While it’s been largely a season to forget for AS Roma, having failed to qualify for the Champions League once again, supporters have been able to take one giant crumb of comfort from this scrap heap of a year.
That joy has arrived in the form of 19-year-old midfielder Ebrima Darboe, who was promoted from the Primavera to become a regular starter in the final weeks of the 2020/21 campaign.
Darboe, born in 2001 – the same year that Roma last won the Scudetto – ended up making five league appearances for I Giallorossi and showed he is ready for the demands of the professional game.
In fact, he has wowed all of Europe with his quick adaptation to life in Serie A, so much so that a flurry of Premier League sides are now chasing his signature in the summer transfer window, as 90min exclusively revealed on Saturday.
So, who is this unearthed gem, and what is there to know about Roma’s shining light from a season of misery?
The road to the top is rarely straightforward, but for Darboe, it was more arduous than most players could ever imagine. The youngster left his family and home country of Gambia before even turning 15 in search of a better life, as reported by Rietilife.com.
He arrived in Libya and was taken to a refugee camp by human traffickers, where he suffered various forms of violence. Fortunately, he was able to escape via boat and make the difficult journey to Sicily.
From there, he travelled to Rieti, a city in the centre of Italy, weighing only 50kg as a result of the treacherous journey and circumstances. He was taken in by a family in Rieti, and it was there where he came into contact with the world of football.
Since then, he’s never looked back.
It’s been a while since a youth academy star made an impact in the Roma first team, but a new crop of youngsters are coming through and pushing for their chance. Darboe is one of a handful to have made that step up this year, when he came on in the final seven minutes of a 2-0 defeat to Sampdoria.
It was a disappointing game to make a debut, but you try telling that to Darboe. Soon after, he was stepping out onto the hallowed turf of Stadio Olimpico, and played more than an hour against giants Manchester United in the Europa League semi-final.
He didn’t look out of place, either. An exciting talent.
From his first appearances in the Roma side, it was clear to see that this boy has some serious talent. What is most impressive about the midfielder is the calm he possesses on the ball.
Darboe is prepared to turn, shimmy and turn again under mountains of pressure to evade his marker, and will always look to pass the ball vertically. His progressive style of play makes him one of the first points of reference for the goalkeeper, who waits for him to drop in and collect possession before getting the team going.
He is quick to shield his backline and is not afraid of the physical battle, enjoying plenty of duels in his few league appearances. He has also stated that he can play as a trequartista, and his goals for the Primavera back up these claims. Basically, he can do it all, and with unerring confidence.
It is for this unteachable ease and calm on the ball that he has earned the nickname Xavi, after the Spain and Barcelona legend. “Some called me Xavi, others Messi,” Darboe admitted in an interview with Ultimo Uomo.
He was then asked if it was down to his tendency to turn away from trouble by protecting and pushing the ball with the outside of his boot.
“Yes, because he always made that movement. And then I also play two or three touches. This is my style of play.”
Xavi and Messi rolled into one player – you can’t argue with that.
And he’s done plenty to justify those aforementioned comparisons. In his one Europa League and five Serie A appearances, Darboe has battled against Man Utd, Italian champions Inter and then faced Lazio in the derby della Capitale.
He was also voted Man of the Match in his first full start against Crotone, as well as scooping the same award in the 2-0 win over their fiercest rivals. He’s come on leaps and bounds under Paulo Fonseca, but he is now ready for life under one of the most famous coaches in world football.
“I think every player would like to be coached by Mourinho. I looked at him as a child, in the clasico,“ Darboe admitted. And what was his response when told that Mourinho wanted warriors in his team?
“I know, I know. I’m ready.” This boy was born fighting, and he is ready to fight for Roma and Mourinho. Let’s hope the Portuguese coach gives him the opportunity.
“It is not easy to find a player with this courage and this serenity. And always playing forward, always passing vertically.” (Paulo Fonseca)
“Darboe is a great guy, he takes all advice on board and does the right things. He played with an impressive personality already against Manchester. Now he has to feel comfortable and work as he is doing now.” (Teammate Gianluca Mancini)
A well-respected young man.