AS Roma extended their unbeaten run to 20 matches on Saturday and hometown boy Daniele De Rossi spoke to UEFA.com about mounting optimism, the 'New Batistuta' and the value of loyalty.
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Claudio Ranieri's homecoming looked destined for disappointment at the start of November but a staggering 20-match unbeaten run – the last nine all wins – has lifted AS Roma into contention for a treble of trophies. With the UEFA Europa League among their targets, another man whose veins run maroon and gold, Daniele De Rossi, spoke to UEFA.com about his team's current form, being a one-club man and how the arrival of the 'New Batistuta' heralds a bright new dawn.
No discussion of long-term allegiance to the Giallorossi cause is complete without recalling the example of Giacomo Losi, who wrote himself into Roma folklore one afternoon in January 1961. With his team drawing 2-2 with UC Sampdoria, the 25-year-old defender picked up a debilitating injury only to brush aside any notion of leaving his colleagues a man short. Limping on in obvious pain, he secured himself legendary status when he turned in a corner to seal the points. He may hail from Soncino, near Milan, but from that day on Losi became Core de Roma – the Heart of Rome.
Losi was Roma's original one-club man, making 450 appearances between 1955 and 1969, a record unbroken until Francesco Totti surpassed it at the start of 2007. For many, De Rossi is next in line. "I think it's very important to have local players," said the Italy midfielder. "It can be difficult, because you are very emotionally involved when things happen and with all the problems the team has – but it's fantastic, especially for the fans. There are only a few left – [Steven] Gerrard, Raúl [González], Totti, [Alessandro] Del Piero – players special not just because they have won titles or are impressive, but because of their loyalty."
De Rossi's fidelity amounts to 208 Serie A appearances thus far and he has come away with a pair of Coppa Italia winners' medals, while also helping Roma finish runners-up in the league four times between 2004 and 2008. Heading into the last three months of this campaign they are second once again, but it has taken a monumental effort to get there. Fourteenth at the start of November, the Giallorossi have won 17 out of 20 matches in all competitions including, in the wake of Saturday's 4-1 victory over US Città di Palermo, their last nine.
De Rossi is keen to quell the familiar, mounting expectations, delivering phrases such as "there's still a long way to go" and "we just hope the momentum continues". Yet even he concedes genuine optimism following the arrival of Luca Toni on loan from FC Bayern München this winter. "He's the player we have been missing," said the 26-year-old. "We have great attackers in our team and many have very good technique – but he's a real striker. He reminds me of [Gabriel] Batistuta."
'Batigol' ended his career with 200 strikes from 344 Serie A appearances so that is lofty praise indeed – almost, perhaps, De Rossi's inner-supporter talking. "We have a lot of players from Rome who have been fans of this club forever, and this is the first season we have had a coach from Rome," De Rossi said. "When things go well, it inspires the fans even more. Ranieri brings a certain kind of toughness. We are a very useful team and have developed a winning mentality; we can achieve a lot under Ranieri."
The quest for honours will be a three-pronged attack, with Roma seven points shy of FC Internazionale Milano in the league and leading Udinese Calcio 2-0 ahead of the second leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final tie. Then there is the trip to Panathinaikos FC on Thursday for the opening instalment of their round of 32 contest. "It will be a difficult trip and, because of the spicy atmosphere there, the fans are very passionate," said De Rossi. "They are a strong team with lots of experience."
It sounds like an apt description of the man himself, a man earmarked as Capitan Futuro (Future Captain) only for Totti's Indian summer to slow his ascent. "It's not something that causes sleepless nights," De Rossi added. "It's important to have a team. Whether or not you wear the armband is not a problem." That selfless approach will be familiar to those who feted Losi's ardent loyalty.