Daniele De Rossi’s Roma career ended with a fittingly meaningless win in front of his adoring fans. More than any other player in this current era of the Giallorossi, De Rossi symbolized the duality of the team’s good-but-not-quite-good-enough nature. In his 17 seasons at the Italian capital, De Rossi was a key part of a handful of solid Roma teams that pushed better-funded and more talented sides, without winning much himself. His only club honors are back-to-back Coppa Italia wins in 2007 and 2008, and the Supercoppa Italiana in 2007. And so now, after so many close calls and long seasons and a disappointing contract renewal saga, De Rossi leaves Roma without any major titles but with the undying love of a club and fanbase so often relegated to second-tier status.
As De Rossi slowed down over the last few years, the end creeped up on Roma fans, though it felt safe to assume that this captain would go the way of the previous one, Francesco Totti, who played on until he was 39 and retired in the only jersey he had ever worn. However, financial and political interests intervened. De Rossi offered to stay at Roma for a reduced and incentive-laden contract, but the club refused, offering him instead a director role. De Rossi believes he’s not done on the field yet, though, and so is on his way out, with plenty of suitors willing to host him through the twilight of his career.
If Totti was Roma’s living saint, with the 2001 Serie A scudetto (one of only three league titles in Roma’s history) his canonizing miracle, then De Rossi was the beloved priest who never quite got his hands on the silverware that would’ve sanctified him. In his nearly two decades with the club, De Rossi finished second in Serie A eight times. In European play, De Rossi’s Roma never made it to a Champions League final. Their best performance in the competition was last season’s stunning comeback against Barcelona that sent them to their first European Cup semi-final since finishing runner-up back in 1984.
And yet, while Totti will always be Roma’s number one, De Rossi is as much of a part of recent Roman soccer history. Despite starting his career as a striker in the Ostia Mare youth academy, De Rossi joined Roma as a teenager and soon established himself as a premier holding midfielder. Known equally for his ability to destroy opposing attacks and create ones of his own with his fantastic long passing, De Rossi was the steadying influence on what were often hyper-attacking Roma teams—the 2007 Roma team wouldn’t have been as breath-taking as it was without De Rossi (and, to a lesser extent, his hard-working midfield partners David Pizarro and Simone Perrotta)—with his ball retention and his uncanny ability to always be exactly where he needed to be to frustrate opponents.
De Rossi was also part of the most successful generation of Italian national teams, winning the 2006 World Cup and finishing second to the historically great Spaniards in the 2012 Euros. The 2006 tournament was a perfect microcosm for De Rossi’s career: his elbow of American striker Brian McBride got him a straight red and a four-match suspension as the Italians got by Australia, Ukraine, and Germany in the knockout rounds.
The then-22-year-old De Rossi made it back on the field in the final, subbing on in the 61st minute with the score tied at 1-1. When penalties beckoned, De Rossi (who always had a better nose for goal than you might expect) nailed Italy’s third spot-kick, helping lead the Azzurri to their first World Cup title since 1982. The Italians weren’t as lucky in the final of the 2012 Euros, as Spain demolished them 4-0, but the impressive tournament run did demonstrate De Rossi’s versatility. Coach Cesare Prandelli played him as a sweeper/central defender in a three-at-the-back formation that befuddled Croatia and that same Spain in the group stage.
Though he won the biggest prize of all in soccer, was De Rossi’s career a failure because he didn’t win a scudetto for Roma? It was surely disappointing to come so close. In De Rossi’s best club season, 2009-10, Roma led in the title race before losing 2-1 at home to Sampdoria four games from the end of the year. They eventually finished an agonizing two points below treble-winning Inter. In his defense, De Rossi faced some of the best sides in Italian history: the Milans and Inters of last decade, and the unstoppable Juventus juggernaut of the 2010s. There’s no shame in finishing second to historic sides, and without De Rossi’s longevity and consistency, Roma never would’ve gotten as close to the trophy as they regularly did.
De Rossi’s exit might not have been as picture perfect as Totti’s, but the soon-to-be 36-year-old got the send-off he deserved. He got to celebrate a win in front of the fans he fought for (sometimes too ardently; he was sent off 12 times in his career, nine for straight reds) over 17 seasons. The man once nicknamed capitan futuro became the captain of the present and is now the captain of the past, bringing a close to an era of Roman soccer no one embodied—in joy and in pain—better than De Rossi himself.