On Thursday night, Roma thrashed the dreams of the fairy tale story that was Bodo/Glimt’s European journey.
It was a special night. After a late 2-1 loss last week in Bodo, Norway, 10 miles north of the northern pole circle, the headlines were not about football at all. Instead, the focus was on a physical fight that had taken place after the match between Roma’s goalkeeping coach Nuno Santos and Bodo’s manager Kjetil Knutsen. Roma says Knutsen assaulted Santos, Bodo says Santos attacked Knutsen.
Whatever happened, it created tension between the clubs, the players, the managers, as well as both clubs’ sets of supporters. A tension you could cut with a knife, which has been out in the open all week.
But when push came to shove, at the second leg of the matchup at Stadio Olimpico on Thursday night, Roma used it to their advantage. The stadium was boiling before, during and after the match – just like it so famously does during the Derby della Capitale against Lazio. Roma was 3-0 up after half an hour and the team had never looked more motivated this season, bar the derby against Lazio which ended in a 3-0 victory for Roma.
In the end, Roma beat Bodo 4-0 after a goal from Tammy Abraham and a hattrick from Nicolò Zaniolo. However, although he was not on the scoresheet, there was one player more important than the goal scorers – Roma’s captain Lorenzo Pellegrini.
Pellegrini, born in the Roman neighborhood of Cinecittà, and has been a supporter of AS Roma his entire life, much like the rest of his entire family. He grew up in the club’s academy after being spotted by club scouts at age 8, whilst playing for his neighborhood team Almas Roma.
At the academy, Pellegrini was a success. But upon being promoted to the first team, and fighting for a spot there for two years, he moved to Sassuolo for regular game time – and got his big break. He recorded 11 goals and 7 assists in 54 appearances for the Neroverdi, and two years after the move, Roma exercised their buy-back clause and bought him back for more than ten times what they had sold him for. And Pellegrini has been a key player for Roma pretty much ever since.
The 25-year-old is an elegant playmaker. He has his base in the central midfield and his main task is to create for his teammates and take part in the build-ups. His strengths are his passing, his vision, his execution of that vision, his dead balls, and his overall immaculate right foot. But he is, most importantly, the heart and soul of this Roma side. He will run into the ground before he stops fighting for the club crest – and that brings us back to why he was Roma’s most important player on the pitch against Bodo on Thursday night.
Pellegrini recorded an impressive 7 chances created and 2 big chances created, as well as an assist. But his main contribution was how he motivated his teammates and the fighting spirit he instilled in them.
It was evident that this meant more to him than anybody else on the pitch. Roma was not going to get knocked out against a team that had embarrassed them with a 6-1 win in the group stages and fought one of their own in Nuno Santos last week in Bodo.
Pellegrini made sure that nothing other than a thrashing of the Norwegian side was acceptable, which showed as Roma had their guns blazing all night. The 25-year-old’s passion for the club and for the club’s reputation was the engine in Roma’s tank.
For a player to have that type of passion for the club, for the city, and for the supporters is very rare. It makes Pellegrini a part of a dying breed in the modern world of football.
He described the meaning of this perfectly in an interview with The Player’s Tribune.
”Playing for Roma means the world. I feel that many of my teammates did not know what Roma (as a club) was. I want to transmit that feeling because I know what it is. So, one of my greatest motivations every morning when I walk through the door is to make them understand what Roma means. What it means to play for this team”.
”Roma is not a joke. Roma is not a stepping stone. Roma is Roma. You do not explain it, you live it. Every time I enter the Stadio Olimpico with the teams and the referees I get goosebumps. That is what I want my teammates to experience”.
That feeling of his has probably been enhanced by the fact that Pellegrini almost did not get to play for Roma, as he suffered from heart arrhythmia as a youngster and was almost forced to quit playing football.
So, every time he is on the field, he demands absolutely everything from his teammates, who has gotten the privilege – as he sees it – that he almost did not get. To play for Roma.
Nothing short of the best is enough for him. And maybe that is why he is the ideal captain for Roma. He might not have the same status in the city or the club as previous bandieri as Francesco Totti or Daniele de Rossi – but he shares their passion for the club.
And as for Thursday night’s 4-0 win against Bodo/Glimt, that was one of the main reasons why Roma are now through to the next stages of the Europa Conference League and Bodo is not. Capitano Pellegrini was firing on his men every second he was on the pitch, both verbally and by leading by example.
After the match Pellegrini was asked by the Italian version of Sky Sports about what he thinks he brings to the team as captain and said: ”What I try to do every day is to pass on to my teammates what I live by, wearing these colors as my skin”.
That quote sums up what this entire article is about, essentially. Pellegrini is part of a dying breed of footballers. We must cherish him until he decides to hang up his boots to, lets face it, probably talk about Roma with his friends at some café around the city of Rome – whilst sipping a world-class espresso.