When Mexican star Hector Moreno arrived at AS Roma this month, he brought a hyper-competitive drive and the desire to inspire his new club toward a long-desired scudetto.
What he found was a club that top-to-bottom was already driving toward that same goal.
“I’ve been here two days and the guys have the same hunger and desire as me,” Moreno told ProSoccerTalk.
To those who’ve played for AS Roma, bled the crimson in and out for i Lupi, the pursuit of a first scudetto in a decade and a half dances through their heads.
“Totti told us that when he won the scudetto in 2001, there were parties for three months. We all have the ambition to win something here, and to celebrate with the fans,” said Kevin Strootman.
[ MORE ROMA: PST talks with Strootman ]
“It would be amazing for all the players. They will love us and never forget. The people in Rome, they live for football. They live for us,” said star striker Edin Dzeko, the ex-Man City forward who potted 29 goals last season.
Juventus has won the last six Serie A titles, but Roma has steadily narrowed the gap in finishing second three of the past four seasons. Roma finished four points back of Juve last season, and my did they entertain, scoring 90 goals en route to second.
Strootman has been in Rome since 2013, Dzeko since 2015, and we’ve already covered Moreno’s nascent period with the club.
So imagine the scudetto fire that burns within captain Daniele De Rossi, who turned 34 on Monday and made his Roma debut the year after the club’s last scudetto. He’s made 561 appearances since that October night in Belgium against Anderlecht in the UEFA Champions League when he made his first senior appearance.
His teammates will know what it means to him.
“It’s my biggest target,” De Rossi told PST. “It’s what I’m following with my career. I know the other guys know what that means for the people here in Rome and I would like to explain it a little bit deeply what it can mean to win a scudetto right here in Roma. It’s part of our job to know what can happen if we win, and to our culture it can be something that we never forget.”
AS Roma played Paris Saint-Germain level through 90 minutes in Detroit, its first International Champions Cup appearance of the summer. Now i Lupi prepares for another UEFA Champions League opponent in Tottenham Hotspur, up next Tuesday at Red Bull Arena.
Clubs have had to be nearly flawless to make a run at Juve in recent seasons, and looking at Roma’s schedule doesn’t mean finding a load of could’ves and should’ves; Yes there was an early draw at Empoli and a regrettable home defeat in the Derby della Capitale, but Roma wasn’t tossing aside points in poor situations.
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So even with a bunch of new faces and several key departures, De Rossi and Roma need to come out of the gates with vigor. And the captain admits he sees the fire mentioned by Moreno, but cautions that it needs to be carefully built by i Lupi’s leadership.
“It’s clearly very early but you can see that there’s a group, with a lot of people who are 27, 28, 24, who are not so much young players and that’s important because at 27 you already know almost everything you need to be a professional player,” De Rossi said.
“Hunger is something that comes probably later when the matches are more important, but also during training you can find it, and when people spend time with the team when they are free. The atmosphere is very good for now. I hope it will follow later.”
De Rossi’s words carry weight even in a short conversation. He doesn’t throw away words, and takes his time to convey the proper meaning.
Asked about leadership and whether he considers his guidance more by words or his example, De Rossi doesn’t turn to platitudes or fire and brimstone. The latter might be expected, given his demeanor and — to an American audience — memory as the man who used his elbow to examine what lies underneath Brian McBride’s face at the 2006 World Cup (and, it should be noted, helped the Yanks to their only point of the tournament, later won by the Italians).
“It’s something you have inside, your character, but also something you build during your career and your life,” De Rossi said. “It’s not something you have to show every second in soccer or a work place. You have to be nice with your teammates, you have to be available if they need something, and that’s it. If you have to raise your voice, you do it, but it’s nothing special. The same things the other guys do.”
Sure, but the *other guys* don’t sit in the Top 5 for caps in the celebrated Italy national team set-up. They haven’t all won World Cups, or been knighted, or been named Serie A Footballer of the Year.
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So what are De Rossi’s leadership guideposts? Sorry to disappoint, but there’s no magic to it.
“First of all, inside the pitch you are respected by your teammates,” he said. “Also outside the pitch, you know that your job is going good when you see things going in the right way, the normal way, nothing weird, nothing special, nothing perfect, the right way! Normal people who love their work and love their job will respect each other.”
Okay, fair enough. De Rossi is no doubt respected, but as he edges further into his career, does he think about how he’ll be remembered? Scudetto or not, what’s his legacy?
Easy, it seems; De Rossi wants to be known as a custodian of his club, even if he’s already one of its all-time centurions.
“As a professional player, a nice guy, but most of all a player crazy in love with his team,” De Rossi said. “And also as a good player, because I think I am. Nothing more. What happened to Francesco (Totti) is something unbelievable and unrepeatable. I’m happy. I will be happy if a lot of people remember me as a nice guy, as a huge person who loves Roma as much as he can.
Well, he’ll be happy then, as a classic Wolf in yellow and red: a man who was born in the Eternal City and grew to become a symbol of it.
“There’s something inside of us, Roman citizens. Rome is a city full of stories, full of history, full of old things. There are monuments, what you can read in books, but also people connected to art like Ennio Morricone or Sergio Leone. It’s a mix of new things that we have to do, and also remain connected with our past history. It’s something you have to remember, not forget, and can affect our way to lead and live outside of soccer and the way I play.”
And given his legendary status, it’s little surprise that De Rossi has the admiration of the players in the room, social media fans or not.
“He’s our captain,” Strootman said. “He was already the captain when I came here four years ago and he was one of the only players who spoke English. He helped me with a lot of things on and off the pitch. He’s a role model for everybody. It’s a pleasure to train with him, stay with him, and be on the pitch with him.”
Strootman agreed with De Rossi that the side has to be nurtured into the season.
“We still need some time, that’s normal, but we need to show on the pitch that we are hungry,” he said. “It’s a good mix. We have to show it from the first competition and game by game.”
Roma’s ICC finishes up at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough on July 30, where they’ll hope to make an early statement of intent against serial scudetto winners Juventus.