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From Totti to Pellegrini: The Role and Legacy of Romans Playing for AS Roma

AS Roma remains in good hands.

AS Roma v Genoa CFC - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

While popular myth holds that the city of Rome was founded in 753 B.C. after Romulus offed his twin brother Remus, archeological evidence suggests that the area in and around the Palatine Hill was occupied as far back as 14,000 years ago. Stone tools and temporary domiciles aside, Rome as we know it today has existed for nearly 2,500 years. While the city has long sought out the best and brightest from foreign shores, the sheer depth and breadth of its history has instilled within its denizens an intense sense of pride. Be they artists, poets or pizza makers, you’ll seldom find a people as proud of and so ferociously loyal to the city of their birth as Romans.

And that same esprit de corps extends to the city’s local football team. Given that epochal history, it’s only natural that among all the hundreds and thousands of men who have suited up for AS Roma over the past 90 years, the ones who were actually born and bred within the limits of the seven hills are held a little tighter to the city’s collective bosom. When a Roman suits up for Roma, you don’t really know why it matters, you just know that it does...a lot. There’s a certain resonance that's struck when a natural Roman blossoms in the red and yellow, a frequency that foreigners seldom, if ever, replicate.

Whether they’re leading the club to glory or merely making their home on the substitutes bench, the local boys are almost always universally loved. Fortunately for Roma, their local legacy has been far more the former than the latter. From Fulvio Bernardini and Attilio Ferraris in the 1920s to Agostino Di Bartolomei in the 1970s and, of course, Francesco Totti in the 21st century, AS Roma has had more than its fair share of exceptional Romans.

Led by the inimitable Daniele De Rossi, the Giallorossi leadership remains firmly in the hands of those who love the club most; the ones who grew up in her streets, the ones who grieved and loved along with the club before they were mature enough to even appreciate the weight of those words. That alone makes this club, and the Roman’s legacy within it, almost anomalous in modern sport. Consider this: since Francesco Totti was named captain in the fall of 1998, and with De Rossi set to hold the armband through at least 2019, AS Roma, a club known the world over, will have been led by a local boy for over two decades when all is said and done.

But it won’t end there either. With Alessandro Florenzi, and now Lorenzo Pellegrini, interning under De Rossi, that twenty year stretch of Romans captaining AS Roma could easily double in length by the time Pellegrini retires, and we could even add another five or six years if Luca Pellegrini sticks around and takes the armband someday. Imagine that, in an era of ever-increasing globalization and corporatization of nearly everything, a cosmopolitan football club could possibly be led by local boys for nearly half a century. That is, pardon my French, unfuckingbelievable.

While each man who has or will don the armband has brought their own unique style to the role of captain, one thing has remained constant; their devotion to the club has been as undying and as passionate as the city itself. From Totti’s cheeky smile to De Rossi’s ferocious roar to Florenzi literally leaving the pitch to kiss his grandma in the stands, the Romans who lead this club don’t hide, deny or suppress their love of the crest; it’s not just a club, it’s not a job and it’s not simply a lifestyle, for them, and their brothers and sisters in the stands, AS Roma is the city incarnate, from which you can’t extricate yourself, not that they would ever entertain the notion.

Never the minnow and seldom the shark, Roma has, in so many ways, occupied a unique niche in global football. Despite all the constant upheaval and the fact that many of us are constantly wracked with anxiety, Roma always provides a safe haven, having only been relegated once in her history, yet titles don’t come cheaply, so they’re revered and cherished like a secret family recipe.

The ebbs and flows of the club mirror the city in so many ways. While Rome is one of the world’s crowning jewels, it’s place atop the global heap has long since passed, yet the devotion and passion of its residents keeps it in the conversation among the world leaders in arts, education, politics and sport.

And it’s that same intense provincial pride that keeps the club among Italy’s heavyweights. In no way, shape or form should Roma be able to stand toe-to-toe with Juventus, Inter Milan or AC Milan, they don’t have the same financial clout or historical cache. Still they’ve persisted. They’ve been a thorn in the sides of the northern elite and, on occasion, the bloom itself.

And no matter what strata they’ve occupied, Roma’s sense of pride, her sense of self-worth, her success and her very identity has been, for better or worse, intimately intertwined the men who sprang from her streets.

Roma may rise and Roma may fall, but thanks to the likes of Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Florenzi and now Lorenzo Pellegrini, they’ll do it with a flare only true Romans can endure and only true Romans can love.

That alone makes this club worthy of your time, no matter the city of your birth.