Another club captain and legend is moving on from his playing days with Roma in the space of two years. This is a time where a lot of emotion and hypocrisy comes out to play, in equal spades. A lot of bullshit rhetoric about Roma being an especially romantic club that it never has been. But that’s for another time and place.
Frankly, the only man who matters today is Daniele De Rossi.
And so here is De Rossi’s press conference, where he sat down alongside both the club’s press officer Gianni Castaldi and Roma CEO Guido Fienga. Members of the public were asked to leave, after crashing the press conference with five minutes of camera-phone shots of Daniele on the podium. Finally, most of the Roma squad were sat down in the front row of the press seats, in front of the journalists, kitted out in Roma jerseys with ‘De Rossi’ and the infinity symbol (really just a ninety-degree number 8) on the back.
Several times I almost wrote “retirement press conference” in this opener but, unlike Francesco Totti two years ago, Daniele is not retiring. He’s simply playing on in another jersey after this season is over. That’ll be weird.
Guido Fienga: We brought you all here today to tell you all that, yesterday, we met or I met with Daniele and told him the club’s decision to not renew his contract as a player for next season. We spoke at length and I told Daniele of the club’s willingness and desire to have him brought in as part of the club’s makeup, to continue his career within Roma in whichever way he will decide later. Personally, and selfishly, I wished and still do wish he’d be attracted to the idea of staying alongside me. Never more so than right now, where it would have put me at ease to have a second-in-command like him looking at the situation the club is in and taking decisions in the current context of the club’s management realising the need to change and fix a series of choices made recently, to start over again.
I’m convinced that Daniele will be open to take up that responsibility when he wants to, whether now or whenever it comes to him. For him, the doors are always open from both Rome and the club’s management. I hope that, when he decides to take up our offer, we’ll manage to speed up the project that we’re trying to build here.
Daniele expressed other ideas but I don’t want to go into what’s the right thing for him to do. I leave it up to him to decide. We respect his thoughts, just like he respects ours and I would prefer he answers all questions from here on so that he can share what he has in mind. I’ve only just arrived at this club, but I’m honoured by the open, transparent and trustworthy talks we’ve had. I feel to get the whole club working on any possibility that De Rossi could accept an immediate future here with us, when he wants.”
Daniele, it’s a tough day for all of us as well as the Roma fans. After one particularly tough defeat, you once famously said ‘I’m thankful to be born a Romanista’ having spent your entire career here. Now you’re more mature, would you have chosen differently?
De Rossi: “I’d do things differently on the daily, in terms of small decisions, a few things I’ve said. Some things on the pitch, bad moments where maybe I’d been the main culprit, like red cards I’ve picked up along the way. Things like that. But in terms of my choice to stay faithful to this club, no. I wouldn’t turn back or change a thing.
If I had the magic wand, then I’d put a few more trophies in my bag but no one has that power. I’m calm with my choice to be here. Throughout the years I’ve certainly made some mistakes and it would be impossible to say otherwise.”
You don’t speak often, and you’re known for making it count when you do where others would give into rhetoric. An example being this morning on twitter, a fan was saying ‘we’ve won little but De Rossi represents almost another Scudetto victory for us.’ Does this represent, for you, just more rhetoric? A meaningless consolation? Or is it the perfect way to coin the spirit of sacrifice shared between you and the fans?
De Rossi: “I take it as a simple matter of fact. They’ve showed it over so many years, during the ups and downs of years gone by, that they stick by me. And like I said myself, I’ve made the same choice towards them. I’ve never turned them in for the chance at a couple of hypothetical trophies elsewhere, even if there were three or four times where I really could have gone to join teams that looked like they had a better chance of winning than Roma. It’s a choice you make as it comes.
Today, it would be a drama if either me or them starts to talk about how we could have left here to win something elsewhere rather than staying here wearing these colours. If I said it, they could easily have said ‘yeah well what are you doing here, De Rossi? If you’d left, we could have had Iniesta come and had a better chance of winning.’ That too is simply a matter of fact. But as things stand, I see only a lot of love that I really think will last, even if it has to change in one way or another. I can’t rule out that I’ll be attending games in the stands. Something that I’ve never done as a player, but maybe as an ex-player you’ll see me with a beer and a sandwich in the stands cheering on my friends.”
You’ve said one marvellous thing: that your one regret in life was having just the one career to give to Roma. A career that’s lasted 18 years, 715 battles on the pitch. Some great moments through three generations of football. I’d like to ask: What was your first thought yesterday when they told you it was over? Where will you be headed to next as a player or is it too soon to ask?
De Rossi: “Look, it’s true that they only just told me yesterday but I’m nearly 36 years old. I’m not a fool. I’m one of those that’s been around the block in the world of football. I already knew what was up if no one gives you a call for a year, for the last ten months not even to discuss the idea of an eventual extension... it’s only headed a certain way. Like [the other journalist] was saying, I’ve always spoken sparingly. I don’t speak much in this last year, first of all because I don’t like to. Also because there was nothing to say. And also because I didn’t want to start up an atmosphere that would have distracted the team, the fans and all of us.
As far as the future is concerned, I thank [Fienga] for the offer and for the way he treated me in these last few months where he stepped up to command. I also thank Ricky Massara. There was always the feeling that we have great affection for one another and hold each other in high esteem, even if I’d signed on as a player for one or two more years it’d have been the same feeling. But these are decisions that are made as a club, club-wide. As you know, the club right now is divided into several different parts. That’s to be respected and accepted. Especially by me, I couldn’t leave this club in any other way than this right here.
As far as other clubs go, I heard a few things but I didn’t want to follow it up with anyone because I really believed this team would qualify for the Champions League. Right now it seems really difficult. But up until the draw against Genoa, I was convinced we would make the Champions League so I didn’t want to distract anyone, least of all myself from our path.
This morning I’ve gotten about 500 text messages, after I filtered them I saw a couple of offers (smiles). But I don’t have any particular direction in mind right now. The fact of the matter is I feel like a football player, even if I’ve had a couple of injury problems this year. I feel I have a lot to give and I would be doing myself a very wrong turn and injustice to myself, if I stopped playing today.”
Daniele, I will be straightforward even at the expense of not being nice. (This is a Sky reporter - I didn’t catch her name. SES, Manolas turn their heads back at this moment to see who it is. Kolarov in particular is looking back with a big frown on his face like it’s not the moment to soapbox). You’ve been a gentleman about this, but don’t you think it would have been right that you decide when you stop? Rather than the club deciding for you, like what happened to Del Piero a few years back where we all - I think including you - remained gobsmacked by that decision back then. And now it’s happened to you.
De Rossi: “Look, this is something I’ve always said, even to Francesco and I can’t change my opinion now [that it has happened to me]. And it’s how I felt with Del Piero, I’m actually not in agreement with what you’ve said. There’s already a football club in place to decide who plays and who does not. After that, we can talk for ten hours about the fact that I feel I could have still given a lot to this team. 5, 10, 20 appearances... I don’t know. In the dressing room, I feel I have been important to them. They can look at me sideways as I say that (grins). But at the end of the day, it’s the club who decides.
Because I could always say ‘it’s me who decides when I stop.’ But then every year around the 12th or 13th May I could say ‘nah I’m going to play another year’ then ‘I’m going to play another year’ and then ‘I’m going to play another year.’ Someone at some point has to put their foot down. So my regret isn’t that, it’s that in this last year we hadn’t spoken much and that upset me a little. Distance creates misunderstandings of that kind, and I hope the club improves in this area because I maintain that I’m going to be their Roma supporter. But the club decides who plays, the coach decides who he wants... that’s football. I can’t pretend otherwise.”
After a year like this, do you even feel it within you to encourage the Roma fans to keep going on?
De Rossi: “Without going into any technicalities about how the season could end, I can’t give much advice to Roma fans because I’ve learnt from them on how to love Roma. I always saw it from when I was little, looking at the fans and saying ‘look at that supporter’ who’s completely fallen in love with this club and that’s how you grow up. It’s a vicious circle that feeds on itself, where every little thing becomes a major incident. The only thing I can suggest and ask of the fans is to stay close to these players. Because this is a group of players who really mean well and deserve a big hand.”
You’ve always said you picture your future as a coach and the club have offered you a director’s role. Could that offer make you rethink your future career, given they are both very different lines of work? And after being inside this club for so many years, do you believe romanità, romanisma is essential to this club or does it not matter so much to be Roman and a one-club man?
De Rossi: “I’ve always said that I think I could present myself to be a coach, and I think I could present myself to study for that job because I think I’ve got what it takes for that kind of work. Being a director? It’s not something that attracts me in the fullest sense but, here at Roma, it could involve something different.
But my feeling is, especially looking at who’s done the job before me and I swear I say this without looking to start an argument but, the feeling is that for now that it’s really hard to make a difference at this club. It’s hard to know where you can give them a hand, in an atmosphere that we know well. So for now I’ll leave the dirty work to Francesco (laughs).
Maybe one day if I totally change my mind, I’ll join him in the director’s box. And it’s true that they’ve extended me an open offer in that sense. But for now, like you said, I feel I’m more cut out for a coaching role. Even if there’s a long road ahead, and I have a lot to learn.”
Roma has always had a dynasty of Romans as captains. Do you feel that the future is safe in the hands of Alessandro, who scored a beautiful goal the other day and perhaps won back some of the love lost with fans? And to Mr. Fienga: How did this idea not to renew De Rossi’s contract first come about?
De Rossi: I didn’t reply to his question fully, but its related to your question. Romanismo is something that’s counted for a lot with us. It’s something important and it’s within steady hands, because Lorenzo and Alessandro can continue this heritage. They won’t be asked to imitate me or Francesco because that would be the biggest mistake in the world. With their own personality, they have to continue bringing forward that belonging to the shirt. But I have to say there’s also a Bryan Cristante who came from... [to Cristante] Where were you? From Bergamo, or from the North in any case. He’s not a Romanista. But I would want another hundred guys like him, who put the soul into training and on the pitch.
I can’t say Roma needs Romanisti. Roma needs professionals more than anything. It just so happens that with Lorenzo and Alessandro we hit the jackpot. To win doesn’t take one or the other, it takes building a team. Even if maybe other teams can allow themselves to build something a little stronger because of the state of our mercato, but I think the club is working towards changing that approach. Or at least I hope so.
(De Rossi leans back to take a sip of water but another thought comes to him).
I’ve mentioned Cristante but I could have also named so many others here.”
Fienga: (At this point Fienga speaks some kind of alien diplomatic talk just dancing around the issue, so I skipped this part. He actually says that he told Daniele that the club could not consider offering DDR a contract as the club’s head coach. Those are Fienga’s words, even if its being translated elsewhere as though he was talking about a playing contract. Fienga never corrected himself here so, for now, that’s how it stands. He ends this segment saying De Rossi has everything it takes for a director’s role and repeats 3-4 times that Daniele’s maturity is needed at the club to held re-organise itself.)
It’s emerging from this press conference that there’s a big distance between club and player. I’d ask De Rossi if you ever imagined that your goodbye to the club would be like this? And I ask Fienga if the club not making the Champions League had a bearing on the decision not to offer a contract?
De Rossi: “I always looked to prepare myself mentally without picturing how it would go. I know that I wouldn’t have been happy about it even if it had been me deciding, because this job stays inside of you. This is my home. I stepped through these gates at eleven years old. The car drives itself here in the morning, I wake up and I can train here alone. It will be difficult to get used to not doing that anymore. Is there a gap between us? A bit, yes. I want to play. They don’t want me to. So there’s a least a little difference there that counts. It’s ok, even if I can’t be happy about it. I’ve spoken with Guido and Ricky. One day maybe I’ll speak with the president and Franco Baldini, I’ve got no problems with them.
I’m not sure how I imagined it would end. Maybe I thought differently. Yeah, maybe I pictured it being me saying ‘look, just let me leave’ and them holding onto me saying ‘no, don’t go. Keep playing on, keep playing on’ (laughs). Maybe a little like that. But I have to accept it, if not I’m just making my own problems. And I move on.
For one thing, he’s telling me I can be a great director. If I were a director I’d already have given a player like me another year’s contract (the whole team laughs). I’m convinced I had a lot to give this season because, in my opinion and injuries permitting, on a technical level I held my own. I played well enough, even. I’m one of those who doesn’t look to make problems in the dressing room, actually I always look to solve them. So if I’m that good of a director I would have suggested they do otherwise. But it’s down to me to accept it, and that’s a part of our job and even a part of yours. When they send you packing, they put you on notice. They tell you in a matter of hours ‘this isn’t working anymore’ and you can’t do anything about it.”
Fienga: “There absolutely isn’t a distance between us, and I don’t know where that’s come from. We definitely have different ideas of how to move forward, and how Daniele can give the club a hand. But the offer we’ve made doesn’t show a lack of belief in Daniele. We just have an absolutely different idea for now, and we’ve absolutely laid out everything out on the table in front of each other and, like he said, we’ve respected each other’s decisions. But no one wants to send Daniele away from this club.
It’s not a decision tied to qualifying for the Champions League.”
De Rossi: “No, we never talked about that and money never came into it.”
Around a year ago, you said the one good thing that’s hit you about this club is that everyone wants to stay after a long period where everyone was looking to leave. But if you follow me through what’s happened since then: Nainggolan has left, Strootman has left, you’re leaving, Alisson has left. I don’t know what Edin will do, I don’t know what Kostas will do. And Monchi has left also, even if under unusual circumstances. What happened? How do you explain it? Because it seemed like the team was on the cusp of building something special. Instead would you now say there’s a sort of ‘I’m getting out of here while I can’ atmosphere or a sort of giving up and ‘what will be, will be’?
De Rossi: “I’d repeat what was said before, that if I have any regrets then another would be that - even under the previous management also - I always felt like the team was getting stronger one year, then even stronger another year. And then another year after that we were on the cusp of really becoming a winning team and we always took a step backwards. But that’s how the laws of our mercato work. One man can allow himself one kind of car, another man can allow himself another. Every man can spend based on what they earn. So that’s a regret but I can’t blame anyone for that because I don’t know how these things work. I don’t come into it when it comes to the numbers. I hope that the club, maybe with the stadium, can reinforce as strong as other clubs because then, like I’d said many times before, here at Roma... so many players have left this club. So many players have left this club only to call me two months later, telling me ‘man, I was happier in Rome’ and how much they wanted to come back. But football moves on for everyone. They get used to living in other places, they win and they’re very happy and maybe wouldn’t even come back to Roma. But this is place where you can live well, it’s a place that really supports football and players need that. Then it just takes that one step to get to the next level.
But I’m not ok with this idea that we’ve signed players who are just rejects from other clubs. Actually I think we’ve put together a good team with a real future ahead of it, with so many young players that you can use to start fresh. You have to make as little mistakes as possible. The feeling in the last few years it’s that mistakes have been made, yes, but we’ll talk about that in another interview. Today let’s talk about other things, c’mon.”
When did you start to understand that this season would finish like this? And have you made any plans from 27th May onwards? I know playing in America was an idea for you...
De Rossi: “No, there was just the awareness of the hand that guides throughout the entire year. We all knew I had a contract running down and if there’s never been a meeting made...
Even if a couple of times I spoke with Monchi and he assured me, but then he was no longer at the club anymore. I never went to anyone else to ask anything. It’s true what [Fienga] said, there’s been a lot of changes this year that certainly couldn’t have helped. But this is a feeling I had all year long. The last time I signed on for two more years, and Francesco stopped playing the day after. Even with him there was a lot of uncertainty. So if you put two and two together, maybe you’re expecting it.
As far as the 27th May, all I know is I’ll be going on holiday. That’s something I missed out on this season. I didn’t take a single day of holiday in December, I stayed here to work on the knee. I’ve a big need to spend a little time not even thinking about football, even if after I’ll have to think about something very new which is finding another club.”
You’ve already answered this question in a way, but I wanted to ask specifically. Many times your teams came close to winning. The league in 2008, 2010. The infamous 26th May and even the semi final last year. Why has that one last step been missing all these years? And if you could change the ending of just one single match, which match would it be?
De Rossi: “Every year, there’s a new match that I would have like to have changed. Maybe the one most fresh in mind, and maybe also because we played through an unbelievable atmosphere that year too, would be the two matches between Roma and Liverpool. Maybe just the away match Liverpool-Roma, that was really like living a dream and almost like watching a movie.
For the rest, regrets yes there have been. But everyone has regrets, I don’t know. Maybe if you ask Messi, who’s won everything and who’s the happiest player in the world, he’ll tell you ‘yeah but I never won the World Cup.’ Or another player who’s won everything and the World Cup, and he’ll tell you ‘yeah but I never won the Champions League.’ I don’t know. You always see regrets, because this is a world made of ambitious people who want to win. Winning is the ultimate aim of everything we do.
But I have to thank God for the career I’ve had, from when I was little. Up until I was fourteen years old, it really didn’t look like I would have all of this. I would have signed on for a career similar to my father’s, that’s been a great career because he played 15 years in C. He’s my idol, I’m very proud of him. So I’m a lucky boy, I got to work in a club that I continue to love a lot, with amazing teammates and amazing opponents. I have to thank them too because so many of the great emotions I’ve felt, I felt them away from home. The derby, Napoli or at Bergamo. There are matches where I felt alive. Football is counter-intuitive, it takes also being a fan and a little ignorance a times. I’m happy that I had some sporting nemeses that saw themselves in me, because it means I was a symbol for someone.”
Castaldi: “Thank you, everyone. And thank you to Daniele De Rossi.”