, and the striker has scored in all four games. One more opportunity will present itself next weekend against Elche, but one wonders if Jese has done enough to get into the side and displace off Gareth Bale (given that Ronaldo and Benzema have assured places in the front three).

Thus we’ve seen two young strikers, both not receiving enough game time at their respective clubs, but both true opportunists when the chances presents itself. For Mattia Destro, it’s a case of staying fit and hoping that knee doesn’t cave in again, for Jese Rodriguez, it’s more of continuing with what he’s doing and hoping that one of the mega-household names falter.

Read all our other Talent Radar articles here.

To discuss this and many other football topics, join thousands of fans at R/Football

Sami Faizullah

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