De Rossi, Roma’s Future Captain Who Soon Became Past

Feature Photo: Lapresse
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They called him Capitan Futuro (“Captain Future”), a reference to a Japanese anime popular in Italy across the ‘80s. Indeed, Daniele De Rossi was born to be a Captain. Roma supporters had always known that when the immortal Francesco Totti retired, (because, believe it or not, that moment was going to come sooner or later…) their beloved colors would still be in good hands, with De Rossi ready to step up.

But De Rossi ended up wearing the Giallorossi captain band for only two seasons. His 18-year-long marriage with the club of his hometown officially ended today, with a joint press conference where the club’s board communicated their decision not to renew the 35-year-old midfielder’s contract for the next season. De Rossi was offered a role into Roma’s management, which he declined. “I still want to play,” he said, and he will likely keep doing so. But not in Rome.

Daniele De Rossi’s farewell match with the Wolves will be on May 26th, at the Stadio Olimpico against Parma, the last chapter of a story that he was planning to conclude only when he decided to hang up his boots, and that rather ended with a respectful, yet impersonal handshake. Respect was the key word in today’s press conference, where the 35-year-old gracefully remarked that he accepted the club’s decision, though being adamant about not agreeing with it. “I think I could still be of some use to this team as a player,” he said.

Roma’s newly-appointed CEO Guido Fienga had the unrewarding task of explaining the club’s intention to let De Rossi go – which was presented as one of the many consequences of a season that started bad, and ended worse, with the stormy separation from former football director Monchi, and the sacking of coach Eusebio Di Francesco.

The Giallorossi’s management must have thought that, with the need to rebuild the team almost from scratch, there was little room for an aged midfielder whose multiple injuries allowed him only 17 league caps this season, and whose salary was the 4th highest in the team. Like it or not, that’s how business work, and, on that note, Fienga continuously referring to Roma as the Company during the whole press event was all but unintentional.

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Daniele De Rossi with his Roma captain band, which he wore for too short a time… (Photo: Getty Images)

A bittersweet destiny, the one of Daniele De Rossi, the son of former Roma youth club trainer Alberto. He had a remarkable career, which climaxed in 2006 as he lifted the World Cup with the Azzurri, where he wore only one jersey – the one of his beloved Giallorossi.

Born and raised in Ostia, the port neighborhood of the Italian capital, De Rossi is a Romano and Romanista (a Roman citizen, and a Roma fan), and therefore the ideal next in line to live up to the unwritten tradition according to which, like a modern-day King or Emperor, only a Romano de Roma by blood could inherit the Giallorossi’s captaincy: Er Sindaco (“The Mayor”) Bruno Conti, Er Principe (“The Prince”) Giuseppe Giannini, Er Pupone (“The Big Baby”) Francesco Totti…    

But timing was never on De Rossi’s side, who for some reason always ended up being out of sync to catch his appointments with history. He was too young when Roma lived their best moment in decades, the 2001 Scudetto, as he made his Serie A debut only on January 25th, 2003 – a 2-0 loss at Como. And he was too old when he finally became captain, at 36, plagued by injuries and way past his prime. Between these two events, a 15-year professional career unfolded, unjustly overshadowed by the hulking presence of his contemporary Francesco Totti.

In different circumstances – had the Pupone not been there, or not chosen to stretch his career until the age of 40 – De Rossi’s story would have been much more impactful, him being one of the last “bandiera” (a player who chooses to spend his whole career in the same club) in Italian and maybe world football.

It must not have been easy for him to co-exist with the larger-than-life figure of Totti, waiting for a moment that never seemed to be coming. But such coexistence never turned into dualism anyway, as the two have always been good friends – and Totti was indeed among the first to pay tribute to his former teammate on Instagram.

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Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi: Teammates, Friends and of course Romanisti (Photo: Dino Panato / Getty Images)

Less talented and less a “character” than Roma’s One and Only Capitano, Daniele De Rossi showed on the other hand a stronger personality than Francesco Totti, and had the potential to be a more charismatic leader. If only he had more time. Make no mistake, De Rossi is no saint. His passionate disposition made him cross the line more than once, earning him 15 red cards – including such infamous ones like that collected at World Cup 2006, consequence of a vicious elbow to U.S.A.’s Brian McBride.

But he was, on the other hand, also capable of such heartwarming gestures as placing that same medal he won in 2006 into the Azzurri’s historical kitman Pietro Lombardi’s coffin when he passed away in 2016. Or going, only among the Italians, to congratulate the Swedish players on their bus after they had eliminated Italy on the road to World Cup 2018 – at the end of a match where he allegedly pushed back at coach Gian Piero Ventura wanting to send him in, shouting that “we don’t have to tie, we have to win!,” and therefore he’d better send in a striker, not him!

That’s how Daniele De Rossi is. He always wanted to win. But not at the cost of leaving the club of his life, despite the multiple transfer offers he received over his career. If he had a magic wand, he remarked today, he would use it to give the Wolves just a few more trophies to put in their showcase. What about his only professional regret? “To have but one career to devote to Roma.”

Whoa. One career, it’s worth to note, was still enough for him to tally 458 Serie A caps with the Giallorossi, scoring 43 goals. Including all presences between Campionato and Cups, De Rossi amassed a total 615 appearances – an all-time second for Roma, surpassed only by (surprise, surprise) Francesco Totti.

Perhaps one day he will come back to Trigoria, the club’s training center, as a director – as President James Pallotta’s board wished for him already. More likely, he will come as a supporter, “on the stands of the Stadio Olimpico, with a panino and a beer,” as he remarked in another hilarious passage of his press conference. Like he used to do when he was just a Roma youth club good prospect. 

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Daniele De Rossi with Alessandro Florenzi, the most likely candidate to succeed to him as Roma’s Captain (Photo: Reuters)

Before parting ways with the Giallorossi, Daniele De Rossi indicated his possible successors in Alessandro Florenzi and Lorenzo Pellegrini, new Romanisti hopefully ready to fill his shoes, and inherit that captain band that he wore for too short a time. 

Then, when his last press conference as a Roma player was wrapped up, he hugged one by one his teammates, who were standing in the front row, all wearing a De Rossi jersey. The Last of the Captains was forced to step down, but still sees a Future ahead of him.  He is not tired of fighting, and will continue to do so.

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