April 25, 2010. I know the date. You know the date. We all know the date. We all remember that gut wrenching feeling. That sense of immediate loss. That feeling of dispair as we watched Philippe Mexes' helpless tears on the bench. We know all that, and even ten years later, we all still curse the name of Giampaolo fucking Pazzini.
Entering Round 35 of the 2009-2010 season, Roma were absolutely fucking rolling. Riding not only a six-match winning streak but a 24-GAME UNBEATEN RUN, Roma were one point up on second place Inter Milan; the same side that kept them at bay all season long and the very same side that would go on to win the treble.
Inter may have had the easier fixture heading into this late April round (home vs 18th place Atalanta) but Roma had nearly 60,000 supporters packed into the Olimpico as they welcomed Sampdoria to the capital. Anything short of a victory would have jeopardized (if not erased outright) their hold on first place.
Roma took the initiative early in the match, grabbing a 1-0 lead thanks to a rapid fire one-two between Mirko Vucinic and Francesco Totti, with the captain beating Marco Storari with a left footed shot in the area.
Things were looking up for Roma, but then the slow and arduous crawl towards heartbreak began.
With a one-goal lead and everything in the world to play for, Roma Roma'd in the worst possible way, watching their Scudetto dreams disappear in the wind thanks to a brace from Pazzini. With Inter defeating Atalanta handily, that was that for Roma. Despite winning their remaining three matches by a 6-2 aggregate score-line, they never tasted the top of the table again.
This loss was the singular focal point for our collective frustrations, but the seeds of despair took root far earlier than this Round 35 defeat. By no means I am suggesting we should forget and forgive Pazzini, but Roma's Scudetto hopes were dashed much, much earlier than that match.
So, if you can bear it, join me as we recount the moments that cost Roma the 2010 Scudetto.
August 23, 2009: Genoa 3, Roma 2
Hey, what not start at the beginning? The Luigi Ferraris is always an unpredictable ground, but entering their fifth season under Luciano Spalletti, and with second place finishes in two of the previous three seasons, Roma were a well-oiled machine, so an away trip against Genoa was hardly a daunting affair.
Despite Totti missing a point blank attempt and Domenico Criscito grabbing the lead in the 49th minute, Roma came roaring back in the second half, grabbing an equalizer through Rodrigo Taddei in the 54th minute and seizing the lead in the 64th minute after Totti redirected a long-range effort from Stefano Guberti (remember him!?).
There wasn't much Roma could do about Genoa's equalizer five minutes later—a well struck free-kick lashed into the upper left-hand corner by Zapater in the 69th minute—but have a look at the match winner.
Good on Artur for making the save, but oof, that rebound. It went right to Giuseppe Biava and there was practically nothing John Arne Riise could do—it took all his effort to simply come within an inch of Biava. But imagine if Artur smothered the ball rather than parrying it, or if he could have just controlled the rebound a bit more and given it a higher trajectory so as not to give Biava a gimme, or if that trio of Roma defenders on the near post didn't all move up simultaneously when the free-kick was played perhaps Biava wouldn't have been so wide open.
This wasn't the most egregious goal the club has ever conceded, but all those micro-permutations meant the difference between a draw and a loss.
Points Lost: One
September 23, 2009: Palermo 3, Roma 3
Palermo and those pink kits should be granted permanent Serie A immunity, right? That has nothing to do with this piece, but Palermo was such a great club for neutral observers during this period—shame the club all but fell apart.
Speaking of falling apart. After taking the lead in the 20th minute thanks to Matteo Brighi, Roma’s hopes for a victory were disintegrated in a matter of six minutes.
Exhibit A: Burdisso, Budan and The Bog
If you can, just ignore the defense splitting pass and focus on Igor Budan and Nicolas Burdisso. With Fabrizio Miccoli's shot dying in the swamp that was the six-yard box, Burdisso did well to catch up to the ball moments before it crossed the goal-line, but I want you to focus on this...
It's certainly easy to second-guess or nitpick, but look at that extra little step Burdisso took as he approached the goal line. Rather than hoofing the ball with his right foot, Nico let the ball run for an extra fraction of a second and was then forced to clear the ball with the outside of his left boot. I suspect that, given the wet pitch, that extra half-step may have been an attempt to keep his balance, but what if he really laid into it with his right foot, clearing the ball and then falling on his ass rather than tapping it with his left foot?
It's impossible to tell and that GIF is, like, a second in real time (if that), but one can't help but wonder.
Nico would make amends for that at literally the 44:59 mark, heading home a corner kick for his first Roma goal, but that wouldn't be the last goal before the half-time whistle.
Exhibit B: Miccoli & Miscommunication
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words....
Following a contested header in their own area, here we see two Roma defenders complaining to the referee DURING THE RUN OF PLAY, one on the ground, and two more standing flat footed. Juan (third player in white from the right) was particularly guilty here as Budan, the player immediate to his right (screen left) moved into position to head the ball back into Roma's box.
And now for the goal...
There's a few things going on here. First, we see Marco Cassetti tracking Miccoli towards the near post, but then he (correctly I'd say) pulls off to block the passing lane to Simplicio. The unfortunate part is that he didn't see or was unaware of Burdisso right behind him, Burdisso then corrects his run towards Miccoli after Cassetti pulls off him.
I wouldn't call this a mistake, maybe just a bit of miscommunication (or just bad luck), but if Cassetti was aware Burdisso was covering his back then maybe Miccoli doesn't get as good a look at goal.
Lastly, if we really, really want to be anal about this. Julio Sergio could have been a tad more aggressive closing out Miccoli—he had ample defensive cover and Miccoli at a tight angle, so it seems like he had the upper hand.
And then...ugh...look how slowly that ball hydroplanes past Cassetti at the end. JUST STICK OUT YOUR FUCKING LEG!!!!
Roma were done-in by another rebound in the 56th minute (1:13 mark in the highlights) but managed to scrape out a draw thanks to an 88th minute penalty from Totti. But there was no telling how the tenor of this match would have changed if they could have just closed out the first half.
Points Lost: We'll call it a soft two points. Roma could have won were it not for that 46th minute catastrophe, but were lucky to get a draw all things considered.
September 27, 2009: Catania 1, Roma 1
Man, I miss having Gli Elefanti in Serie A, don't you? Before we begin this one, let me preface it by saying this was a judgement call; it was probably a deserved draw, one that Roma snatched at the death, but take a look at Catania's goal and tell me you're not still upset ten years later.
We'll tackle this one with a still frame:
This is moments after Alessandro Potenza (#2, bottom of the screen) flung a speculative shot at Julio Sergio's far post, which he was able to miraculously parry into the post, but take notice of Catania's #15, Takayuki Morimoto (center of the screen). Morimoto, who would tap home the rebound, was surrounded by...count ‘em...four Roma defenders, yet somehow remained open enough to score.
De Rossi would grab a Totti-assisted equalizer in the 92nd minute to preserve a draw, but Ranieri's boys were a poorly marked Morimoto away from a last gasp 1-0 victory.
Points lost: Another soft two.
October 18, 2009: AC Milan 2, Roma 1
Roma started off on the right foot when Jeremy Menez got behind the Milan back-line to beat Dida one-v-one in only the third minute, but then, for the first time in our analysis, Roma were jobbed by the refs.
I kid you not, I literally just threw my hands up in the air like this just happened, but the look on Menez's face says it all: he was literally slung to the ground by a young Thiago Silva with nary a look from the refs. Menez was robbed of a clear penalty, but man, what a link up between Menez and Pizarro—beautiful.
Assuming Menez (or whoever was the penalty taker in Totti's asbence at that time) converts the PK, Roma are up 2-0 in only the 20th minute. A lead which could have been pushed to 3-0 in the 37th minute if Vucinic did more with this attempt:
Dida was a pretty solid keeper from what I recall, but Vucinic could have attempted that shot a lot sooner, and with a lot more power, before he tested Dida from three feet away.
The ref would factor in this match once more, giving Milan a penalty in the 57th minute thanks to a late tackle from Burdisso.
Maannnn, I don't know about this one. I wish there was a reverse angle to really see if Burdisso's left leg got the ball or clipped Alessandro Nesta's leg first, but all eleven Roma player stormed the ref en masse to protest this call. As it stood, Ronaldinho converted the penalty to knot the match at one apiece.
Alexandre Pato would score a beauty in the 67th minute—slipping behind Riise and settling a long ball before skirting around Doni as he rushed off his line—and De Rossi fired a golden chance at an equalizer over the crossbar in the 82nd minute, but in the end Roma took the hard L at the San Siro.
Points lost: Three. Were it not for the ref ignoring the clear foul on Menez and if Burdisso weren't so aggressive in that moment, Roma would have been the 2-1 victors instead of Milan.
October 25, 2009: Roma 0, Livorno 1
There weren't necessarily any GIF-worthy highlights (or lowlights, as it were) from this match, but any time you lose at home to the eventual 20th place team it's an occasion to regret. Roma were bested by a 40th minute goal from Francesco Tavano, and a had a few decent chances turned away and/or saved, but there's no excuse to chuck away three points to a bottom dweller like Livorno.
Thanks to a brace from Antonio Floro Flores, Roma would drop three more points the following week against Udinese but then embarked on an epic 24-match unbeaten streak. There were some great moments in that run—taking a point off Inter on the road and beating Juve at the Stadio delle Alpi—but it was marred by two of the most damning draws we've ever seen.
January 6, 2010: Cagliari 2, Roma 2
After being held in check by the Sardinians in the first half, Roma managed a two-nil lead by the 65th minute mark thanks to a David Pizzaro penalty and a strike from Simone Perrotta in the box. Things were looking good, but if you were a new fan, you were about to experience Roma Happened in the worst way.
Roma conceded two goals...after the 90th minute.
Diego Lopez: 91st Minute (Cagliari 1, Roma 2)
Cassetti may have had a case for a penalty here, as he didn't appear to fall of his own accord, but he had every chance in the world to blast that over the touchline with his left foot, but thanks to that miss-hit and/or takedown, Lopez was gifted an easy goal.
But Cagliari weren't done yet...
Daniele Conti: 93rd Minute (Cagliari 2, Roma 2)
I suppose Cassetti could have done a bit better to close out Joaquin Larrivey (#23) at the near post, but Doni made the only save he could and Juan simply wasn't close enough to Conti to repel that rebounded attempt.
Still, chalk it up anyway you like, and Roma pissed away three points in stoppage time. There's simply no excuse for that.
Points Lost: All three.
Roma would draw Napoli 2-2 and Milan 0-0 in successive weeks, but the shit really hit the fan in Round 28 when they dropped points to Livorno...again!
March 14, 2010: Livorno 3, Roma 3
Cristiano Lucarelli scored 10 goals for Livorno during the 2009-2010 season, 30% of which came against Roma; 100% of which came in this match. And the Lucarelli party started early in this one, as he got behind Juan and Riise in only the 9th minute, beating Julio Sergio with a one-touch effort.
Roma would strike back the very next minute when Taddei set up Perrotta with this:
That obviously has nothing to do with Roma dropping points here, but fuckin’ hell, what a play! It's no wonder people love Rodrigo Taddei so much.
Luca Toni would double Roma's lead in the 19th minute after he headed home a free-kick, but Lucarelli would strike again in the 26th minute. In a practical carbon copy of his first goal, Lucarelli made a well-timed run off the last defender, took a touch past the charging keeper and tucked it home. Livorno 2, Roma 2.
And just like they did after Lucarelli's first goal, Roma struck right back, grabbing a 3-2 lead thanks to David Pizarro's 27th minute goal. Pek celebrated his goal with a swan dive in-front of the corner flag, but there was no such celebration in the 40th minute when he clanged a PK off the post. But that wouldn't be the last penalty attempt to factor in this one.
In the 71st minute, with Lucarelli hugging Roma's end-line, he flung a desperate cross towards the center of the area, and then the hand of fate intervened:
Again, it's remarkably easy to second guess (especially 10 years down the road) but I'm not quite sure Juan needed go to the ground like that. By falling to his left, his right arm sort of naturally flung upwards, but it just happened at the worst possible millisecond, striking the ball and conceding a decisive penalty to Livorno.
Lucarelli converted the penalty to secure the unlikely 3-3 draw, And much like they did with SPAL a few years ago, Roma's inability to take points off a bottom dweller squashed their top of the table ambitions.
Points Lost: Three
Ranieri's side would soldier on to win six matches on the trot, including that Luca Toni goal against Inter—the one that drove De Rossi into hysterics—and a 2-1 victory over Lazio in Round 34, after which Roma held a slim one-point lead over Jose Mourinho and Inter.
And then came the fall...
April 25, 2010: Sampdoria 2, Roma 1
We already took a more holistic look at this defeat during our Decade in Review series, but, in the spirit of things, we're going to dissect this one blow by agonizing blow.
And I mean blow...by...blow. Gird your loins.
Opportunity Lost #1: Menez & Perrotta (10th Minute)
First of all, if you ever doubted that Francesco Totti had the best touch of all-time, look no further; he starts this play his back turned to the goal, settles it, takes another touch and then plays a ball backwards over his head to find Menez with an inch-perfect ball. Simply amazing.
We can quibble with Menez's decision making here—he could have played it in to Perrotta rather than taking a tight angled shot—but Simone nearly pounced on the rebound. It wasn't a clear-cut chance by any means, but Roma could have easily been up 1-0 at this point.
Opportunity Lost #2: Juan's Audacious Volley
I don't know if this was a designed play or not, but it was a brilliant sequence that nearly produced a moment to remember. With Menez receiving the ball 25+ yards out, he lobbed it into Juan at the edge of the six, and the smooth-as-silk defender very nearly put an overhead volley past the keeper.
This was a 10/10 on the difficulty scale, but Roma ran this play to perfection.
Opportunity Lost #3: Perrotta's Side Volley
This was a rather easy save in the end for Marco Storari, but Perrotta's 18-yard side volley stemmed from some great inter-play between himself, Pizarro and De Rossi. It's a shame it didn't test Storari more because Roma had two attackers primed to pounce on a rebound. Still, hell of an effort from Simone.
Francesco Totti Goal: 15th Minute (Sampdoria 0, Roma 1)
Roma would come good at the quarter-hour mark thanks to a quick exchange between Vucinic and Totti, with the captain striking a quick left footed goal from ten-yards out. 15 minutes and Totti, with his best Patrick Swayze mullet, was doing all he could do secure his second Scudetto.
Opportunity Lost #4: Totti Tests Storari
If you watched that and just slapped yourself on the forehead in frustration, you're not alone. Despite that miss, enjoy the chemistry between Totti and Vucinic. With Mirko wheeling back around towards the edge of he 18, Totti finds the perfect moment to start his opposite run before Vucinic slips the ball to him just as he beats the last defender. That's football perfection right there.
Totti then blasts a left footed effort at the near post, zeroing in on the inches of space available between Storari's glove and the post. Full marks to Storari for the reflex save, but Totti came inches away from doubling the lead...with his weaker foot.
Opportunity Lost #5: Totti Volley Sails Wide
I'm seriously getting way too amped watching these; it's like reliving the match in the moment, but oof...Totti almost made another miracle. Following Menez's attempt from distance, Totti hurried to corral the rebound but thanks to a bit of an awkward angle/trajectory on the ball, all he could manage was leaping side-volley, and he missed it by maybe three feet or so—pretty impressive under the circumstances. But, even watching this a decade down the road, you could sense the tension growing. Roma were desperate to grab a security goal.
Opportunity Lost #6: Vucinic Tests Storari
This was an odd sort of bang-bang play. Samp cleared the ball right to David Pizarro at midfield and Pek found Vucinic alone on the left flank with a one-touch pass. From there Vucinic did the best he could with the space and time he had, but his low and away effort was barely saved by Storari. He had the near post covered pretty well, so this was really Vucini's only option and he almost tucked it in the far post.
Now we fast-forward to the second-half where Sampdoria made Roma pay for all those missed chances. And as luck would have it, their old pal Antonio Cassano was instrumental in the equalizer.
Giampaolo Pazzini Goal: 52nd Minute (Sampdoria 1, Roma 1)
Outside of Burdisso offering help to Menez on Cassano a bit earlier, there wasn’t much Roma could do to avert this goal; Cassano's little hesitate and drag move at the beginning gave him enough separation to play the cross over the Pazzini, who had Riise beat by a step or two and met the ball at the perfect height to maximize the power of his header.
Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to your opponent. If anyone other than Cassano were on the ball, I'm not sure this chance gets created.
Opportunity Lost #7: Menez Hits the Side Netting
A great two-man game between Totti and Menez resulted this 18-yard-effort from the young Frenchman. With Totti holding the ball and occupying multiple defenders, Menez was able to find enough space to unfurl this effort, ripping it into side netting, presumably giving all the viewers at home a heart-attack.
Opportunity Lost #8: Storari Denies Toni at the Near Post
Shortly after entering the match, Roma's winter signing, Luca Toni, breezed past the Sampdoria defense and put that beautiful head of his on the end of a long free-kick from Pizzaro. With Storari quickly closing out the near post, Toni attempted to head the ball off the pitch, using the bounce to get over the now falling Storari. It's the type of header we see settle into the back of the net multiple times per year, but not in this match, not with Storari playing out of his mind.
Opportunity Lost #9: Vucinic's Breakaway Denied
With Storari flying off his line, I'm not entirely sure Vucinic could have played the ball over to Toni (unless he laid it off before reaching the area), but you tell me—is that a penalty? Storari certainly sent Vucinic flying through the air but I'm not sure he came out feet first. But once again, Storari was up to the task, denying Roma a go-head goal in the 76th minute.
Opportunity Lost #10: Riise Rocket Denied
There aren't many left legs in the history of sport as powerful as John Arne Riise's, and how Storari got his mitts on this one is beyond me. With Totti finding him in ample space, Riise dialed up it to 11 on this one, firing a rocket that was destined tuck under crossbar before Storari intervened....say it with me, again.
Giampaolo Pazzini Match-Winner: 85th Minute (Sampdoria 2, Roma 1)
The thing I notice immediately about this goal is that Riise has Pazzini pretty-well closed out but he doesn't have the inside position (relative to the ball) and the moment he tried to get that inside space just happened to be the very same moment the ball arrived; Pazzini just had his lunge timed exquisitely.
And that was that. Roma had at least ten decent chances at goal and was only able to convert once. In some ways, it's the nature of the beast—that's just football sometimes—but given the circumstances, each one of Storari's saves stung a bit more. I say this without an ounce of hyberpole; as I was putting together those clips, I screamed, grunted and pounded my fists many, many times. Ten years on, and this one still stings.
Due to the finality of it, that April defeat to Sampdoria has become the flash-point for our 2009-2010 frustrations, but as we just saw, there were at least seven other matches in which Roma could have potentially secured the Scudetto. If Roma could have just beaten Livorno at home in October, we're not having this discussion. De Rossi would have his Scudetto, Totti's resume becomes even more impressive, and Claudio Ranieri would never have to pay for another meal in Rome again.
That Roma were even able to hang with treble winning Inter was a feat in and of itself. Inter had the best manager on the planet at the time, a deeper and arguably better roster, while Roma essentially pinned all their hopes on Totti, De Rossi, Pizarro and Vucinic. And we haven't even mentioned the damage Spalletti inflicted by quitting on the team after only two weeks.
With two second place finishes in the prior three seasons, I can't even begin to imagine how frustrated that locker-room was at the end of the season. And in some ways, Roma had spent all their mental energy that season, and wouldn't capture that same level of magic until (ironically) Spalletti returned in 2016.
Following their second place finish in 2009-2010, Roma cratered all the way to sixth place in 2010-2011, seventh place in 2011-2012, and back up to sixth in 2012-2013 before eventually finding their form under Rudi Garcia the following season.
Roma may have had more talented teams since then, but none were was agonizingly close as Ranieri's 2009-2010 team. Beat Livorno, put a couple of those 10 attempts past Storari or don’t concede two stoppage time goals to Cagliari and Roma were champs.
For a lot of our readership, your love for Roma likely solidified around this time. There was just something about the way these particular Roma sides—blessed with the presence of Totti and De Rossi and supported by a core of solid, likable veterans (many of whom were Italians)—punched above their weight that made them so endearing.
The fact that they couldn't spend like Inter or Juve but still managed to stay at the top of the table, to win the Coppa Italia, with what was essentially a patchwork roster made everything they earned mean more; they just seemed more authentic. You embraced that provincialism. In fact, it's what you loved about Roma; you wore it like a badge of honor.
It may sound trite, but this team may not have won a lot of trophies, but they won a lot of hearts. And that's what keeps you coming back, year after year, close call after close call and disappointment after disappointment.