Federico Fazio. An imposing centreback standing nearly 6’5” tall. Argentinian. Bearded. Nicknamed Captain Caveman or Fuzzybear. That’s probably how we’re gonna remember Fazio in approximately 10 years. No prizes and a pain in the ass for Pinto to get rid of in the end, almost resulting in a lawsuit between Fazio and the club.
But was that really Fazio’s legacy? How does he compare to, let’s say, Manolas, Mexes, Smalling, Marquinhos, Chivu, or Romagnoli? And does his irritating, frustrating ending at Roma hurt his image, erasing all his previous achievements in a Roma shirt?
Honestly, I don’t know the answer to those questions. There were better center-backs in Roma’s history, that’s for sure. But there were also a lot worse. You can’t deny Fazio was undoubtedly a steal at the time, so much so that Roma bought him outright for €3.2 million in 2017 from Sevilla after a successful initial loan spell. And we got at least two solid seasons in return—Fazio was a stud at his peak.
A stud may even be an underestimation. Fazio combined exceptionally well with Manolas in the heart of the defense and Roma racked up a record 87 points in Serie A under Spalletti during the 2016-2017 season. Fazio was omnipresent once again the following year as Roma ended third in Serie A while they surprised everyone in the Champions League campaign ‘17-’18, making a historic run to the semifinals before losing to Liverpool.
The 2018-2019 campaign wasn’t a success for the club, but Fazio still reached 40+ games under Di Francesco and Ranieri. Now, his challengers didn’t exactly make Fazio’s life hard in Rome: Marcano, Santon, Bianda, Juan Jesus, Vermaelen, Capradossi, so it wasn’t that hard to be a starting defender on the team those years.
Following the 2019-2020 season, the decline started: Paulo Fonseca was hired, Fazio was nearing his 33rd birthday, Mancini and Smalling were the new kids in town who (just as Fazio) impressed in their first season. Fazio played frequently in the Europa League and Serie A until November/December. Then injuries started to haunt Federico and he simply didn’t feature as much as before, and then Roger Ibañez was brought in, pushing Fazio further down the ranks.
2020-2021 was even worse with fewer appearances (injuries, COVID-19, Kumbulla as the new shiny toy) and this season, well, we all know what happened when Mourinho stepped through the Trigoria doors last summer. Fazio turned into persona non grata and wasn’t even called up in an official game before his departure.
But why the sudden decline? Why couldn’t Fazio age more gracefully like a Totti, DDR, De Sanctis, or Perrotta? Fazio was never the fastest CB around but he made that up with his strength, aerial abilities, and positioning. You don’t lose those things after you’re 33. At the very least he could have been a useful 4th, 5th choice CB. But then again, that would make his wages a bit difficult to explain; that’s quite an expensive bench warmer.
Maybe Fazio just joined Roma too late (remember he was already 29). Imagine if he joined at say 24, 25? Would he go on to play 10 years at Roma? Would he be put on the same pedestal as Aldair, Mexes, Panucci, Chivu, or Juan? Who knows.
His Roman career ended sooner than we thought, but luckily Federico and Roma found a solution last month. He now defends the colors of Salernitana, helping the Campania side fight relegation alongside another former Giallo e rosso, Diego Perotti. I’m glad for him, he will once again smell the grass, entertain the crowd, and manhandle attackers like it’s 2017.
Come to think of it, Fazio is perhaps the personification of the AS Roma experience: Delirious highs coupled with crushing lows; always enigmatic and very hard to wrap your head around. Was it a great Roman career? Or in the end a mediocre one? Would it have lasted longer under other circumstances? Could he have worked harder to impress Mourinho or Fonseca?
He was part of one of the finest Roma teams ever but curiously he never got the farewell he deserved. What is done is done and we can’t change the past. However, the fond memories remain of those seasons in which Fazio bossed the defense, with Roma beating the likes of Barcelona, Chelsea, Liverpool and even knocking on Juve’s door in Serie A.
In bocca al lupo, Comandante. See you in April. Just be kind to Abraham and Zaniolo.