“Il Principe was my idol, my role model when I was a kid. I always followed in his footsteps even though we played in different positions. I saw him as a captain, as everything. I met him, played with him and shared a room with him. He taught me loads.”
Giuseppe Giannini made his first steps as a footballer playing for Rome-based club Almas, where he was discovered by Naim Krieziu and coached by Amos Cardarelli.
He went for a trial at AC Milan under the watchful eyes of Italo Galbiati - Fabio Capello's trusted assistant - and Gianni Rivera. At the end of the trial game, he was presented with the No. 10 Milan shirt. Everything seemed set in stone for a transfer north, but just at that moment the call from the capital came in and after a try-out in Trigoria, Peppe donned the Giallorossi shirt and wouldn't take it off for the majority of his career.
Early on during his time with AS Roma, his ability and innate elegance earned him the nickname ‘The Prince’ - coined by Odoacre Chierico - and it would stick with him for the rest of his playing days.
He spent a long time learning his trade in the shadow of fellow Hall of Famer Paulo Roberto Falcao before the baton was finally passed on the eve of the Juventus v Roma game on 28 October, 1984.
Whilst on the plane taking the squad to Turin, the Brazilian great warned Giuseppe that he wasn't fit to play and so it would be up to him to line up against the champions of Italy. In the game itself, Roma immediately gave themselves a mountain to climb after conceding the first goal to the hosts before then going down to ten men after Dario Bonetti was sent off.
Giannini then stepped up to plate and restored parity with a stunning strike. Chierico found some space out on the left wing and played a ball in behind Juventus's defence. ‘The Prince’ arrived in the box at full pace and smashed a sublime first-time shot past the Bianconeri goalkeeper, catching him completely off guard. Perhaps that was the exact moment when Giannini realised he had become a superstar. Shortly afterwards he would make his first appearance with Italy U21 and he didn't have to wait long for a debut cap with the senior team.
Giannini had an exhilarating career on the international scene with the Azzurri, culminating in his majestic performance on Italian soil at World Cup 1990, where Italy's semi-final loss on penalties prevented him from disputing the final at the Stadio Olimpico.
There's an endless list of his important contributions in a Giallorossi shirt, but perhaps his joy after equalising against Foggia on 20 March, 1994 is the moment he's most fondly remembered for. With a thunderous left-footed volley that went in off the post, Giannini rescued Roma from an awkward situation and the passion he showed celebrating such a key goal has remained in the hearts of Romanisti ever since.
"It's very flattering to be recognized and I'm delighted to accept. I'm really very proud. I'd like to thank everyone who voted for me, this is one of the best things to have ever happened to me. I always experienced everything with Roma at 100 miles an hour. The good times and the bad, my goal against Foggia just like the penalty I missed in the derby: moments I experienced first and foremost as a fan, not just a player. For me Roma was always more something in my heart than just a job."