“I knew I could trust him blindfolded.”Nils Liedholm
Franco Tancredi tells the story of how, one day in Giulianova, when he still played as a right winger, coach Nicola Tribuiani asked him to step in for an absent goalkeeper during a summer tournament. The rest, as they say, is history.
Tancredi was 14 and would spend two seasons at Giulianova, where he began to showcase his talents. In 1972, he was selected for the Nazionale Juniores semi-pro Italy side, taking part in prestigious four-way international tournaments in Monaco and Algiers in 1973 before winning the Juniores domestic youth title with Giulianova in 1974.
Juventus came calling at the end of 1974, but Tancredi ended up at AC Milan as back-up to the great Ricky Albertosi. He made his Rossoneri debut in a friendly match against Spezia on 18 August 1974, suddenly sharing a pitch with the likes of Gianni Rivera and future Roma team-mates Aldo Maldera, Maurizio Turone and Romeo Benetti.
Tancredi’s first competitive appearance for the Rossoneri came against Juventus in the Coppa Italia on June 22, 1975. His manager at Milan that season, Gustavo Giagnoni, would think of Tancredi when he took charge of Roma at the beginning of the 1977-78 season.
The 22-year-old Tancredi arrived in the capital with a Serie B season under his belt (28 appearances for Rimini), thus beginning a long career in the Eternal City. Yet at the end of 1978-79, it seemed Tancredi’s Giallorossi adventure could be finished before it had ever really begun.
He had played just one Serie A match in two seasons and found his passage to the first team blocked by Paolo Conti, who was the only Roma player to have formed part of the Italy squad for the 1978 FIFA World Cup in Argentina.
Tancredi asked for a transfer, not least because two Serie A sides, Avellino and Pescara, and the recently relegated Atalanta had shown an interest in him.
Yet the arrival of Nils Liedholm represented the turning point in Tancredi’s career, with the Swedish coach convincing the goalie to stay put. A few months later, Tancredi became the Giallorossi’s number one goalkeeper and made a vital contribution to Roma’s Coppa Italia victory in the 1979-80 season.
It was the start of a cycle that would culminate with the 1983 Scudetto triumph and the ill-fated European Cup final against Liverpool in 1984. Tancredi would make 289 league appearances for the club, 258 of them consecutively between 1980 and 1989.
Paradoxically, perhaps the most poignant moment of Tancredi’s Roma career came the year after he said goodbye to the club. Returning to the Stadio Olimpico as a Torino player, the Curva Sud welcomed him with two enormous banners reading ‘Franco in the ultras’ hearts’ and ‘Hello Franco, welcome back’, urging him to come and greet them under the Sud over and over again.
The goalie duly obliged, soaking up the adulation of his fans and kissing the Roma badge on a ball boy’s tracksuit. Back in the dressing room Tancredi would later declare it the best day of his life.
“To be recognised like this obviously makes me very happy and proud. The memories of the wins and also the defeats, the fervent support of a unique set of supporters, my dear friends Agostino and Aldo who are sadly no longer with us, are all still fresh in my mind and heart and that’s why I’ll always be grateful to the club. I’ve been attached to this club since way back in 1977 and with these colours I won a magical Scudetto, and very nearly won the European Cup. So I’d like to say a big thank you to all Roma fans.”Franco Tancredi