Damiano Tommasi described his return to the AS Roma starting lineup after 17 months out with a career-threatening knee injury, as "like a second Serie A debut".
The 31-year-old has amassed 240 appearances for Hellas-Verona FC and Roma over 14 seasons as a professional, but after 17 months out, being back in the side felt like a new beginning. "I had no idea I was going to play from the start," Tommasi said. "I was very excited when the coach [Luciano Spalletti] told me. I had already played a few minutes this season but this was like a second Serie A debut for me. The goal was an incredible joy and this time my wife was watching from the stands. I dedicate my goal to her because she has always been with me through my long rehabilitation."
Last summer it seemed unlikely that Tommasi would play for Roma again. He had badly injured the cruciate ligaments and surrounding area in his right knee in a pre-season friendly in July 2004, and the veteran's career was in doubt. "As a doctor I don't use the word 'miracle' that often, but Tommasi's strength and desire to play again was something close to miraculous," said Pierpaolo Mariani, who operated on Tommasi.
The former Italian international's contract had expired and the club, going through financial difficulties, could not afford to offer another without being sure he had completely recovered. The midfielder decided to make things easier by requesting an unimaginably low salary for a top-flight footballer of €1,500. That is €1,500 per month, not a day as some of his colleagues earn.
'I love Roma'
"I did it because I love Roma and football," Tommasi said. The player from Negrar, a small village in the Verona region, was already considered extraordinary by football's standards because of his extensive charity work, but this was without precedent. "It was a bet I made with myself," he said. "Only time will tell if I have won this bet or not."
Sunday's goal suggests he has. Tommasi's hard work and belief were rewarded last month when he was named among the substitutes for Roma's Serie A match with Ascoli Calcio 1898. He came on towards the end for what Gazzetta termed "25 minuti di sostanza" (or 25 solid minutes) - solid gold for Tommasi and his legion of supporters who must have doubted they would ever see him play again. Further cameos followed against FC Messina Peloro and Juventus before Spalletti gave him his starting chance.
The return of the 2001 Scudetto winner, with his bushy hair, unkempt beard, not to mention his courage and personality, could now be a huge boost for Roma in both Serie A and Europe. And it won't only be fans of the Giallorossi cheering him on.