De Sisti: Roma is Roma and that's all there is to it

“I’ve finally made it into the AS Roma Hall of Fame. I’m immensely proud to be a part of it.”

Giancarlo De Sisti – one of four Famers in the Class of 2016 – is a satisfied man. Long has he coveted a place in the official pantheon of Giallorossi greats.

“I played for Fiorentina for many years, winning the Scudetto and even becoming an honorary citizen of Florence. But Roma is Roma and that’s all there is to it,” he declares proudly.

In total, De Sisti made 279 appearances and scored 29 goals across two spells at Roma, representing the club for a grand total of ten seasons between 1960 and 1979. This is his reaction to being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

How did your journey with Roma begin?

“I was signed from Forlivesi, a team in San Giovanni. My dad took me to play there to save the arguments with my mum… Before that I used to play for a team in Santa Maria del Buonconsiglio, on Via Tuscolana. I’d come home drenched in sweat every evening and my mother started to worry that I was getting sick. My dad, on the other hand, supported me. He’d been a decent player in Serie C and he quite liked the idea of me following in his footsteps, but he and my mother would end up arguing about it. By way of compromise, my mum told my dad to take me to a club where I could have a shower and make myself look respectable before coming home. He didn’t need telling twice. We went to Forlivesi, I got through the trial and that’s where everything started.”

So you went from Forlivesi to Roma?

“That’s right, Roma scouted me when I was just 15. They paid Forlivesi eleven jerseys and eleven sets of boots to sign me. We always needed that sort of thing back then.”

Your time with Roma began in the youth academy, where you won two league titles on the bounce – first with Geza Boldizsar in the dugout in 1960 and then with Guido Masetti in 1961.

“Yes, and we won two Coppa Italias too. We were a fantastic team and all of us had the potential to go on to be top-level Serie A players. I learned a great deal from Masetti, who was the goalkeeper and captain of Roma when the club won the Scudetto in 1942. He had bags of personality – it only took a look from him to get his point across. He taught me a lot.”

You weren’t even 18 when you made your Serie A debut.

“My league debut didn’t go very well and I cried my eyes out because I didn’t play well. It was 12 February 1961 and the coach, [Alfredo] Foni, gave me a huge opportunity but he played me at right wing, as a replacement for [Alberto Orlando]. I was a central midfielder and didn’t have a whole lot of pace – so I wasn’t exactly made for the right wing. At the time I never doubted myself as it was a unique opportunity. I spoke to one of my team-mates, the midfielder Luigi Giuliano, to devise a plan to target their full-back. Sadly, we weren’t on the same wavelength and it went all wrong. We lost 2-1.”

You did have an impact on the last day of the season though, away at Fiorentina.

“That’s true. Foni decided to play me again and that time I had a great game. I owed a lot to [Juan Alberto] Schiaffino, who really helped me during the match and allowed me to find my feet. My confidence grew with every touch I took. We ended up winning 1-0 thanks to a goal from [Giampaolo] Menichelli.”

You mention Schiaffino, one of the greats of the game. How much did you learn from him?

“He played a key role in my development as a player. He was like a god to me. It was the end of his career, but his class was there for all to see, on the pitch and off of it. What I really admired about him was his humility – he came to training in a Fiat Seicento or even on the bus. He loved to repeat this one phrase: “It’s tough to be a footballer – training, matches, matches, training. But it’s still better than working…” If I managed to become one of the best in my position then I owe it to him. He taught me to look into the opposing player’s eyes just as he was about to make a pass in order to nail the interception. I got the better of many a player using that trick.”

On the subject of Uruguayans, what do you remember of Alcides Ghiggia? He’s a Hall of Famer too.

“Like Schiaffino, he was part of the team that shocked Brazil with the Maracanazo. I trained with him a few times in the reserves. Once, it was me, him, [Pedro] Manfredini, Schiaffino and [Arne] Selmosson – great players training with the reserves. Needless to say, I was the worst of the bunch!”

You’re too modest!

“No, it’s the truth. Let me tell you a story. There was a period when Ghiggia was on the bench and Orlando was playing – that didn’t sit too well with Ghiggia. During a training session with the reserves, he called me over to him: “Picchio, come here. You’re one of the only ones that can knock it about with me.” I went over, almost embarrassed. While we were playing, he said: “How is it that a guy like me is playing back-up to Orlando?” I was 18 years old – what could I say? I was just a lad, I didn’t say anything – I just laughed.”

Orlando went on to become a key player as Roma won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and then their first Coppa Italia (Orlando stayed with the club until June 1994). Despite this success, the club was struggling with serious economic difficulties and even had to organise a collection in 1965, known as the Colletta del Sistina. What was that like?

“It wasn’t good. We raised 600,000 lira [around €310], which was a good amount but nowhere near what the club needed. We decided to donate the money to the victims of the Vajont Dam disaster. We were mocked up and down Italy after that collection. They chucked small change at us in Verona to humiliate us.”

The following year – in 1966 – you joined Fiorentina, where you remained for nine seasons and won the Scudetto, another Coppa Italia and the Mitropa Cup. Later, in 1974, Gaetano Anzalone brought you back to Roma. How did the move happen?

“I got a call from the Roma sporting director, Camillo Anastasi, who told me that both the president and [Nils] Liedholm wanted to sign me at all costs. I wanted to leave Florence as I didn’t get on with the coach [Luigi] Radice, so I called the club to tell them about Roma’s offer. ‘Look, I only want to go to Roma,’ I said. ‘Sell me and give Anzalone a good price too!’”

Lazio were reigning champions in your first season back at Roma.

“That’s what I said to Anastasi when I accepted his offer: ‘Look, Lazio are getting the upper hand. We need to do something…’”

You personally decided the home derby in 1974, then the team overtook Lazio to go third after the return fixture.

“To thank me for scoring the winning goal in that derby, the fans gifted me a traditional Roman helmet. It was an incredible feeling to leapfrog them later on in the season, with the rain beating down and [Pierino] Prati getting the all-important goal.”

One of your team-mates in the 1976-77 season was none other than Walter Sabatini, the current sporting director at Roma.

“He was a right winger and loved a dribble – he was like a tightrope walker with the ball at his feet. One time he had a big bust-up with [Francesco] Rocca. The two of them nearly came to blows, but Liedholm got in between them. ‘Both of you can take me on…’ he said, diffusing the situation. Liedholm was a great man.”