If you follow any of our social media accounts (twitter, facebook, Friendster, Jonas' Ryan Gosling tumblr), you no doubt noticed the controversy that ensued after the photo of Alessio Romagnoli in a Lazio shirt appeared, which made those of us (myself included) who held him up as the next great Roman icon look foolish. It is what it is, but Federico Balzaretti's press conference earlier today, in which he announced his retirement to an outpouring of love and support, actually underscores what Sam and I have alluded to numerous times in these spaces; there is just something special about this club, and the players who truly get "it", the ones who truly embody that indescribable romance, are the ones we hold most dear, no matter where they were born.
Balzaretti came to Roma in the summer of 2012, fresh off his surprising performance at Euro 2012, and became an immediate fixture for Zdenek Zeman's exciting but ultimately disappointing side, providing a steady attacking presence on Roma's left flank. Balzaretti looked set to resume his starting role once Rudi Garcia came to town in 2013, but thanks to a recurring pelvic injury he suffered in November 2013, Federico's career was never quite the same.
Though his tenure with Roma was beset by injuries, he never let that dampen his spirits, his professionalism and his passion for the club and the game itself. Balzaretti was constantly battling behind the scenes to return to the pitch, jetting across the Atlantic to see specialists in America, putting in extra training sessions and becoming a de facto coach/cheerleader as his club attempted in vain to dethrone Juventus.
So it was with great joy that we witnessed Balzaretti's swan song against Palermo this past May, and he wasn't half bad either. In 90 minutes Balza took 57 touches, picked off two passes, created one scoring chance and completed 90% of his passes. It was a fitting end for a man with a quiet and dignified career.
Federico Balzaretti was a Roma player for all of 1,106 days, a brief blip for a club approaching its 90th anniversary, but outside of the true icons of this club, you'd be hard pressed to find a player more beloved, and there's a rather simple reason, he gets it.
Never was this more evident than his legendary derby goal:
There is Balzaretti racing towards the stands, his voice strained and face elated as he beat his chest triumphantly, manically celebrating his first goal in a Roma shirt. Balzaretti was fully immersed in that most monumental of moments, vanquishing Lazio in the derby, and the tears that streamed down his face were all the proof you ever needed; this man is as Roman as they come.
So, good luck in your new ventures, Federico, we hope to see you running the club's transfer market with the same vigor, passion and intelligence with which you represented your adopted city on the pitch.