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The Year of Almost: Key Players, Surprises and Disappointments from Roma’s 09/10 Squad

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It wasn't the deepest roster we've ever seen, but Ranieri got some magical seasons from several key players, as well as a couple of duds.

AS Roma’s captain Francesco Totti (L) ce Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

We began our coverage of one of Roma’s most tantalizing what-ifs yesterday with bren’s article on the 2009-2010 Roma squad. Ever since the turn of the century, Roma has had a knack for finding itself in second place in Serie A, but barring the 2016-2017 incarnation of Roma, no squad excited half as much as that ‘09-’10 squad. Personally, this season coincided with my third season following Roma closely (the ‘06 World Cup made me fall in love with Totti and the Azzurri), and it’s the season that sealed my Roma fandom.

One of the biggest reasons why the 2009-2010 season is stuck in my memories is because it was so quintessentially Roma. The combination of local talent with just enough crazy love to convince players from half a world away that Roma is more special than the rest was on full display this season. Equally on display were some flops that have remained just as much a part of Roma eleven years later as they were during this season. The what-ifs of transfers done better, the loss of a good manager largely due to necessary financial decisions, the workhorses becoming fan favorites: it’s all there. Sure, there was no Scudetto at the end of the rainbow, but Roma’s never been about the silverware.

Key Players

Francesco Totti (Of Course)

AS Roma Francesco Totti gestures during
Now this was Totti with the Good Hair
Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

From the moment he became the youngest club captain in Serie A history in 1998, Francesco Totti was the key player for Roma. His hairstyles changed nearly as frequently as David Beckham’s, but one thing that was astonishingly consistent was the magic he brought to the pitch. In the 2000s, Francesco Totti won the Serie A Italian Footballer of the Year award five times, the Serie A Footballer of the Year award twice, and broke double digits in league goals every year but one. The further we get removed from Francesco Totti’s 2000s-era prime, I think we forget just how good he was; hopefully those stats provide a little bit of insight.

Even still, 2009-2010 was a good year for Er Pupone. Despite injury woes in the second half of the season, Totti led the scoring charts in little over 1800 minutes with 14 goals. Sure, he was tied in that respect by one of our honorable mentions, Mirko Vucinic, but Vucinic played an additional 600 minutes to match Totti, so we’re giving it to Francesco.

There’s really not too much more to say here that hasn’t already been said countless times about Francesco Totti, so I’ll give the space to a particularly true section of our 2009 Year in Review from our former editor-in-chief, Chris:

So would you like an era review? Sure, here goes.

Best player in the Capello era: Francesco Totti.

Best player in the non-Prandelli era: Francesco Totti.

Best player in the Rudi era: Francesco Totti.

Best player in the Gigi Del Neri era: Francesco Totti.

Best player in the Bruno Conti era: Francesco Totti.

Best player in the Franco Sensi era: Francesco Totti.

Best player in the Spalletti era: Francesco Totti.

Best player in the Roma era: Francesco Totti.

Doesn’t get simpler than that.

Daniele De Rossi

UC Sampdoria v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Massimo Cebrelli/Getty Images

There’s more talk of Daniele De Rossi’s excellent year later in this article, but it must be said yet again that this was peak De Rossi. Daniele scored seven goals, assisted four, and was quite simply the best midfielder in Rome (and perhaps the best midfielder in Italy, with apologies to Andrea Pirlo). The 2009-2010 season featured De Rossi’s 200th appearance for Roma, which is odd to think about when you remember he would go on wearing the Giallorossi kit another 259 times.

His performances for club and country were good enough that he was tipped to be the Azzurri’s next captain. Alas, that part of De Rossi’s tale was not to be, but during Claudio Ranieri’s near-impossible 24-match unbeaten streak, it was quite often The Daniele De Rossi Show. He made Roma tick with his do-it-all ability in midfield, and while he never had the pizzazz of Totti, this is one of the seasons where that almost didn’t matter.

John Arne Riise

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

John Arne Riise was not Roman. In fact, he was about as far away from being Roman as you can be while still claiming European heritage. Yet even in his second season with Roma, the Norwegian fullback was becoming more and more of a Roman with each match. Romanisti don’t necessarily take to the flashy signing quickly, but one player they will always support is the gritty, do-your-best-each-and-every-moment player who shines at the most opportune times. One of the first incarnations of that style of Roman star I ever got to see was Riise.

Before coming to Roma in the 2008 - 2009 season, Riise had built up over 200 appearances for Liverpool, who aren’t exactly slouches. Yet his departure from The Club The Beatles Supported was an ignominious one, as one of his last moments of import for The Reds was scoring an own goal in the Champions League Semi-Final... against Chelsea. Naturally, a move elsewhere soon came to pass, but instead of being another Premier League flop in Italy, Riise became a folk hero. Riise scored five goals in the 2009 - 2010 season, sure, and he provided defensive stability at the left-back position, but if there’s one moment I’ll always remember from Riise’s time in Rome, and that’s his 95th-minute match winner against Juventus.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this video must be worth at least a million:

Even today, that goal gives me chills. Although he would last only one more season in Rome, that moment alone proved that John Arne Riise is a Roman, and merited him a spot on this list of key players.

Mirko Vucinic

AS Roma MIrko Vucinic celebrates with te Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

Not to be outdone by Totti himself, Mirko Vucinic also bagged 14 goals this season, the second highest mark of his 14-year European career. Vucinic wasn't an immediate starter for Claudio Ranieri, but he became an indispensable part of Roma's XI that season, logging 2,500 minutes at multiple positions in Ranieri's attack, both as a lone forward and supporting midfielder.

For Vucinic is was the second of three-straight double digit scoring seasons, which he then parlayed into a €15 million move to Juventus in the summer of 2011. Vucinic would score 21 goals in three seasons with the Old Lady before finishing his career in the United Arab Emirates.

Honorable Mentions: David Pizarro & Juan

AS Roma v FC Internazionale Milano - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Pizarro had fallen off from his earlier Roma form, where he chipped four goals and 17 assists his first two years with the club, but Pek remained a key cog in Roma's almost-squad of 2009-2010, making 31 starts, pairing with Daniele De Rossi in a dynamic double pivot.

Juan, meanwhile, was smooth as always. With 29 appearances and over 2,500 minutes played, Juan was a rock for Ranieri, giving the Giallorossi the cool and calm presence they'd grown to love over the prior two seasons.

Juan would play two more seasons for the club before returning to his native Brazil.

Biggest Surprises That Season

Nicolas Burdisso

AS Roma’s Argentinian defender Nicolas B Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

Over the course of the prior two seasons, Juan and Philippe Mexes, better known around these parts as Crockett & Tubbs, had formed a rock solid partnership on Roma’s back-line. They may not have been the most famous duo to ever hit the club, but they were ever bit as important to Roma's success in the late 00s as Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi.

But that all changed on August 22, 2009 with the arrival of Nicolas Burdisso, who came to the capital on loan from Inter Milan. To say Burdisso made an immediate impact would be an incredible understatement. Starting almost from the word go, Burdisso would log 2,888 Serie A minutes during the 2009-2010 season, second only to John Arne Riise, scoring two goals while averaging 2.4 tackles and 6.5 clearances per game.

While perhaps not as technically gifted as Mexes and not as smooth as Juan, Burdisso sometimes manic style of play was the perfect complement to Juan and enabled Roma to conceded only 41 goals that season, the league's third-best mark.

Burdisso would lose the title to the very team he'd just left, but one could make a case that Burdisso's six-year stint in Roma was the most successful of his career. Hell, he even convinced the team to sign his little brother Guillermo.

Burdisso is just one of those guys Roma fans will always love unequivocally. And his performance during this just-short season went along way to securing that legacy.

Daniele De Rossi's Goal Explosion

AS Roma v FC Internazionale Milano - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

As we mentioned above, De Rossi was one of the key players during this season, and really every year of his career, but DDR added a new wrinkle to his game under Ranieri's watchful eye that season, scoring a career high 11 goals and chipping in 4 assists (all comps), including the opening strike in Roma's 2-1 win over Inter on March 27, 2010 and the lone goal in Roma's Coppa Italia Quarterfinal victory over Catania.

By this point in his career, 27-years-old and with 200 Serie A appearances under his belt, De Rossi was entering the conversation among the best midfielder's in the world.

Biggest Disappointments That Season

Luciano Spalletti

AS Roma’s coach Luciano Spalletti attend Photo credit should read DAMIEN MEYER/AFP via Getty Images

With the Sensi's drowning in debt, the club was forced to sell Alberto Aquilani to Liverpool that summer, which presumably cheesed-off Spalletti a tad, but after blowing a 2-0 lead in the second half to Genoa in Round 1, the writing was on the wall. After bowing out to Juventus the next weekend, Spalletti left Roma on September 1st only to re-emerge with Zenit St. Petersburg three-months later.

Roma caught lightning in a bottle with Ranieri, but changing coaches after only two matches wasn't exactly the best way to start a new season.

Jeremy Menez

AS Roma’s french forward Jeremy Menez (R Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

We'll have more to say on Menez in the coming days, but suffice it to say, his underwhelming 2010 season, which included both Ranieri and his teammates publicly questioning his effort, was perhaps the biggest on-pitch letdown of the 2009-2010 season.

After scoring four goals and three assists in his debut season with Roma, big things were expected from Menez. He wasn't meant to be the second coming of Zidane, but he fit the bill as a pacey, creative winger who could operate and create on his own; the perfect shot of energy to complement Totti's play-making.

With only one goal and two assists during this season, the Menez many envisioned the year prior never materialized. There's a certain part of me that think he would have fared better if Spalletti stuck around, but this was the beginning of the end for Menez, as he would find his way to PSG in 2011.

Julio Baptista

AS Roma’s Brazialian forward Julio Cesar Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images

Roma have made a habit of gambling on cast-offs from larger clubs, but I'm not sure many players came to the club with as much hype as Julio Baptista. With visions of the Sevilla Baptista dancing through their heads—the kid who scored 38 goals across two seasons—Roma weren't scared off by his dip in form with Real Madrid and Arsenal, forking over €10 million for the then 26-year-old Brazilian.

After scoring 11 goals in all competitions during the ‘08-’09 season, Baptista seemed primed to fulfill his once prodigious promise and gave Spalletti and more physical and athletic presence in front of goal.

While he had some minor injury concerns during ‘09-’10, Baptista was a forgotten man, garnering only 649 minutes that season, falling way down the pecking order once Luca Toni came to town.

Baptista could have been a weapon for this particular Roma side, but as it was, he was a mere afterthought and would spend three seasons back in La Liga with Malaga before playing out the string back in Brazil and one season with Orlando City in MLS.

So, what do you think, did we miss anyone? Who were your favorite players on this squad?