The end of an era dawns at the Stadio Olimpico, as another Roman emperor’s reign comes to a close. Just two short years after the King of Rome, Francesco Totti, hung up his magic-tinted boots, Tuesday saw confirmation that fellow captain Daniele De Rossi will not be offered a new contract and will leave Roma.
Set to play for the last time against Parma on the final day of the season, De Rossi leaves with 18 years of selfless service and devotion to his boyhood club yielded 63 goals in 614 games but precious little silverware to show for it.
Yet, the tenacious midfielder’s legacy could in fact be bolstered by his bare trophy cabinet, having rejected the glitz, glamour and success of rivals at home and abroad in order to remain loyal to the Giallorossi.
If that is a story that sounds familiar, it is because De Rossi looked set to follow the path of Totti in seeing out his career at Roma, only for the powers that be to decide otherwise. Instead, he will leave for pastures new, confirming he will continue his playing career abroad.
Born in Ostia Mare on the outskirts of Rome, the son of current Roma youth team coach Alberto De Rossi had the Giallorossi running through his veins from an early age.
A key component of the club’s Primavera system at the turn of the Millennium, the midfielder was given his debut in October 2001 in a Champions League clash against Anderlecht by Fabio Capello at just 18 years of age.
Breaking into the first team in Serie A the following campaign, De Rossi soon established himself as a star man in midfield, with his energy, tough tackling and eye for a pass cementing his place in the middle.
Until injuries hit over recent seasons, the now 35-year-old has rarely been out of the team and holds the club’s record number of Champions League appearances on 61, whilst only the iconic Totti has featured for Roma more than De Rossi.
There is no doubt that De Rossi is one of the finest holding midfielders of his generation, a genuine presence of class in many a Roma team that has lacked star quality in the middle. The fourth-most capped Italian of all time with 117 appearances for the Azzurri, he helped Italy to World Cup glory in 2006 and came within an all-conquering Spain of lifting the Euro 2012 title.
Yet, on the club scene his story is one of what might have been. Swiftly anointed with the moniker of ‘Capitano Futuro’ as he remained in the shadow of the evergreen Totti well into his 30’s, there has long been a sense that De Rossi has struggled to win the love and affection that his illustrious fellow Roman was lavished with.
Whilst not possessing the grace and effortless talent of Totti, there is no question the De Rossi put Roma beyond all else and at times felt that this was not reciprocated by the Curva Sud. Indeed, suggestions that he was tempted by moves to the likes of Liverpool and Inter over his career led to some suspicion, particularly within the club’s hierarchy. Likewise, a move to Manchester United in 2013 fell apart at the last minute.
It is somewhat telling that De Rossi was not afforded the luxury of ending his glorious career with Roma on his own terms and with a contract renewal not forthcoming, the veteran knew the gig was up. However, he refused to engage in controversy and was reaffirmed his desire to give every ounce of blood, sweat and tears for his Giallorossi until the last.
Perhaps it was his more cynical and less fantastical approach to football and life in general that made De Rossi less endeared to than Totti, although his loyalty was never truly questioned by supporters and an appreciation for the midfield general manifested itself in different ways.
Indeed, it was only a week ago that a mural appeared in his hometown emblazoned with the caption, “Vanto di Ostia, Simbolo di Roma”. Quite simply, the pride of Ostia had become the symbol of Rome.
And unlike Totti, who famously fired Roma to the Scudetto in 2001, De Rossi never got to taste true success at the Stadio Olimpico. Far too familiar with the feeling of coming second, the Italian international finished as a Serie A runner-up on no fewer than eight occasions, whilst two Coppa Italia triumphs are all he has to show for on the domestic front.
Despite this, De Rossi has provided Lupi fans with memories worth a lifetime, not least his inspired performance in a sensational comeback against Barcelona in the Champions League last season, scoring a decisive penalty en route to a historic semi-final appearance.
Ultimately, the 2006 World Cup winner departs his beloved team with his head held high and with his name and grizzled face immortalised in the banners unfurled in the Roman breeze of the Curva Sud.
An imposing, determined, and in some ways old-fashioned midfielder who finally became the captain of a club that prides itself on the character of those that don the armband, De Rossi came to epitomise Roma.
Although he was not afforded the chance to end his journey on his own terms, Daniele De Rossi will forever be synonymous with Roma. A fanbase that never forgets it’s own will herald this boy from Ostia who gave his all for the red and yellow shirt, leaving everything on the pitch at his own expense. Where Totti was the king of Rome, De Rossi will be remembered as it’s favourite general.