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A Brief History of Roma Eating Her Sons

A mini-series of Roma’s legendary captains. Part 1 looks at the 1960s of Giacomino Losi.

Giacomo Losi - A.S. Roma
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If Totti’s 2017 retirement was felt as a hideous pock mark on the face of the club—in Bren’s own words to kick off 2019 —I get that’s a real vibe still felt today. I just want to keep it real and put some perspective on just how pocked Roma’s history is, over a few decades of legendary captains.

Since the sixties, we’re not short of ungracious retirements. And no worries: I won’t bs about any players I haven’t personally seen play myself in this series of posts, despite the black-and-white picture nostalgia.

I wasn’t alive in the sixties, let alone supporting Roma back then. I’m just digging up crates and lost tapes from the Italian web, hoping that Daniele De Rossi’s own captaincy won’t end on a note of Roma martyrdom.

I did the best digging I could here, taking me on a thread all the way back to that decade. Money was exploding into calcio at the time, thanks to the first ever television rights sold and opening up the game to sponsors. Clubs tried to manage (read:siphon) the money for themselves by paying most players on bigger appearance fees. The result was players willing to risk anything for a call-up to the matchday squad.

In Giacomo Losi’s case—one of the first men inducted to Roma’s Hall of Fame in 2012—the risks would eventually cost him a gracious ending to his time with Roma and traumatically cost his teammate’s life in the very same year.


1969 - Losi’s Last Year (15 Years in Rome, 386 Games Played)

The 19-year old Losi wasn’t told why he’d been transferred to Roma from Cremonese in the summer of 1954, but it wouldn’t turn out to be such a bad idea for the 15 years of his career that followed.

Initially a Torino fan as a teenager, Losi lived through the Superga plane crash that took the lives of that Torino dynasty before he began playing senior football himself. The Soncino-born kid started out as a mezzala at Cremonese, but he’d go onto to play every position in the backline once he began life in the Eternal City. Right-back, centre back, left-back, libero... you name it and Giacomino did it in a Giallorossi shirt.

His performances landed him the captain’s armband in 1960, and he repaid the faith on the pitch. Losi became Roma’s first captain to raise a European trophy in the club’s history, leading his side to the 1960-61 UEFA Fairs Cup, but would earn his legend as the ‘Core di Roma’ a year later in a 3-2 comeback win against Sampdoria.

Roma were forced to play a large portion of that game down to nine men, through injuries mid-game—including Losi himself. The defender eventually played on once it became clear Roma had no men and, as a 5’5” athlete shifted to backline in the Eternal City, Losi had long since become used to winning headers he had no right to win.

There was no greater example of his aggression in the air than beating a Sampdoria defender—Losi playing on his one good leg at the time—to head in a corner for the 3-2 winner on that day.

Of Losi’s 386 games in a Roma shirt, 299 of them were played as captain and only one match saw Giacomino yellow carded throughout his entire career—his very last game for the Lupi in the ‘68-’69 season. By then, Losi’s temperament was very different.

He saw the end coming thanks to new Roma coach Hellenio Herrera; the two men never saw eye to eye in the dressing room and Losi was removed from the starting eleven—replaced by future Roma legend Sergio Santarini—just eight games into Herrera’s first season on the Roma bench.

“[Herrera took me out of the first team] because I’d challenge him many times in the dressing room,” Losi told Pagine Romaniste in 2017. “When he was talking tactics I’d say: ‘Mister, I don’t think we can play that way.’ He’d just say: ‘Let’s move on, let’s move on.’ Ok let’s move on, sure, but we have to look to organise ourselves on the pitch otherwise they’d leave me all alone at the back and I’d have a terrible game. I’d been left facing several attackers at once instead of just one man to mark.”

Who would Roma ultimately chose to move on with?

For lack of a better comparison, Herrera was the Mourinho of his time and had new Roma president Alvaro Marchini (reluctantly) on his side over a 34-year old Losi. Herrera could use his massive coach salary to force decisions and field a 21-year old Santarini (who shared the same day of birth as Losi) instead; Santarini had already played under Herrera at Inter before following the French-Argentinian coach to Rome.

Herrera announced himself to Italian football by winning Inter Milan’s first ever treble back in 1965, and Roma were willing to overspend on many a star from up North in a futile bid to bring success to the Eternal City throughout the sixties. John Charles lasted barely one season (‘62-’63) in Rome after the Welsh legend’s glory days were over at Juventus, and Herrera wouldn’t last much longer during his stay in the capital.

Helenio Herrera at a training session in Rome
Archivio L’Unita

In future-captain Ciccio Cordova’s own words (teammate of Losi in his last season) to Italian football show Sfide: “Herrera went to Rome with a past that was far too proud for a small-time football club like Roma. As soon as he was signed by the President, he transmitted a sense of personal boredom with the place, making the rest of us feel like beggars.”

Perhaps the chapter that best exemplifies how out of touch Herrera was with his men wasn’t the ruthless retirement of Losi, but the careless death of young striker Giuliano Taccola in that same 1969 Roma team.

Herrera had a reputation for healthy living in his own personal life, sometimes reportedly eating nothing but bread and olive oil at home with his family, but his professional demands on players were very different. He’d bring inventions like coffee mixed with aspirin to his training regime, and the physical demands he’d make of his players were reportedly even more unforgiving than Zdenek Zeman’s infamous task-mastering in Rome three decades later.

But Herrera’s methods backfired with the death of Taccola, who complained of illness in the weeks prior yet was still told to attend an away game at Cagliari; the young Italian striker could have easily sat out the trip as he was serving a 1-game card suspension.

Losi (second-right bottom) and Taccola (far right top) line up for Roma.
Wikimedia Commons

At the end of that game won in Cagliari, Taccola was bed-ridden to the massage table in the away-team dressing room before later dying in hospital of heart complications. Many still cry foul over the prescription-drug regime that Herrera brought into the club at the time.

“The pills were called Levoral,” Losi told Pagine Romaniste, “and [Herrera] said it was a vitamin. I never took it and I threw it away wherever I could. We often went into ritiro training at Grottaferrata and there, before you reached the hotel entrance, was a sort of fountain. At the bottom were all these lozenges the players pretended to take but then just threw them into that fountain.”

Initially Losi’s side of the story comes across as a man who still, at 82 years of age at the time of his 2017 interview, holds resentment towards the coach that forced him out of the club after 15 years of service. But then I saw footage on Sfide of Herrera addressing Toccola’s death himself, and it’s obvious Herrera was a man found wanting for character when the chips were down.

“He was a great kid,” Herrera told the cameras upon the team gathering for Toccola’s passing back in Rome, “and we we waiting on him to be able to have a big finish to the season. We feel a lot for his two kids and his wife, who I met the day of his operation. We give them our condolences, we don’t know what more there is to say.”

Cordova backed up Losi’s version of events in that same Sfide TV feature on Toccola. Losi claimed Herrera heard Toccola’s cries in the dressing room, and simply instructed the team that they had to get on the plane to Brescia for the next league game in three days. By the time the Roma team would land back home, they were landing to mourn Toccola.

Beyond the tragedy of death, Losi’s own career ending was a typical conflict between an ageing legend coming second best to the modern ambitions of club and coach. The manner of it all was enough for Losi to call Herrera “the worst coach he’d ever played under” and a “disappointment”.

“It was a surprise for me with Herrera,” Losi told Pagine Romaniste, “because I thought he was this great coach when he arrived. Instead I saw throughout the pre-season that he was a coach selling smoke. I didn’t like it, but he had this giant charisma that managed to win the sympathy of everyone.”

Roma would end the '68-'69 season with a Coppa Italia, but the bad feeling around Toccola’s loss and Losi’s retirement lurked in the background. The following season, Herrera guided Roma to a lowly 11th placed league finish.

Truthfully, Roma lacked the substance under Marchini (and subsequent president Anzalone) to deliver on Herrera’s ambitions either way. The club was still focused on financial survival after the overspending of the sixties, and kicked off the seventies by selling off young talented starters to Juventus to make ends meet. That included selling promising midfielder Fabio Capello from Herrera’s squad (and that wouldn’t be the last time Capello disappeared into the Roman night to wind up in Turin the next day).

Meanwhile, Losi moved on to finish his career with local club Tevere Roma in Serie D, before permanently retiring from football in 1970.

Losi and De Rossi on Roma’s Open Day 2013-14
As Roma Twitter

“Yesterday, I found myself at the 1927 stand at the Olimpico for the Roma-Sampdoria game - the corporate stand. In that stand there’s a mix of everyone: sports agents, Roma directors, CONI directors, politicians, third-wheels, players’ family members, players suspended from the match, injured players, women, models, etc.

The line for the buffet looks the same as the line at the VIP room. In one corner of the stand was a little old man, apart. No one ever said ‘hi’ to him, no one recognised him.

That old man saw women walk in front of him, busy asking themselves: “But which one is Radja?”, some of them asking for pictures with Gyomber, new-age Roma fans on the hunt for selfies to post on social media. No one stopped to greet the old man, who sat alongside his nephew explaining the game.

Half-time was up, and the second half was about to begin. I found the courage to approach him and speak up. ‘Mr. Losi, good evening. It’s an honour to shake your hand. Thank you.’

And he replied: ‘Thank you, sir. Thank you from the heart.’ The Core di Roma.”

- Fanmail post from Romanticamente Calciofili


The Next Episode...

In Losi’s place stepped Francesco Cordova and Sergio Santarini to lead the locker room for the next decade. ‘Ciccio’ Cordova was seen as the player running the show in Rome, even more so than departing President Marchini and his successor Anzalone; Roma’s new president was on a collision course with Cordova and Santarini over their ambitions from the moment Anzalone stepped into the job.

Cordova was unapologetically outspoken, as if to label him the Radja Nainggolan of his time. But more than just being an acquired taste, Cordova slept with the ex-president’s daughter.

The Roma captain’s marriage to heiress and actress Simona Marchini would sow the seeds of Cordova’s end, forcing a move to Lazio and leaving the locker room in the hands of Santarini, which we visit next time.

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