Giuseppe Giannini was also baptised with one such alias – Il Principe (The Prince) – perhaps not as universally recognised as those given to Roberto Baggio and Gabriel Batistuta, but bestowed upon him with just as much affection and admiration.
‘Il Principe’ was the stereotypical Italian football player of his era. He had flair and technique on the pitch, as well as royally good looks off it. With his long, flowing locks, he was your archetypal latin playmaker.
Giannini signed for the Giallorossi in 1980, aged 16, for 40m lira (approximately £200 000), an enormous sum of cash for such a young player at that time. He did not have a lightning turn of pace nor was he a particularly powerful player, but what made the young midfielder so special was his exceptional vision and instinctive tactical awareness.
He had the ability to run with the ball at his feet and his head held up high. He glided across the pitch with a grace and elegance more akin to an ice skater than a football player. Everything about him had a hint of majesty, never ruffled or hurried. He created time and space for himself like no other player. Think Andrea Pirlo merged with David Beckham and you will find yourself at the feet of Il Principe.
Giannini made his Serie A debut on January 31, 1982, against Cesena. Roma lost that match 1-0 but a future roman icon had finally made his entrance on centre stage, playing alongside established greats such as Brazilian Falcao and 1982 World Cup winner Bruno Conti. Il Principe would go on to be the flag bearer for Roma over the next 14 years. However, in all that time his triumphs would only include three Coppa Italia wins and a UEFA Cup runners-up medal, a meagre haul for such a talented man.
The Coppa Italia formed a major part of Giannini’s legacy, and the final of the 1992/93 season would be etched into the memory of every Roma fan. Roma had lost the first leg 3-0 away to Torino and the prospect of victory in the return match was slim. Il Principe, by then the team captain and symbol of the capital club, single-handedly dragged his team to the brink of an unlikely win.
With minutes left on the clock, Giannini controlled a pass and exquisitely volleyed the ball towards goal, with the Torino keeper beaten and the hearts of the Roma faithful in their mouths. But his effort ricocheted off the woodwork and bounced clear. With that, Roma’s incredible comeback evaporated into the hot summer sky, but his fantastic efforts would further endear him in the hearts of the Giallorossi faithful.
An integral member of Azeglio Vicini’s Italy squad for the 1990 World Cup, he slotted into a midfield that featured hard workers such as Carlo Ancelotti and Fernando De Napoli, who perfectly complimented his more cultured skills. He excelled in the group stages, notching a typical goal against the USA, skipping past two defenders with his right foot and driving the ball past the keeper with his left.
He also played a vital role in helping Roberto Baggio score ‘that goal’ against the Czechs as Italy breezed through the early stages. The Azzurri were eventually beaten in the semi-final by Diego Maradona’s Argentina on penalties and Giannini’s one and only chance of becoming a world champion had gone the same way as Aldo Serena and Roberto Donadoni’s wayward spot-kicks.
Elegance is the word most widely used to describe Il Principe. He had what appeared to be 360-degree vision and an exquisite sense of timing. A true two-footed player, deadly from set pieces and as accurate from 25 yards as he was from five yards. Dribbling ability and passing ability to rival any player, the only thing he lacked was real international recognition.
His loyalty to a Roma side that failed to adequately build a team worthy of his talents scuppered his chances of a more impressive trophy cabinet. Giuseppe Giannini is a lost gem – a prince amongst paupers.
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