Birthdays tend to bring out the best and worst in people, don’t they? You either accept aging gracefully, appreciating every moment with your friends and loved ones, or you rage bitterly against the ceaseless hand of time, stubbornly refusing to accept the inevitable. Depending on one’s age, you’ve probably already run the gamut of birthday emotions, especially if, like Roma, you’re approaching 90 years old, and if you are, why the hell are you reading this? Get out! Live, dammit, live!
Associazione Sportiva Roma turns 90 years young next July, and, to date, hasn’t done much to mark the occasion, beyond letting these beauties leak online. So while we wait for those kits to officially drop, I thought we’d celebrate the club’s founding with a bit of nostalgia, a look back at some of our favorite players to don the giallo e rosso. For the sake of this exercise, we won’t bother with Totti because, well, that’s a given.
So, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to begin this look back with one of my all-time favorite Roma players, and one who, coincidentally, is returning to the Olimpico this weekend, Mattia Destro, otherwise known as Mr. Right.
As you may recall, bringing Destro to Roma was no easy affair, as the club had to traverse a convoluted three-way transfer with Siena and Genoa, both of whom held portions of his contractual rights in prior seasons. Once the dust had settled, Roma doled out €16 million for the then 21-year-old striker.
Destro would bag his first Roma goal in November of 2012 against Palermo, one of six league goals that season. While Roma finished a disappointing sixth on the table, Destro’s five Coppa Italia goals were instrumental in Roma’s march towards the final in the spring of 2013, one which forever changed the direction of the club.
Despite those heroics, Destro’s true coming out party would come during the spring of 2014. After missing most of the fall of 2013 to injury, Destro caught fire...and I mean caught fire...during the spring of 2014, where he bagged the bulk of his 13 goals that season, while averaging an absurd 0.95 goals per 90 minutes and carrying a 37% conversion rate. Destro’s movement, intuition and outrageous scoring record seemed almost too good to be true.
Naturally, that performance drew the eyes of some of the world’s largest clubs, but thanks to a falling out (of sorts) with Rudi Garcia, as well as some minor injuries, Destro soon found himself relegated to the bench before an ignominious and unsuccessful loan with AC Milan, effectively shutting the door on his Roma career.
Destro’s tale is an odd one in many ways. Seldom does the club spend so much on a player so young, and even more seldom does that player meet and exceed expectations, only to fall out of favor six months later.
Seriously, think about it for a moment. In August of 2014, Chelsea were reportedly close to dropping €20 million Destro, then Bam!, a few months later and he can’t even get a match under Rudi Garcia’s esteemed tutelage, and before you knew it, he was gone for good, sold to Bologna for a measly €8.5 million. Destro, once Roma’s golden child, our inaugural number one prospect, and a player we touted as untouchable, was sold at nearly a 50% loss. It almost defies explanation, it was that surprising and that unexpected.
Destro was never meant to be the second coming of Zlatan, but his movement, his efficiency and his accuracy portended a long and successful career. For my money, the kid never got a fair shake; he simply wasn’t cut out for Garcia’s “football” and became a victim of circumstance. It’s not hard to imagine Destro flourishing under Luciano Spalletti, using his wormlike movement to team up with Mohamed Salah and Stephan El Shaarawy up front.
I never made my love of Destro a secret—I envisioned a string of 15-20 goal seasons, with Destro being the final piece of the Scudetto puzzle—but for a variety of reasons, it simply didn’t work out, but one thing is for certain, whenever you see a corner flag going ungrinded, shed a tear for Destro.
We’ll continue these series throughout the year, sprinkling them in here and there, so stay tuned!