It was there. It was right there. Right there in front of him. Put on a golden plate by the King of Rome. All he had to do was make contact. Proper contact. A striker’s contact. Hit the ball on the laces. Roma would be through.
But he didn’t.
Júlio Baptista, nicknamed the beast, began his career at São Paulo, playing four years in his home country until moving on to the European stage. His physicality and moniker, an allusion to the similarly named professional wrestler Dave Bautista, made the 6’1 Brazilian a unique player, one with both Brazilian flair and overpowering strength. Joining Sevilla for a mere $3.75 million (see: Monchi), the beast made an instant impact, scoring 20 goals in 30 league fixtures as well as 4 goals in 6 Copa games. Damn. Beast indeed. His second year was also a success, earning him interest from Real Madrid, to whom he signed for a whopping $28.5 million in 2005. From there things went down hill for the poor beast. A unremarkable year at Real led him to a loan spell at Arsenal, which ultimately led him back to Real. It appeared that the beast had become nothing but a household pet that no one wanted. Enter Roma.
The beast became a wolf in 2008, reinforcing Luciano Spalletti’s squad with the likes of John Arne Riise, Mirko Vučinić, and Jérémy Ménez, to name a few. He cost the Giallorossi approximately €9 million plus bonuses. Although the signing didn’t quite excite the masses, there was a general hope that if Baptista could rediscover his lost form he would become an integral part to Spalletti’s system. For whatever reason, a change of tactics, culture shock, or just ill luck, the beast simply didn’t prove hungry enough for success. On paper, Baptista’s first year at Roma didn’t appear all that bad. He scored 9 goals in 27 fixtures including the masterclass display against Bordeaux and the glancing header that won Roma the derby against Lazio.
Yet, as is often the case in Rome, Baptista would be judged harshly. While his derby goal etched the beast into Roma’s history, allowing him to the hearts of giallorossi faithful, it wasn’t enough to surmount his inconsistencies on the pitch. The occasional amazing goal couldn’t make up for more than common lackluster displays. Moreover, a crucial blunder in Roma’s biggest fixture in 2009 would forever mark him as a failure.
Everyone in Stadio Olimpico howled. He missed. He missed the golden opportunity. How could he? Why try using the outside of your boot? Stupid. Just stupid. A profound moment of desperation. Something in the air reeked of doom. Foreboding. Extra-time. Penalties. And the sickening remorse of mischances. This night would never be forgotten.