Saturday May 25 2019
A salute to Daniele De Rossi

Daniele De Rossi plays his last game for Roma this weekend and Andrea Tallarita reflects on the story of one of the greatest modern midfielders.

The film of Daniele De Rossi's career as a footballer is over. You can hang around and hope for a post-credits scene in the MLS, in China, or wherever, but we all know that once his Roma shirt comes off after the game against Parma, it will be time for us to stand and leave the cinema.

Many feel outraged because there was no happy ending: the man wanted a renewal, and the club failed to honour his wishes, discarding him with not a trace of the respect his 18 years of service deserved. There is no way to sugar-coat that, and in the grand scheme of things the truth is even more bitter, as one of Italy's greatest midfielders walks down the sunset boulevard without having won a single Scudetto or Champions League.

This is certainly not the curtain call we expected. In the early 2000s, back when he began to turn heads, De Rossi promised truly great things. He was the scion and heir of a golden age for the Italian midfield, one lorded over by the phenomenal pair of Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso, playing as a combo for Milan.

Those two embodied respectively the chisel and the hammer of the midfielder's craft, and it seemed natural to take them as two mutually exclusive archetypes: upcoming centrocampisti could try and emulate Pirlo, orchestrating play and shooting from outside the box, or they could try and do what Gattuso did, shielding the defence and dispossessing wingers.

De Rossi was both chisel and hammer, and at the time, this made him truly unique. He carried in his blood both the old world and the new, having the short, stout body of bygone Italian players while assuming the multitasking, variable roles of today's new champions.

It's no wonder that, aged only 21, he was already the darling of Italy CT Marcello Lippi. The blond wolf-pup had seemingly inexhaustible stamina, was excellent at tackling and intercepting, supportive in the offence, and even dangerous in the box: his Azzurri debut against Norway saw him bagging a positively rapacious first-touch goal.

Being so sanguine and energetic, De Rossi naturally peaked early. While he remained one of Serie A's best midfielders for pretty much the duration of his career, he reached his undeniable, scintillating prime roughly from 2006 to 2009, the years when an unknown Tuscan called Luciano Spalletti established him as the anchor in a revolutionary 4-2-3-1.

Because he played alongside a more traditional 'regista' (usually David Pizarro, sometimes Alberto Aquilani), DDR was quickly framed by pundits as a 'mediano', or a defensive midfielder. In reality, at that point in his career Roma's #16 was a force of nature that escaped traditional classifications and which had no equal in Europe except perhaps for Chelsea's Michael Essien.

Depending on the situation, Danielino could undergo a metamorphosis and become almost anything: workhorse, hyena, hound, hawk, shark, mule – you name it. He boasted a particularly effective long-range shot, a somewhat craftless weapon that was all rude power and ballistics, but dangerous enough to scorch Juve's own Gianluigi Buffon in 2009.

The best game of his career, at least in this writer's opinion, belongs to that period: the Champions League Round of 16 visit to Real Madrid, played in 2008. Roma won that game 2-1, knocking the Blancos out of the competition. De Rossi was less of a midfielder and more of a storm that raged over the entire pitch that day, playing with an inimitable combination of guile and brutality, control and aggression, tactics and muscle.

Later, Capitan Futuro became less of a Swiss army knife and more of a broad bronze shield. His long-range shot and his aerial game were set aside in favour of more exquisitely tactical roles, particularly in Euro 2012, a tournament in which he was deployed as a central defender (it turned out he excelled at that too).

The transformation was necessary due to a shortage of players, but this ability to plug holes in a sinking vessel should be seen as a defining characteristic of the Romanista. For both the Giallorossi and the Azzurri, De Rossi was the gold standard, the pillar that made sure his team would never crumble below a certain level.

Even when Roma were battered 7-1 by Manchester United in 2007, he was the one who came forward and scored a goal. Even amidst a disaster like the 2010 World Cup, he could be seen fighting to keep his team afloat, scoring a goal and earning a penalty for a squad that languished around him.

But for all of his temperament, De Rossi was born in a time that did him no favours. He ticked all the boxes to be a legendary captain, yet lived in the city with the most legendary captain of them all. He scored more goals for the Azzurri than any midfielder since Adolfo Baloncieri (a man who was born in 1897), but he did this in the age of Pirlo, who picked up all the headlines in the midfield.

Officially and unofficially, De Rossi always played under a shadow. His real tragedy was that he could never change this, no matter how blindingly bright he sometimes shone. He had everything it takes – the skill, the heart, the perseverance – to go down as 'the greatest something', but because of where and when he stood his ground, he was denied his own legend.

The film of Daniele De Rossi's career doesn't have a happy ending not because his club gave him the cold shoulder, but because football did. Roma could not give him the trophies that much lesser footballers keep in their homes, and his career with the Azzurri came to the most exemplary conclusion, with him raging on the bench against Giampiero Ventura's self-destruction, refusing to accept defeat.

The greatest compliment that I can pay this Roman is that he never let the injustice of his fate get to him. He never jumped ship, he never stopped rowing, he never caved in. For decades De Rossi has been stronger than his misfortune, and this makes him a man who wore the mantle of a footballer, in a world where so often it is the other way round.

If I'm not allowed to call him the greatest captain I've ever seen on a football pitch, he will forever be the greatest soldier.

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Have your say...
This peanut brain never stops to bring disaster to AS Roma and Italy whenever they're in crucial games. I say BOOOO!!! Go away and stay out of Azzurri! Only Roma fans can appreciate this peanut brain in Italy and we all know Roma is a mediocre team with zero trophy in Europe. That's why.
on the 28th May, 2019 at 7:28pm
What a beautiful and fitting tribute to DDR! He was the definition of consistency and will always be a part of Roma in my mind! The era of Totti and DeRossi is not one that will ever be matched!!
on the 28th May, 2019 at 6:53pm
The greatest tribute to a player I've read on this website. Well done, Andrea.

I'm still in tears after the Parma game and the tribute that followed. I have no words.
on the 28th May, 2019 at 4:53am
BRAVO Andrea,
Greatly written article for great footballer.

Dani is so underrated, non-Roma fans don't even know what a BEAST he was in his prime (2006-2012)
--Easily in World's All-Star line-up!

That's also down to his personality & the fact he played for a "small" Roma.
Just look at what he did with his WC GOLD MEDAL or how serene he was when Tachtsidis took his place under Zeman.

He represents us.
We are all wonderful & deserve so much more than what Life gives us.
"This is Life."
on the 25th May, 2019 at 4:14pm
De rossi for me represent a reminder of better days in Italian football he is one of the few players who could probably stand up against the likes of ambrosini gattuso tomassi in terms of quality and probably was better than these guys in his prime. I rarely have seen him ever have a bad game for roma or italy his standards are immense only time causing them to drop. Moreover his loyalty to roma it is something which has virtually died in football.
on the 25th May, 2019 at 11:35am
Saying that i think on a sporting perspective de rossi still has a lot to offer roma he could and should have used in different roles. beside i personally don't think nzonzi has had a good enough season to justify him being the only dmf at roma you are just asking for trouble. Add to that some really expensive flops on roma team sheet you have to ask who have played roughly the same amount of minutes or less at roma who are on similar wages you have to ask what is the sporting rationale?
on the 25th May, 2019 at 11:26am
It is sad this happen but not surprising it is all about money you start having a elite group of foreign billionaire owners this is the inevitable outcome.

from their perspective cl football is highly improbable next season de rossi was one of the highest earners at roma yet has 14 players ahead of him who have played more minutes also he is 35 if you are trying to save money it is kind of the obvious choice. also free up some playing time for younger players.
on the 25th May, 2019 at 11:16am
This is no surprise to me, after what the board (read: Pallotta) did to Totti, probably the best player Roma ever has, no one is indespensable anymore. For the sake of Roma, Pallotta needs to go. Leave. Retire. Roma needs someone like the late great Franco Sensi, a president who ate, slept & breathed Roma.
on the 25th May, 2019 at 6:37am

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