AS Roma is a very big club with a very small prize box. Under the leadership of coach José Mourinho and top scorer Tammy Abraham, Roma must deal with the eternal ‘just not’ against Feyenoord tonight.
Because AS Roma never managed to win a real European prize: the international honors list of the club includes the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup of 1961 and the Anglo-Italian Cup of 1972.
Wonderful study subjects for Italian football historians, but the Roma supporters mean nothing at all.
It should have happened in 1984. Then AS Roma were in the final of the European Cup I, in their own Stadio Olimpico. Roma had a top team, with players like Francesco Graziani, Roberto Pruzzo and Bruno Conti.
And above all, it was the team of the Brazilian midfielder Falcao, nicknamed the Eighth King of Rome. After Francesco Totti, he is still regarded as the greatest player in club history.
Falcão had led Roma to their first league title since 1942 in 1983. Several players from that team had won the 1982 World Cup with Italy. Winning the first European Cup seemed to be written in the stars for the reigning champion.
Roma played smoothly to the final, where 70,000 Roman supporters lined up to shout their team to the first European Cup.
But it all went wrong. Liverpool took the lead with a goal from Phil Neal, who was able to tap the ball in after keeper Franco Tancredi had been punched. Pruzzo equalized, but in the end it came down to penalties.
In it, the Romans were humiliated by none other than Bruce Grobbelaar. The Zimbabwean cult keeper tried to get penalty taker Graziani out of his concentration with his ‘Spaghetti Legs’, a strange combination of hip cradle and bilge wiggle.
And it worked. Graziani shot hopelessly over and Liverpool won. It’s an open wound in the yellow-red part of Rome.
In 1991, a second chance at a European prize followed, when Internazionale was the opponent in the final of the UEFA Cup. That final battle was played over two matches. And again it went wrong.
In Milan, Inter won 2-0. In the return leg, Roma fell a goal short to force extra time and a packed Stadio Olimpico again witnessed how Roma missed a European prize.
The legendary remontada in the quarterfinals of the Champions League in 2018, when the Romans came back in an unprecedentedly spectacular way against FC Barcelona, ultimately did not yield a prize.
And so Roma, now in American hands, looked for the type of trainer who understands exactly what it takes to win. A Jose Mourinho type. Or even better: Mourinho himself.
In Rome, Mourinho is building a winning collective, but in his first months there was little of that. In the group stage of the Conference League, his team lost 6-1 to the insignificant FK Bodø/Glimt. The Roman supporters who came to Norway can go to the final in Tirana for free as a saving grace.
After the winter break it started to look like something. Roma had a long streak without defeats and Mourinho’s winning mentality seemed to be spilling over to his players. In the quarterfinals of the Conference League, Bodø/Glimt took revenge with a 4-0 home win.
The young English striker Tammy Abraham also came loose. At Chelsea, Abraham was already training with the first team at the age of fifteen, where Mourinho was then working on his second period.
The two have a close bond. With Mourinho as a loving but demanding father figure. “He never tells me I’m doing it right because he believes there’s more to it. He knows exactly how to push me and that’s exactly what I need.”
The good feeling gave Abraham 17 goals in Serie A and nine goals in the Conference League. Tonight he will compete with Cyriel Dessers (ten goals) for the top scorer’s title.
Mourinho can win his fifth European top prize tonight. AS Roma the very first. “I don’t want to be the only one who feels a burning desire in his heart when there is a need to perform,” Mourinho said when he signed in Rome.
Because after all the disappointments from the past – from Grobbelaar’s Spaghetti Legs to the humiliation at FK Bodø/Glimt – Roma’s burning desire must also be okay.