"A top striker, powerful, great in the air and capable of scoring wonderful goals. You could write a book about him.”
Roberto Pruzzo began playing football as a 13-year-old lad, taking part in seven-a-side pub tournaments organised by the towns and villages of the region around Genoa.
The various teams would compete against each other to secure the services of the young Pruzzo, who seemed almost to have a special understanding with the ball itself, such was the regularity with which he would fire it into the net.
At the age of 15, Lino Bonilauri signed him for the Genoa youth academy. Roberto grew up as a player under Bonilauri’s stewardship, before a certain Luis Suarez took over the youth side in 1973.
By 18, Pruzzo was already the captain of Genoa and the big names of Italian football were beginning to circle. Indeed, for a long time it seemed that he would end up at Juventus. In May 1978, television host Enzo Tortora asked him about the talk linking him with a move away at the end of the season: “I would be a fool and a liar if I denied the rumours. If I’m to leave, I hope to join a side fighting for the Scudetto,” replied Pruzzo.
It seemed to be confirmation of his imminent move to the Bianconeri - Juventus had held an option to buy the striker since 1976 - or even to AC Milan, who had begun to push hard to sign him.
Yet it was Roma that won the race for Pruzzo’s signature as president Gaetano Anzalone authorised an investment that was without precedent for the club in the 1970s.
Roberto had a tough start to life at Roma, so much so that he asked to be transferred after just six months in the capital. By this time, however, Dino Viola had taken charge of the club and had no intention of losing the striker. Viola made the smart move of bringing Bruno Conti back to the club: Conti had a strong bond with Pruzzo, stemming from the successful season the two had shared at Genoa and the fact that they had even fulfilled their military service together.
It proved to be the spark that ignited a love story between Roma, Rome and Roberto Pruzzo.
Pruzzo became irresistible on the football field, with his own purple patch coinciding with one of Roma’s must successful periods ever - they claimed one Scudetto, four Coppa Italias and reached the European Cup final.
On a personal level, Pruzzo would bag the Serie A top-scorer gong on three occasions, an achievement only eight people have ever managed.
Pruzzo went on to become one of the most celebrated players ever to don the Giallorossi shirt. On his nomination for the AS Roma Hall of Fame in 2012, Pruzzo wrote: “When we were on the pitch, we felt like we were loved. I still think that was the best-loved Roma side of all time.”
“I’d like to thank everyone for their support and respect. Sometimes I don’t realise just how much the Roma fans hold me in high esteem, how much they loved me. I didn’t do an awful lot after all – I'm not sure I deserve this recognition. 106 thank yous to everyone!”