In the past few days, we’ve looked at some of the best South Americans and some of the best Italians to ever play football for Roma, and the total wattage of star power in those squads is quite impressive. Even if you ignore Roma’s recent superstars in Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, some of Italy’s finest throughout history have played for the only club in Rome; meanwhile, Roma icons like Aldair, Falcao were equally influential stars on the national and international stage.
Where these two prior lists may have leaned towards the past (with a few notable exceptions), a look at the best Europeans to play for I Lupi trends far more modern. Part of this might be that some of Roma’s highest highs occurred while Serie A was more dominated by Italian and South American talent; part of it is certainly happenstance.
Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczęsny (Poland, 81 appearances)
The moment you exclude Alisson Becker from a list of best Roma goalkeepers, you’re essentially obligated to replace him with Szczęsny. The Polish goalkeeper, formerly of Arsenal, currently of Juventus (ugh), brought consistency between the sticks to Roma for the first time in what felt like forever. Until we became aware of the greatness that was Alisson, many thought that Woj was the best Roma could get in terms of goalkeeping ability, and outside of that explosion into superstardom by the Brazilian keeper, that might honestly be true.
Full-Back: Aleksandar Kolarov (Serbia, 122 appearances)
If you had told a Roma fan in the early 2010s that Aleksandar Kolarov would be a Roma player one day, and not just a Roma player, but perhaps one of the best Roma players of the past twenty years, they’d think you were crazy. Of course, Kolarov spent three seasons plying his wares for Roma’s eternal foe, Lazio, but when he made his move to Roma from Manchester City, he quickly became a fan favorite and one of the best full-backs Roma has ever seen. Outside of Lionel Messi, Kolarov is the highest-scoring free kick taker in Europe right now; that alone merits him a spot on this list.
Full-Back: Vincent Candela (France, 289 appearances)
Vincent Candela is one of the longest-tenured Roma players on this list, and also one with the most trophies to his name. While playing for Roma, Candela won Roma’s most recent Scudetto, won the 1998 World Cup for France, and helped the Giallorossi win the 2001 Supercoppa Italiana as well. But beyond the hardware, Candela was one of the best attacking fullbacks in Europe during his prime; like Kolarov, Candela was excellent on set pieces and provided an excellent balance between defensive stability and attacking prowess.
Center-Back: Kostas Manolas (Greece, 206 appearances)
If Kostas Manolas’ history with Roma had only included that goal, he would have made this list. But Manolas’ time with the Giallorossi was so much more. Over the course of 206 appearances with Roma, the Greek God of Rome more than adequately filled the shoes of Mehdi Benatia, providing the necessary bulk and intelligence to defend the opposing squad’s star player time and time again. While in Rome Manolas combined an ability to play from the back with excellent stopping power. You don’t find that everyday in a defender.
Center-Back: Cristian Chivu (Romania, 124 appearances)
Cristian Chivu was a versatile starter for Roma throughout his time in the Capitoline City. His smoothness in defense helped right the ship in many instances where the Giallorossi looked as if a game was about to fall out of their grasp; his ability as a ball-playing defender was unrivaled during his time in Rome. Although he would find quite a lot of success with Inter, including three Serie A titles and a Champions League trophy, he truly became the type of player who led world-class defenses at Roma.
Midfielder: Miralem Pjanić (Bosnia, 185 appearances)
Ah, Twinkle Toes. Il Piccolo Principe. The One Who Was Supposed To Take Over For Totti. The Betrayer. His time in Rome is now irrevocably discolored by his transfer to Juventus, but while he was logging his 185 appearances for the Giallorossi, Miralem Pjanić was a special kind of star. An old-fashioned playmaker whose passing ability is still other-worldly, elegance was the name of the game whenever Pjanić put on a Roma shirt. If only he hadn’t changed that shirt for the black-and-white stripes.
Midfielder: Radja Nainggolan (Belgium, 203 appearances)
Radja Nainggolan is probably one of the most controversial players to play for the Giallorossi in the twenty-first century, but love him or hate him, no one can deny his talent. Simply put, Nainggolan at his peak was a complete midfielder in every sense of the word. He had a motor that didn’t quit, a boot that could find the net with ease, and playmaking ability that helped Roma put it all together more often than not. Given that, Nainggolan was also a huge hothead with a knack for kicking the ball into the cheap seats just as often as he scored. Forget all of that for a moment, though, and recognize that at his best, Radja Nainggolan was one of the best midfielders in Europe at his peak with Roma.
Midfielder: Kevin Strootman (Netherlands, 131 appearances)
Er Lavatrice is a personal favorite of mine; I have a soft spot for the midfielders who put in the work to keep the engine running, even if they don’t score the goals or make the beautiful passes. When Kevin Strootman first arrived in Rome from PSV Eindhoven, his tough-tackling style and dynamism on the ball made him an instantly crucial cog in a new-look Roma. Although his career became more of a what-if as time went on and injuries took their toll, watching a healthy Strootman was watching football as it should be played.
Forward: Mirko Vučinić (Montenegro, 202 appearances)
Yet another Roma star who later moved to Juventus, Mirko Vučinić came to Roma in the late 2000s, providing more attacking talent to pair with Francesco Totti and acting as a strong, elegant, and slightly in-your-face counterpart to the King of Rome. The Montenegrin was excellent at playmaking in the final third, and in a better world, he would have won more titles with Roma and fewer with Juventus. Alas, that was not to be.
Forward: Rudi Völler (Germany, 198 appearances)
The oldest player in our European Best XI, Rudi Völler was The Flying German in Rome for five seasons, leading the goalscoring charts on several occasions. A poacher’s poacher, Völler could look uninterested for minutes at a time, only for him to score the pivotal goal within seconds of receiving the ball. I wasn’t around to see Völler play, but talk to any Roma fan who was and it becomes clear how impressive the German was at his peak.
Foward: Edin Džeko (Bosnia, 211 appearances)
This one is almost as much of a no-brainer as putting Daniele De Rossi or Francesco Totti on the All-Italian Best XI. The Bosnian Diamond has played in The Eternal City since 2015, scoring 102 goals for the Giallorossi and rivaling (and perhaps surpassing) Gabriel Batistuta as Roma’s best striker in the modern era. You all know how Džeko plays, but for posterity: the Bosnian’s physical presence and skill with both feet are crucial to his prowess in front of the goal. He is one of the few players to score more than 50 goals in the Bundesliga, the Premier League, and Serie A, but even if you look at just his record with Roma, he is without a doubt one of the most influential attacking stars Roma has ever seen.
So, what do you think? Any players we ignored that you’d put on the Europe Best XI? Anyone we’ve listed that you don’t think deserves to be there? Be sure to sound off in the comments!