As I sit down to write this match preview, the last one that will ever included Roma legend Daniele De Rossi, I can't help but notice the parallels between this forced "retirement” and the one we dealt with two years ago, when James Pallotta and his band of merry sycophants pushed Francesco Totti away from the only club he's ever known. In both instances, men who had sacrificed greater glory and financial gain to remain with Roma were betrayed by their interloping club president, and in both instances, by complete coincidence, Roma's European life was also in the balance.
While the stakes in 2017 weren't quite as extreme—Roma were looking to lock down second place in the league and automatic Champions League qualifications—the Giallorossi faced a similar set of circumstances: achieving an objective that could quite literally determine the future of the club while also managing the emotions of watching a club icon be betrayed in real time.
Roma vs. Parma: May 26th. 20:30 CET/2:30 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
And much as I did back then, my intention was to focus the preview on the actual match, divorcing myself from the emotions of the day, but then I went back and actually read that match preview, and, well, let's just say it's still relevant:
Ah, fuck it. I can’t do this. I can’t pretend like tomorrow’s match is just another run of the mill fixture. This is it. This is the last time we’ll see Totti in a Roma shirt. Despite all the thousands of words we’ve dedicated to his farewell tour over the past year, the prospect of never seeing that again hasn’t sunk in until now.
It’s real, it’s happening, he’s leaving. So you can spare me all the “Roma is bigger than one man. Roma will prevail” because it’s bullshit. This isn’t a small, trifling matter. This is the man that kept the club afloat for 25 goddamn years, you don’t erase that so flippantly, you can’t move on from something that significant so casually, and if you can, you’re missing a significant part of the Roma experience.
And whether you call us “fanboys”, as if that’s supposed to be pejorative, or simply ignorant, let me turn it right back at you. What do you love Roma? Do you love the corporate signage on the website? The banal press releases? Did you really love that WIND phone?
Of course you fucking don’t. You love this club for the same reason I do, they’re special. They’re special because a man who by all rights should have left them in the dust didn’t. He stayed because he loved the team, and in the process that love spanned the globe, enrapturing a whole new generation of fans. He stayed despite the fact his employers let him down time and time again, preferring a life entertaining his family and friends over fame and greater fortune. What would have happened to this club without Francesco Totti over the past 25 years?
Francesco Totti is AS Roma and AS Roma is Francesco Totti, and if you don’t see that or simply don’t care, then I’m afraid we’ll never see eye to eye.
Just substitute De Rossi for Totti and 18 years for 25 years and tell me if those word still don't ring true. I didn't intend on essentially copying that template, but my initial thought upon hearing De Rossi was being forced out was “I can't believe those assholes did this. Not again.”
But they are, and they did. For the second time in as many years, Roma's absentee owner, whether through his own instincts or the whisperings of Lord Varys, I mean Franco Baldini, has betrayed a club legend, delivering a swift and unequivocal slap to the face of a man who subverted his own ego, and one could argue his own legacy, multiple times for the benefit of the club.
Totti and De Rossi are so inextricably linked in the hearts and minds of Roma fans that it's nearly impossible to ignore the pains of two years ago. For an entire generation of fans, the only Roma they know was the one buoyed by the two greatest players and most loyal citizens to ever wear the colors of the Eternal City, Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi.
And while they forged their legacies in slightly different ways, the Roma we know and love was built on their backs, on their sublime skills, and their unwavering loyalty to AS Roma, and now that they've both been betrayed by their club, we're left to wonder if that Roma is lost forever.
I'm not sure. I'd like to think that Totti and De Rossi's respective careers were just the physical manifestations of the love the people have always had for the club, or perhaps they were projections of our desire for permanence in a world that is anything but, and that Roma will remain special, but how many of us love this club purely because of them? Can a club really be special or different when it casts aside the very things that made it special?
And it's that question that lingers, it's that question—in their absence—that leaves you feeling empty, so if you'll allow me to paraphrase myself once more...
How do you process that? How do you accept that? How do you move on? These are questions we’ll have to learn to deal with, for while we’ll always love Roma, that love may never feel quite the same without De Rossi—not until we find another flag to rally around.
In the meantime, we’re left to confront this emptiness. A void which seems like it could envelop an entire city, and while you know he’ll never come back, his presence will never fade. De Rossi's aura will always paint the past, present and future of this club because he is, like or not, the embodiment of everything that makes Roma special, the embodiment of everything that made you love Roma in the first place.
And that can’t be dismissed, ignored or forgotten. And it will damn sure outlast whatever scars Pallotta inflicts upon this club.