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To Roma with Love

He’s the most underappreciated player on any team. He trains just as hard, is always available, and almost never called up. Even when called up, he rarely plays. In fact, some of the Primavera are far more likely to be capped each season than him. Of everyone to take the pitch he must really love what he’s doing and be motivated, because he’s unlikely to get any props from anyone else. He’s a third keeper. And for the past three seasons for Milan, his name was Flavio Roma.

Hey, who's that guy with Abbiati & Pippo?
Flavio Roma spent his youth career at Lazio, as well as his first 6 seasons. Only he never actually played for Lazio, maybe it was that darned last name of his. He spent those six years on loan to various Serie B & Serie C clubs: Mantova, Venezia, Fiorenzuola, Foggia, and Chievo.

Oddly enough, he was part of the deal that sent Simone Inzaghi, Pippo’s little brother, to Lazio that saw him go to Piacenza in 1999. At Piacenza, he became the number one between the sticks. Unfortunately for the up and coming keeper, Piacenza were relegated at the end of that season to Serie B. Still, he spent one more season with Piacenza. The irony is that he helped them get promoted again to Serie A, where they spent 2 glorious years, but he moved on.


Of course the joke was on Piacenza. In 2001, he signed for French club Monaco. They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and at Monaco, Roma became their number one keeper. He managed 247 starts in all competitions for Monaco over the nine seasons he played there, only finally losing his number one spot his final season with the club.

A little known fact is that he was the starting keeper in the 2004 UEFA Champions League Final. Monaco faced Jose Mourinho’s Porto, but unfortunately lost the final 3-0. Monaco had beaten Locomotiv Moscow, a little Spanish club called Real Madrid, and some English club called Chelsea in the knockout rounds to get to the Final. And yes, Flavio Roma was their man.

The golden years with Monaco

Roma also was called up for the Italian National Team in 2004 and 2005, during the Lippi days, as part of the search for Buffon’s number 2. He actually featured 3 times, all friendlies, in 2005. Unfortunately, like Abbiati, he did not get called up ahead of the World Cup due to injuries. (Although their fellow Milan keeper Marco Amelia did.) It’s a shame, he was in great form with Monaco at this time, and could have easily earned a World Cup winners medal.

Roma was signed by Milan in 2009 to replace Zeljko Kalac. He was expected to compete with Marco Storari for the number one spot while Dida and Abbiati were injured. But under Leonardo, it was Storari that got the nod. And when Dida came back the Brazilian coach gave Dida the nod for first keeper. (I still cringe when I remember those days.) When Storari was sent on loan to Sampdoria and Abbiati recovered, it still made Roma third choice.

Milan's three kings in goal: Amelia, Roma, and Abbiati

At least at the end of the 2009-10 season, his contract was extended. He stayed 3rd choice behind Abbiati and the very capable Amelia, but he also stayed on with the Milan family. In 2011, he played in 2 Coppa Italia matches, one vs. Bari and the other vs. Sampdoria. That I know of, that was the extent of his official appearances with Milan, although he played in an Audi Cup match and maybe a few other friendly matches for Milan, too.

Roma spent much of this past season on the injured list, and we don’t even know why. (Although with our strike force, I have my theories.) When he was called up, if people translated the callups through Google translate, he was one of few whose names would be changed, his to the English “Rome” instead of “Roma.” (That’s right, those of you who use Google Translate, I just called you out.) The point being that other than the glittering days outside of his native Italy, he seems to have always been overlooked, from his name to his abilities.

If keepers were chosen by looks, he might have been no. 1

Even when it was time to say goodbye, he was third choice. At the age of 37, he announced he had played his last game for Milan and was leaving the club. But a couple of other players were retiring that same day, and they kind of took the limelight. He didn’t get his jersey replicated in giant fashion in the Curva, he wasn’t recognized by Galliani on the pitch. In fact, most fans didn’t even recognize him at all. He didn’t even get to play in his final game, even if he was on the bench. Quietly, he waved his goodbyes and left behind three equally quiet seasons.

Last week, he officially announced his retirement from football, and joined Milan’s coaching staff. He will be a keeper coach for one of the Milan youth teams. I am so happy he is staying in the Milan family. And I am hoping that there, he will be remembered for his accomplishments on the pitch, that kids will ask him, “So what’s it like to start in a Champions League Final?” And that he will be able to impart his wisdom and experience on the next great generation of keepers. 

A rare appearance for Milan in the Audi Cup

Roma was another great Italian keeper who got lost in the shadows of the giant Buffon. He was lucky to have Monaco see his worth, and to start for 8 great years with the club. But Milan were lucky to have such a humble and talented 3rd keeper, too. He may be the most underappreciated and unrecognized player in the squad, but our thanks go out to him for always being there, ready to go on a moment’s notice. This one goes out to Roma, with love.


This post inspired by the music of R.E.M.