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It takes Andrés Iniesta the life cycle of a Magicicada cicada to make a mental mistake or be subjected to some embarrassment at the hands of another player. Mental mistakes are virtually nonexistent for Don Andrés given that he’s bound to be patient zero when researchers finally nail down a way to measure a footballer’s on-the-pitch IQ. The few embarrassments, however, remind us that Iniesta is just a tiny bit human after all.
One of these unforeseen tragedies befell Iniesta just this past summer when his Spain side faced off against Antonio Conte’s Italy in the Round of 16 at Euro 2016. La Furia Roja were already down 1-0 in the 45th minute when Italy’s star midfielder Daniele De Rossi pulled off the unthinkable:
On Andrés Iniesta of all people.
That’s Daniele De Rossi; always opportunistic, never fazed.
De Rossi was born in Rome in July 1983 to a family that bleeds Roma colors. His father, Alberto De Rossi, had been a Roma player in his day and currently serves as the manager of Roma’s Primavera (youth) team. The footballing genes were clearly transported to Daniele as the youngster sped through Ostia Mare’s youth ranks before he was snapped up by Roma’s youth program in 2000. Just a year later, he made his first-team appearance and, from that point on, he hasn’t looked back.
Over the course of his illustrious career, De Rossi has gained plaudits for his leadership style, poise under duress, technical skills, and his elite reading of the game. All of these positive attributes were on full display this past weekend when Roma faced off against Lazio in the Derby della Capitale. Both sides came into the match with sturdy records, and the team that managed to snatch all three points would cement itself right under Juventus’ lead in the Serie A table. The catch, however, was that Roma had simply dominated the derby in recent seasons, and their last clash had ended in a captivating 4-1 victory for the Giallorossi.
Lazio manager Simone Inzaghi fielded a 4-3-3, with Lucas Biglia wearing the captain’s armband. Roma boss Luciano Spalletti deployed a 3-5-2 formation,1 with De Rossi as the captain.2
De Rossi began the game by slotting in at holding midfielder, which is his usual position. From that deep-lying position, he served as the team’s first line of defense and helped to maintain the structure of the three-man defensive line. In typical DDR3 fashion, the midfielder picked his chances as far as hard-nosed tackles were concerned. These carefully-timed challenges effectively quelled Lazio’s attacking intent, and provided Roma chances to make amends defensively.
The one sore point in Daniele De Rossi’s game is that he consistently operates on the fulcrum of genius and crazy, and on most occasions, we’re exposed to the fruits of his genius. But at random, inopportune times, he will launch himself into a reckless challenge or two, placing the opposing player – and his own team – at unnecessary risk. In the derby match on Sunday, though tackles were flying left-and-right, Roma’s captain maintained his composure and kept his tackling to a ruthless, but effective art form.
Whenever Roma sought to go on the offensive, De Rossi would assist in the proceedings with his pinpoint passes, providing Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan with ample opportunities to march into open spaces.
This metronomic passing ability of De Rossi helped Roma in building up a free-flowing stream of passes, which set up the infrastructure needed in order for the team to quickly launch into the attacking phase. He also angled his off-the-ball movements in such a way that his teammates always had him as a potential option while searching for their passing targets.
When it was required of him, at various points in the match, De Rossi would drop deep and distribute the ball from deep in his own half, allowing the three-man defensive unit to spread out (and/or catch a breather).
When he wasn’t busy pressing the aggressive Lazio midfield, De Rossi found that Lazio themselves would surround him like angry wolves every time he possessed the ball. Fortunately, De Rossi’s pristine awareness of the defense’s movements has only improved as he’s amassed experience, so he frequently finagled his way out of rather compromising situations when the pressure piled up.
In rare instances, the Lazio press would break De Rossi down, which would result in errant passes or turnovers. But for the most part, these types of mistakes from the Roma captain were kept at a minimum.
During Roma’s transition and attacking phases, De Rossi would frequently aid in switching the play to the opposite flank, allowing the two Brazilian wingbacks, Emerson and Bruno Peres, chances to upset the natural order of Lazio’s pressing.
De Rossi’s moment of the match came in the 77th-minute when he supplied the pass that led to Radja Nainggolan’s firecracker of a goal from outside of the penalty box, allowing Roma to celebrate the well-deserved 2-0 victory over their rivals. The match lay evidence to the understated genius of Daniele De Rossi, and illustrated many of the detailed ways he leaves his mark on a football pitch.
It’s performances like these, even at age 33, that remind us to stop for a moment and embrace the technical abilities and demeanor of Daniele De Rossi. Indeed, he’s a rare breed of footballer. He can read the game like Javier Mascherano, but then he can also tackle like Franco Baresi and distribute like Sergio Busquets. At times, he also has the wherewithal to unleash a scintillating goal, too.
In a professional career spanning nearly 15 years, Daniele De Rossi has achieved almost every feat known to the footballing world. Despite having the likes of Manchester United breathing down his neck with audacious salary offers, DDR has stayed loyal to his hometown team. It’s rare for teams nowadays to develop players from youth to legend and have that whole process unfold all in the same location. The one-club men are getting more difficult to find, and Daniele De Rossi remains one of the few who carry the honor, which is why he’s sewn himself into the fabric of Roma’s heart.