DI won’t tell Daniele De Rossi that his team played well against Inter. “I am the footballing son of Luciano Spalletti,” the Roma coach said after Saturday’s 4-2 defeat. “He would never accept compliments after a defeat because that’s how you fall into mediocrity.”
Still, we can probably get away with saying it here. For 45 minutes on Saturday, Roma were excellent: facing the Serie A leaders like few have done all season. The match had barely started when Stephan El Shaarawy forced Yann Sommer to make a fingertip save. Inter then took the lead through a Francesco Acerbi header, but goals from Gianluca Mancini and El Shaarawy put Roma ahead at the break.
As the last of them went in, the ball splashing both posts in a torrential downpour, De Rossi smiled and roared on the sidelines, drenched in a suit jacket that stood no chance. He looked like a man in his element, and why not? It’s the job he dreamed of since he retired from playing.
In 2010, De Rossi admitted to having “only one regret: being able to give only one career to Roma”. Fourteen years later, an opportunity was granted to him in a second. When the club’s American owners, The Friedkin Group, lost patience with José Mourinho’s declining results and escalating controversies earlier this year, they turned to De Rossi to save their season.
At first glance, this might seem like a desperate plea for nostalgia. De Rossi played for Roma for almost two decades, but his only coaching experiences were as assistant to Roberto Mancini with the national team, then a brief and unsuccessful stint as coach of Spal in Serie B, where he was fired after winning three times. 17 games.
But looked at another way, he was the only candidate who had a chance. Despite Mourinho’s disappointing results domestically – his 1.61 points per game are the lowest of any Roma coach whose tenure exceeded 50 matches in a three-to-one spell – consecutive European finals and his “us against the world” rhetoric has earned him the unwavering loyalty of many supporters.
Following him might have seemed a thankless task for another manager, but not for De Rossi. He had nothing to fear from the fans who had been there every step of his journey, from academy graduate to ‘Capitan Futuro’ and ultimately inheriting Francesco Totti’s armband.
De Rossi has always been one of them, another advantage since it allowed him to arrive from the first day with concrete ideas on what needed to be corrected. He had been a regular in matches against Roma until reports began to spread that Mourinho’s job was in danger. At that point, he chose to stay away so as not to fuel the rumor mill.
Publicly and privately, De Rossi supported the Portuguese, highlighting how he had brought the fan base together. But that didn’t mean agreeing with every tactical choice. De Rossi immediately changed the formation from a 3-5-2 to a 4-3-3 which allowed him to line up El Shaarawy on the left of the attack: a runner who could offer a different threat to Paulo Dybala on the opposite side. .
Roma players were encouraged to gain possession and maintain a higher line. A team that had won just two of its last seven matches under Mourinho, slipping to ninth in the table, took maximum points from De Rossi’s first three matches in charge.
It helped that these were against the bottom three. Still, there were signs of a new energy taking hold. Lorenzo Pellegrini, Roma’s last home captain, scored in all three matches, doubling his tally for this Serie A campaign. After 2-1 wins over Verona and Salernitana, Roma beat Cagliari 4-0.
De Rossi insisted that “every team in the world is beatable, even Inter”. His players joined. Nineteen points separated league leaders Roma before kick-off, but you wouldn’t have known it from the way the match started.
It was only in the second half that Inter asserted their superiority. They equalized almost immediately after the restart, Nicolò Barella and Benjamin Pavard giving too much space by combining before the latter crossed for Marcus Thuram to score. In the 56th minute, a cross from Henrikh Mkhitaryan was volleyed by Angeliño into his own net.
After a courageous offensive display in the first half, De Rossi’s Roma had revealed their insides. However, they remained a threat. They should have leveled in the 70th minute, when an off-balance Pellegrini played a sensational half-court pass between Federico Dimarco and Alessandro Bastoni. Romelu Lukaku, one-on-one with Sommer, let the goalkeeper take the ball off his toes.
Inter’s final goal came in added time, with Roma too committed to their quest for an equalizer. As De Rossi acknowledged, the Nerazzurri had “stolen nothing”. However, a draw would not have seemed unfair either.
Roma’s upbeat football, going for the jugular against the league’s best team, stood in stark contrast to the consistently defensive and consistently unsuccessful approach we saw against major domestic rivals during Mourinho’s tenure. So did De Rossi’s post-match remarks.
There were three Inter players in an offside position on Acerbi’s goal and one, Thuram, in shoulder-to-shoulder contact with Rui Patricio. Officials ruled that neither was directly involved in the play as the header flew towards the opposite corner and the goalkeeper was unhindered in trying to save it. De Rossi explained that the offside rule as written has ambiguities that lead to it being applied inconsistently, “but for my idea of football, it is a goal.”
The Friedkins will certainly have appreciated this measured response. It’s hard to imagine Mourinho reacting the same way in his final Roman chapter, when every week seemed to bring a new feud. But the owners’ top priority is to get their club back into the Champions League – as has been the case since they took charge in 2020.
This remains a plausible goal for this season. Even after Saturday’s defeat, De Rossi lifted Roma to sixth in the table – four points behind fourth and just one off fifth, which could still be enough to qualify for Europe’s top competition expanded next season.
The situation is precarious. Despite Mourinho’s regular laments about being overtaken by rival clubs in the transfer market, the reality is that Roma are still struggling to balance their books after spending more than €130 million over the past from his first year at the club and continuing to sign high-earning players such as Dybala. and Lukaku while making a net profit on upfront fees in transfer windows since then.
Further wage bill reductions will be necessary to remain in compliance with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play requirements. This will mean greater reliance on young local talent. Here too, De Rossi could be a good choice. His father, Alberto, coached in the club’s academy system for 25 years and became head of Roma’s youth coaching development in 2022.
But above all, the young De Rossi must prove that he is capable of managing at this level. His contract only runs until the end of the season. “I am convinced that it is a strong team, with important players,” he said when asked why he did not seek to include an extension option in the deal.
“Strong teams can have difficult times, that has always been the case. But I think we have everything we need to get back on our feet. So we don’t need parachutes. We just need this brilliant opportunity we have.