Roma's woes at full-back have been well documented in these spaces over the past several years. Frankly, several years is being generous. While the club has managed to get useful seasons from veteran full-backs like Aleksandar Kolarov, John Arne Riise and Maicon (for one year at least), Roma's list of failed full-backs is long and robust, as the club has spent much of the past twenty years desperately searching for full-back stability.
From Dodo to Ivan Piris to Aleandro Rosi to Jose Angle to Marco Motta to Rick Karsdorp and many stops in-between, Roma have a deplorable record finding and developing full-backs in the 21st century. In fact, none of those names were academy products, so Roma's failures cross multiple levels—transfers and academy development. In fact, the only in-house option to play significant minutes at full-back in recent years was Alessandro Florenzi, and he's not even a full-back!
Point being, Roma have been wondering the proverbial desert for almost 40 years and haven't found their Moses...I mean, full-back yet.
But there was one man who, while he didn't promise salvation, gave Roma fans a reason to hope for parts of six-seasons: Mr Drawers himself, Marco Cassetti.
Cassetti, a Brescia-born defender, came to the capital in the summer of 2006 on a co-ownership deal with Lecce and immediately made his mark with his new club. In his debut season for Roma, Cassetti made 41 appearances under Luciano Spalletti, scoring two goals and chipping in one assist. With such a solid first season under his belt, Roma purchased the remaining 50% of Cassetti’s contract from Lecce for €850,000 in June of 2017.
Roma's #77 would repeat that feat the following season, making 41 appearances in all competitions, teaming with Max Tonetto, Christian Panucci, Philippe Mexes and Juan in one of the Giallorossi's deepest (and most beloved) defensive rotations of the past two decades.
Cassetti wasn't quite what we'd call a highlight worthy player, but he brought size, decent speed and intelligence to a position Roma still hasn't solved almost a decade after his departure. Seldom the star, Cassetti was a rock for Roma, making nearly 200 appearances for the Giallorossi between 2006 and 2012.
There was one moment, however, where Cassetti stole the show—the Derby della Capitale in December of 2009:
What I love most about that moment, in addition to Cassetti's pure class finish at the end, was that he was involved in literally every facet of that play. From the beginning where he stripped the ball with a picture perfect tackle on none other than Aleksandar Kolarov, to the quick passing triangle he formed with Nicolas Burdisso and Simone Perotta to jump start the counter attack, Cassetti seeded this run of play with his tackling and quick thinking.
And once Roma got to the final third, Cassetti quickly made way to the edge of the 18, serving as a focal point for Matteo Brighi. From there, Cassetti pinged it out to Mirko Vucinic on the right and then deftly slipped into the empty space in the area before steering home the match-winning goal.
In a sense, this goal was an encapsulation of Cassetti at his best; a smart, intuitive team player. Cassetti won over fans with his passion and aesthetic style—the slick hair, the dope kit number—but moments like this proved his true worth. With Roma's limited financial resources, they had to find value in virtually every non-Totti space on the pitch, and in Cassetti they got six solid seasons for a measly €2.35 million transfer fee, while he never earned more than €1.8 million in pre-tax salary.
Cassetti’s six-year spell in Rome was undoubtedly the best of his career—he even earned a handful of Italy caps during that period—and while he was never a superstar, one can argue he was Roma's best right-back of the past 15 years. Cicinho had some moments and Maicon prior to World Cup 2014 was a revelation, but I'm not sure any player has ever put together a similarly consistent run as Cassetti between 2006 and the end of the 2010-2011 season, his last year as a full-time Roma player.
The Roma teams of that era may be remembered for the brilliance of Francesco Totti and the tenacity of a young Daniele De Rossi, but the crew that surrounded them were every bit as integral to the club's success as those two superstars. With Roma unable to outspend the northern clubs, they had no choice but to rely on players like Cassetti, Brighi, Tonetto and Burdisso; a gang of guys playing bigger than their reputations. They had a style, an intensity, and a love of the crest that just made Roma feel different than any other club in the league, like everything they did was harder-earned and more authentic than the rich and famous clubs up north.
It was an intoxicating mix for Serie A neophytes and few players embodied that more than Marco Cassetti.