Daniele De Rossi looks out to sea from the beachfront in Ostia, Rome, where he made his first footballing steps. A guarded smirk is on his face and with good reason.
At the end of an hour-long interview with Sky Sport, which traced his life from the timid, waif-like forward playing on the streets of his hometown to the combative centre-midfielder of today, interviewer and ex-player Daniele Adani arrived at the future. With Francesco Totti almost certainly retiring or moving on at the end of the season and after over a decade as vice-captain, De Rossi can finally take the throne vacated by the “King of Rome.”
“Will you be a Roma player next season?” asks Adani, before correcting himself. “Will we see you as Roma captain next season?”
With all the fuss being made over Totti’s last season after 25 years at Roma, much less noise is being made over the fact that this summer his heir apparent could be out the door with him. Like Totti, De Rossi has a contract that runs out in June. Unlike Totti, however, he still has a couple of years of Serie A football left in his legs. He also has suitors keen on securing his services, principally Inter, who have reportedly offered the World Cup winner a two-year deal in which he would be paid a whopping €5.5 million a year once bonuses are factored in. Not bad for a player two months away from his 34th birthday.
“I don’t know, right now you know that I don’t know, and to be honest I don’t think that it’s all that important,” De Rossi replies, not looking Adani in the eye. “This has been a love affair that has lasted for so long, has been so wonderful, that to reduce it to whether I finish in this city a year before or a year later would be a mistake.”
Inter’s offer is a million euros a year less than his current contract, which until Gonzalo Higuain moved to Juventus last summer was Serie A’s richest. It is, however, substantially more than what his hometown club want to give him for what will probably be his final two years as a top-level footballer. Roma’s offer reportedly stands at a one-year extension worth €4m, which will be automatically extended another year — paid €2.5m — should he meet an appearances target. At €6.5m over two years, that is effectively a 50 percent pay cut for someone who’s set to be crowned king.
Roma’s new sporting director Monchi said that both De Rossi and the club want a renewal, and that’s likely true, but it’s obvious that the player doesn’t feel compelled to stay at any price, or rather that his desire to remain needs to be balanced with making the most out of his remaining years as a footballer. And if that means being vague in television interviews and artfully using the threat of a rival club buying him and outraging fans, so be it. He’s keen not to carry on past his best. That means two more years of the biggest stage and, as a result, being able to earn the big bucks.
“You stop before you stop playing well,” he says, words that a certain No. 10 might do well to listen to. “It’s a question of pride and in any case you realise when it’s time. You see it in training, you see it watching your teammates. And if you have good people around you, they tell you.”
He couldn’t have picked a better time to get the club over a barrel. After a disastrous start — an idiotic red card against in the Champions League playoff with Porto a key factor in their elimination and Roma losing out on millions of euros — this season has been De Rossi’s best in years. And it could yet finish with him paying back the money his actions cost the club in August.
At the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday night he bundled in his third goal in as many games, an equaliser against Juventus minutes after the second-string Old Lady had opened the scoring and the away fans began what they thought was going to be a Scudetto party. De Rossi charged into the net to pick up the ball and take it back to the centre circle while others celebrated. There were only 25 minutes on the clock, but the message was clear: we have to win if we want to protect second place and secure automatic Champions League football, and there’s no time to waste.
At the end of a fine performance that was rewarded with a 3-1 win, De Rossi led his teammates to the Curva Sud where, having beaten an old enemy and almost secured Roma’s short-term future, they gobbled up joyous applause from the delirious fans. Totti, irate at the three minutes of injury time football Luciano Spalletti gave him, had already long since shot into the changing room. The symbolism of that moment will not be lost, wherever he is come next season.