On a warm, June evening in 2001, a tumultuous crowd gathered at the Stadio Olimpico. Waves of red and yellow banners undulated, flares burned, and glory filled the air. Three points and the long-awaited Scudetto was theirs. A loss, and the Zebras could snatch top spot, stealing away with the crown, a cruel regicide. Yet, with a spearhead attack guided by Gabriel Batistuta, Francesco Totti, and Vincenzo Montella, Roma would not, could not, succumb to defeat within the walls of their own fortress. Parma never stood a chance.
First came the rocket. The young king of Rome, donning the captain’s armband, fired straight and true, beating Gianluigi Buffon, a foreshadowing for the other rocket that would come years later. Shedding his shirt, Totti sprinted to the stands to celebrate with his kingdom come.
Then came Jesus reincarnated in the form of Batistuta, running on water, skimming down field, shooting straight at Gigi. Target on lock, a little airplane swooped in and shot the deflected ball into the net, only to take off again, flying into the stands with the people of Rome. Vincenzo Montella had to know he had ended the war then and there—2-0, the kingdom roaring, a beast with thousands of heads, Roma was on the verge of their third scudetto, their first in nearly twenty years. Batistuta would go on to make it 3-0, but by the then the battle was already won. A consolation goal for Parma couldn’t tarnish the match. 3-1. The war ended with Roma crowned, topping Juventus by two points.
While there are many matches where Vincenzo Montella shined, the Scudetto winning match against Parma takes the cake. L'Aeroplanino was everywhere, soaring across the field, both a poacher and a supporter. Undoubtedly, it was a hard-fought team victory, but his role was supreme. Moreover, his tenure as a Roma player, and his short stint as a manager, will surely plant him alongside other Giallorossi greats in Roma’s hall of fame.
Montella the Player
In nine seasons as a Roma player, Montella played in 192 league matches, scoring a whopping 84 goals. Most notable were his 21 goals in the 2004/05 season after a two year slump where he was unable to break double digits.
A unique poacher, Montella was best known for his work rate and positioning. Unlike so many poachers (remember Osvaldo?) today, L'Aeroplanino was a hard-working striker, both quick and composed with the ball at his feet. He just always seemed to be at the right place at the right time, an almost indescribable quality that makes a striker great. Not always flashy, Montella netted time and time again for Roma by flying in, soaring, and tapping the ball into the net. Note the gap in years where he left Roma for brief stays at Fullham and Sampdoria. A nice farewell gesture, Montella spent his last year as a professional player wearing the red and yellow.
Montella the Manager
Not much can be said about his short stint as interim coach after Ranieri resigned in 2011. Coaching a mere sixteen matches, Montella led Roma to seven victories, four draws, and five losses. Even though his managerial style showed signs of promise, Montella was not chosen to head Roma in the next season. Losing his position to Luis Enrique, Montella then went onto coach Catania, Fiorentina, Sampdoria, and now Milan.
The intriguing question is whether Roma’s higher ups made the right decision to go with Enrique over Montella. As we all know, Enrique’s Roma was a disaster. Tiki-taka, anyone? Oh the back passes! But could Montella have done more with such a deplorable squad? Remember Gabriel Heinze and Simon Kjær? That backline still haunts my dreams. In hindsight, Montella could have been the better choice, his resume surely points to growth and success, minus Sampdoria of course. What if? What if? At the very least, Montella deserved a full season at the reigns. But something tells me he’ll be back one day...
Montella the Opponent?
Which brings us to now. Roma will host Milan for a crucial bout this Monday evening. Montella’s Milan will be fired up and ready to go after a string of promising results. But instead of going into a match preview, let’s remember Montella for the player he was and his contributions as a wolf. I’ll leave this here: