With only one win in their last seven matches in all competitions, the Giallorossi have seen a bright start to the season slow down considerably, and another disappointing result appeared to be on the cards.
However, Ghanaian Afena-Gyan stepped off the bench to accurately slot home from a quick counterattack, before blasting in a vicious effort with the final kick of the game to make an instant impact.
A major talking point before and within the match was coach Jose Mourinho’s decision to drop Italy international Nicolo Zaniolo and then not turn to him from the bench at all as Roma laboured against the Grifone, but turning to Afena-Gyan proved a stroke of genius.
The 18-year-old has featured three times for the first time this term and impressed every time, but his display at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris has caught the attention of fans across Italy and beyond, and Roma appear to have unearthed another gem.
It couldn’t have come at better time for the Giallorossi, as they struggle under the weight of expectation and have suffered through underwhelming performances, such as the 3-2 defeat to Venezia last time out, and the humiliation of a 6-1 thrashing to Bodo/Glimt in the Europa Conference League.
Cracks have begun to show in Mourinho’s leadership of the team, amidst rumours of tension with Zaniolo and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, as well as his ostracisation of back-up players who failed to impress him.
However, the impact of Afena-Gyan is a much-needed positive and shows that Roma have alternative options in light of the struggles in front of goal of Tammy Abraham and Eldor Shomurodov.
After his tense exits from both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, Mourinho has seen his squad management skills called into question and there is a suggestion that he is no longer able to connect to a modern footballer.
Whether Afena-Gyan and his tight bond with the Portuguese tactician papers over the cracks or is a sign of Mourinho’s focus on blooding youth players in as part of his longer term project at Roma remains to be seen, but the coach must now strike a balance at the Stadio Olimpico.
For Afena-Gyan, his fairytale story continues after being picked up from EurAfrica FC Academy on a scouting mission in January, and the teenage talent is a name to keep a close eye on over the course of the season.