On April 10, 2007, Manchester United thrashed Roma 7-1 in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final. They overcame a 2-1 first-leg deficit in the most emphatic fashion, the Old Trafford crowd treated to a scintillating display of attacking football.
On April 10, 2018, Roma beat Barcelona 3-0 in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final. They overcame a 4-1 first-leg deficit in the most unimaginable way, indebted to the cowardice of the opposition manager but advancing on their own merit at a raucous Stadio Olimpico.
Eleven years to the day of their joint-heaviest European defeat ever, Roma enjoyed one of their most memorable nights. And the one link, the one abiding presence, was that of Daniele De Rossi. The midfielder scored in both games, but will cherish this strike for far longer.
Eight of the players that started that humiliating loss in 2007 have since retired, while one – Mirko Vučinić – is a free agent. David Pizarro is yet to hang up his boots, but only infrequently appears in Chile’s Primera División. De Rossi is the odd one out, the only one still playing at a consistently high level. His style hardly sits well with the idea that he is an island of tranquility amid a sea of chaos, yet he has been the one constant in an era of continuous change at Roma. Certainly since the King of Rome Francesco Totti retired.
This is a club that has employed eight different managers since 2010, with Luciano Spalletti enjoying two spells. Four of their last seven bosses have failed to last more than one season; Eusebio Di Francesco is destined to overcome those odds after engineering remarkable progress in Europe.
Roma have achieved commendable stability in Serie A, finishing in the top three in each of the last four seasons, combining their journey to the Champions League semi-finals with a league campaign in which they are level on points with Lazio in third after 31 games. But this was never the expectation. The club sold Mohamed Salah, Leandro Paredes and Antonio Rüdiger in the summer, while Totti retired. As Jurgen Klopp said on Tuesday: “They lost Mo Salah and they are in the semis – it’s a big thing!”
De Rossi, as ever, was the gladiator of Rome, relied upon to lead this charge. His unfortunate own goal in the first leg was rendered a distant memory as the captain scored one, assisted another and inspired his men to victory. This was a consummate team performance, a prime example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts overcoming a team of individuals. Lionel Messi was the only Barcelona player to create more than one chance on Tuesday, while six did so for Roma. De Rossi was chief among them.
De Rossi with a performance for the ages. The word “memorable” doesn’t do justice to nights like these playing for your home town team, especially when it’s Roma.
— David Amoyal (@DavidAmoyal) April 10, 2018
“I am happy for the coaches and for my team-mates,” said the ultimate team player after the victory. “We did great. This is also very important for me too as I am 34 years old. This win is one of the best I have ever experienced since joining Roma.”
With the most recent of his two Coppa Italia wins coming in 2008, and his role in Italy’s 2006 World Cup win minimal, this is an unlikely chance at a career-crowning success for De Rossi. Before this season, Roma had only ever reached the Champions League quarter-finals twice, losing comfortably to Manchester United on both occasions. For I Giallorossi, as with De Rossi, the third time was the charm.