Yet for 18 years, De Rossi has experienced much more than that, providing the presence of a fan on the pitch. The Giallorossi stalwart will reluctantly return to the stands next season as a fan though after the opted to discard their capitano this summer when his contract expires. Unwise at best, given the turmoil surrounding the club, yet many are understandably labelling the move “shameful” given his vast contribution over two decades.
Admittedly, approaching 36 years old, De Rossi’s legs are not what they once were; but they have carried him through 614 battles to date across 18 seasons in the capital – behind only former team-mate and Francesco Totti.
“Brothers” for so many years, their presence has ensured, amid the chaos, there has always been Romanismo to help embed the meaning of representing this unique club. Their departures have played out in contrasting circumstances though.
The majestic Totti fought tirelessly as his magical powers diminished, but even the most ardent Totti fan begrudgingly accepted his time had come at 40 years old in 2017 after a 25-year love story. But after Tuesday’s hastily announced press conference, De Rossi, despite a gruelling season, quickly dismissed any suggestion he was leaving on his own terms. After the sales of Alisson and Radja Nainggolan, their fairytale run to the Champions League semi-finals last season is now a distant memory. A side that lacks grinta, there was even greater emphasis on De Rossi’s passion in their struggle to finish inside the top four finish (they currently lie sixth, three points behind Atalanta with two games to spare).
De Rossi, when fit and available, is still arguably this side’s most outstanding player, which makes his departure even more perplexing when you consider more upheaval awaits this summer. His experience would have proven invaluable in the cauldron of Rome for the yet to be appointed manager.
“I don’t agree that the decision should have been mine alone,” De Rossi admitted. “The club exists to make these sort of decisions, alongside the coaches. Someone has to make that ultimate call.
“I realised the decision the club was going to take regarding myself. I’m almost 36 and I know how football is, but I didn’t want to distract from our European race. I thank the directors for their offer (to become a club director) - I respect it and appreciate it, but I still feel like a player.”
Guido Fienga, Roma’s CEO, squirmed as De Rossi joked that he would have extended his contract if he was a director. Instead he will likely move abroad and intends to learn before an inevitable return when he is capable of contributing in other ways, perhaps as a manager some day.
Having first arrived at the club aged 11, De Rossi surely earned the right to go on his own terms. The widespread appreciation for De Rossi, the player, comes in his imperfection. Initially a bustling box-to-box midfielder with the legs to help overwhelm the opposition, his brain and awareness of his limitations gave him longevity. He would evolve into a deep-lying defensive midfielder who read the game impeccably and meant he could even drop into the back line as a centre-back at times.
Never able to hide his emotions, he evidently cared too much at times, to the detriment of his team. After suffering defeat at Napoli in 2014 he responded to fierce abuse from the home fans by passionately scrunching his top and repeatedly kissing the club badge.
There is still one final jaunt to come on May 26 against Parma, but this love story is now destined to end in tragedy.
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