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the unassuming midfield master who became Roma’s noblest of legends

the unassuming midfield master who became Roma's noblest of legends

With black tousled hair and an unkempt beard, Damiano Tommasi strikes an unmistakable determine as president of the Italian Footballer’s Union (AIC). Except for a couple of flecks of gray, his look has barely modified since he made his debut for Verona in 1994, aged simply 19.

In 2011, Damiano Tommasi appeared to fulfil his future when he was elected by fellow professionals to steer the AIC. In truth, he’d spent a lot of the previous 20 years inadvertently constructing his credentials for the position.

Tommasi broke the mould of the trendy footballer. Extremely principled, selfless and cerebral, he demonstrated ethical and philanthropic instincts from early on in his profession. Tommasi opted to undertake civil service somewhat than army service, declaring he “did not want to serve his country holding a rifle”.

Upon establishing himself as knowledgeable, he would oversee the redistribution of his teammates’ disciplinary fines to help charitable causes. Later in his profession, he made a sizeable private donation and – extra remarkably nonetheless – provided his personal labour throughout the shut season to assist assemble dwellings for migrants in Italy.

Tommasi graduated via the academy of his native staff, Hellas Verona. He constructed his status as an industrious defensive midfielder; a tenacious tackler with an assured contact and spectacular vary of passing. In the summer time of 1996, as Italy’s senior group floundered at the Euro 96 group stage, the under-21s have been busy defeating hosts Spain in their very own European Championship.

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Tommasi was a key member of that workforce, offering the defensive defend in entrance of Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta. After three seasons in Serie B and with a junior European title beneath his belt, Roma made their transfer to convey Tommasi to the Everlasting Metropolis.

The 1996/97 season proved a troublesome one for Roma, who stuttered to a disappointing mid-table end. Nevertheless, the emergence of Tommasi was a uncommon shiny spot, as he notched 30 appearances throughout his debut Serie A marketing campaign.

There was no wanting again by the time Zdeněk Zeman arrived in 1997, Tommasi enjoying an important position in his fabled attacking fashion. As the deep-lying midfielder, his job was to interrupt up the opposition’s play and provoke the subsequent assault via a ahead surge or an incisive cross.

Fabio Capello’s appointment in 1999 lifted each Roma and Tommasi to the subsequent degree, finally delivering the 2001 Scudetto. Tommasi was one of the first names on the teamsheet and was sometimes paired with Cristiano Zanetti or Emerson as half of Capello’s double pivot in midfield. This offered an impermeable barrier in entrance of Walter Samuel, Aldair and Jonathan Zebina, while additionally granting attacking licence to wing backs Cafu and Vincent Candela.

At the different finish of the pitch, Capello had constructed a staff with a humiliation of attacking expertise in Gabriel Batistuta, Francesco Totti, Vincenzo Montella and the underrated Marco Delvecchio. Sometimes of Tommasi, he performed the position of unsung hero, offering the drum beat and doing the soiled work which allowed the skills of others to flourish.

Roma teammate Francesco Antonioli remarked of Tommasi: “He had an incredible season the year we won the Scudetto – he was everywhere, all the time. He would take knocks all game long and just get the ball and carry on”.

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If Tommasi’s contribution to the Scudetto could possibly be summed up in a single match, it might be the away journey to third-placed Atalanta in January 2001. Having held title rivals Juventus to a Zero-Zero attract the earlier recreation, Roma confronted a stern check in Lombardy. Tommasi was imperious that afternoon amidst the torrential rain of Bergamo; warrior-like, he managed the center of the pitch after which popped up in the six-yard field to lash residence the objective that sealed a 2-Zero victory. 

For his half, Tommasi was ever the reluctant hero, eager to minimize his personal contributions and to as an alternative shift the focus to others. Upon receiving his first full worldwide call-up in 1998, he publicly claimed he was not deserving. It was his type throughout the Scudetto season that propelled him to turn out to be a daily starter for Giovanni Trapattoni’s Italy.

Definitely, there have been extra technically full midfielders on the peninsula at the moment, however none might compete with Tommasi in phrases of guile, willpower and dedication to the trigger. Il Lure favoured two defensive midfielders, permitting Tommasi to reprise his partnership with Zanetti, who had since moved to Inter.

Such was the esteem through which Tommasi was held, he was ever-present throughout the 2002 World Cup marketing campaign, which means Luigi Di Biagio and heir-apparent Gennaro Gattuso needed to accept bit-part roles. In the meantime, different defensive midfield options in Massimo Ambrosini, Alessio Tacchinardi and the injured Demetrio Albertini missed out altogether. 

Quick-forward to pre-season 2004 and Roma travelled to Austria to tackle Tony Pulis’ Stoke Metropolis in a pleasant match. Throughout that recreation, Tommasi was on the receiving finish of a sometimes strong problem from Gerry Taggart, leading to an entire breakdown of his proper knee. As Tommasi crumpled to the turf, it was immediately clear that vital injury had been sustained. In the following days, it transpired that he had ruptured cruciate ligaments, and at 31 years of age, it appeared that we’d by no means once more see the greatest of Tommasi.

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The complete 2004/05 season got here and went with Tommasi entrenched in his personal private battle to regain health. He was making progress, nevertheless it was torturously sluggish. Whilst his teammates returned for pre-season coaching in the summer time of 2005, he was unable to hitch them. There was no doubting Tommasi’s dedication; his surgeon commented on his “miraculous” power and want to return.

Nevertheless, his impending contract renewal introduced Roma with a dilemma. Persevering with monetary constraints meant that assets had for use prudently, but the Giallorossi felt they owed it to Tommasi to see if he might regain his earlier type and health. The compromise was a suggestion of a one-year extension on comparable phrases. 

To their nice shock Tommasi turned the contract down – although not in favour of a greater supply elsewhere. He tabled a counter-proposal to Roma: one yr at the minimal wage of €1,500 per thirty days. Tommasi was financially safe and what really mattered to him was a return to enjoying at the highest degree. Along with his private battle, he felt consumed with guilt that he had been drawing a wage for the earlier 12 months with out contributing to the on-field trigger. In fact, he had served Roma loyally for nearly a decade and owed the membership nothing. However this was one thing he felt he wanted to do to revive his honour. 

The footballing world reacted with astonishment. It was a transfer that earned Tommasi respect that transcended the tribal strains of calcio. As a practising Catholic, Tommasi had lengthy been a favorite of the church and he even acquired a blessing from the Vatican, which publicly praised an “unusual decision … in a world where others earn hundreds of thousands of euros and in which those who already earn millions ask excessive amounts to renew their contracts.”

In October 2005, Tommasi lastly donned the Roma shirt once more, initially making cameo appearances from the bench towards Ascoli, Messina and Juventus. He began his first recreation towards Fiorentina sporting his favoured quantity 17 shirt; poignantly, 17 months after the devastating damage had occurred.

He would have been forgiven for approaching the match with some trepidation. Certainly, after such a sustained interval of rehabilitation, he should have harboured doubts as as to if the knee might nonetheless meet the calls for of enjoying at this degree. If any such doubts did exist, they weren’t obvious. Tommasi swept right into a 50-50 problem with Tomáš Ujfaluši after simply 40 seconds, rising with each the ball and a free-kick in his favour.

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In simply the second minute of the recreation, Roma turned over the ball inside the Fiorentina half and Antonio Cassano broke clear down the proper. In the direction of the backside of the image, the distinctive determine of Tommasi might be seen, straining each sinew to get into the field. He arrives simply in time, fractionally forward of Ujfaluši, to steer the ball into the internet.

A scene of unbridled pleasure unfolds. He’s instantly ensconced by a mob of teammates who know precisely what this second means. Tommasi ultimately emerges, the emotion etched upon his face as he gestures in the direction of the stands of the Stadio Olimpico – a tribute to these who had been by his aspect all through this arduous journey. No one might begrudge him this second; it was merely meant to be.

From there Tommasi grew in stature, happening to function in all however two of Roma’s Serie A matches that season. He helped the membership attain the final 16 of the UEFA Cup and got here agonisingly near a Coppa Italia winners medal, earlier than the Giallorossi have been edged out by Inter in a two-legged last. In Tommasi’s thoughts, his debt to the membership and its supporters had been repaid and redemption achieved.

Lastly at peace, he parted methods with Roma that summer time, spending two years with Levante in Spain earlier than nomadic spells in England at QPR and China at Tianjin Teda. Tommasi’s bodily resilience and psychological fortitude have to be admired; he hauled himself again from the depths of his damage torment to re-establish himself as a key participant at Roma, after which remarkably performed on competitively into his mid-30s.

Naturally, Tommasi continues to be revered in the pink and yellow half of Rome. In 2015, he was inducted into the Roma Corridor of Fame, which was apt recognition of the service he had given to the membership over the course of 350 video games and every thing else in between. Tommasi gave a characteristically humble acceptance speech: “It’s a great feeling to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but I must say that I don’t feel that I’m on the same level as my fellow members. Standing alongside the greats of Roma’s history feels a bit like spending a day with your heroes.”

However the admiration and respect for Damiano Tommasi is pervasive, extending far past one membership. He’s a person of substance, a task mannequin, a hero each on and off the pitch, and a very noble footballer.

By Tom Griffiths @calcioengland