In the latest edition of our History Makers series, we remember Damiano Tommasi; the curly-haired midfield maestro who helped orchestrate Roma’s 2000-01 Scudetto glory.
There are some footballing locks that are interlocked with moments of history; Carlos Valderrama’s bombastic barnet, the Ronaldo’s triangle fringe, Andrea Pirlo’s parting, the Roberto Baggio ponytail, and Pavel Nedved’s bowl cut all immediately spring to mind.
It’s no different when you trawl through the vaults of the Giallorossi and Tommasi’s bouncing perm is interwoven - curl, by curl - into the very fabric of the club.
Dynamic, tenacious, and elegant all in the same breath - Tomassi’s industry was pivotal in delivering the Serie A title in 2001 - and it’s little wonder he now resides in the club's Hall of Fame.
DAMIANO TOMMASI - ANIMA CANDIDA
Born 17 May 1974, in the Verona municipality of Negrar, young Tomassi watched his hometown club lift a remarkable - and only - Serie A title in 1984-85 before emerging through their Primavera side a decade later to make his professional debut with Hellas as a 19-year-old against Padova in Serie B.
Tommasi’s first team bow in 1994 was part of an eventful year for the teenager, who also became a conscientious objector and chose charitable work within the civil service over the military alternative, saying: "I did not want to serve my country by holding a rifle."
Journalist Carlo Zampa would later give Tommasi the nickname “Anima Candida” (Pure Soul) and his efforts to drive social change were humbling, resulting in the eventual Italy international being awarded the L'altropallone - a prize for athletes who combine sport with charitable and social work.
Before then, in the summer of 1996, Tommasi won the UEFA European Championships with the Azzurri and was lifted out of the second tier by the Giallorossi.
Then Roma coach Carlos Bianchi largely stationed his new man on the right wing before - a year later - Zdenek Zaman saw the value in deploying Tommasi at the base of his midfield in an attempt to balance his all-out attack tactics.
It wasn’t an easy period for Tommasi, but it’s one he now looks back upon fondly and, according to the man himself, the belief of Zeman was the making of him as a midfielder.
“The most important coach and the one I loved most was definitely Zdenek Zeman,” Tommasi would later recall.
“Perhaps my opinion is influenced by the fact that he was the coach in a period of criticism and whistles. His confidence and his footballing belief made me fall in love.”
Fabio Capello would arrive in the capital in 2000, leading Roma to the Italian championship with Tommasi operating alongside either Emerson or Cristiano Zanetti and behind the headline-grabbing front-line made up of the likes of Gabriel Batistuta, Marco Delvecchio, Vincenzo Montella and Francesco Totti.
Tommasi’s was one of the first names on Capello’s team sheet, though, and the coach would describe his holding midfielder as “more [important] than Totti, Montella and Batistuta.”
It’s clear his lung-bursting efforts and all-action displays regaining and recycling possession were equally heralded by his teammates; just ask Scudetto winning ‘keeper Francesco Antonioli.
“A real grafter in football and a wonderful person in everyday life,” Antonioli told asroma.com in 2016.
“He had an incredible season the year we won the Scudetto – he was everywhere, all the time. Tommasi would take knocks all game long and just get the ball and carry on.”
Over the course of a decade in red and yellow, Tommasi amassed 351 appearances in all competitions but he so nearly had his career abruptly ended by one of those aforementioned knocks that seemed so drawn to him.
In a friendly against English outfit Stoke City in the summer of 2004, Tommasi was hacked in half by Gerry Taggart and was staring down the barrel of early retirement as a result.
Not that Tommasi saw it that way himself, saying at the time he “never thought it was over” and despite missing the entirety of the 2004-05 season, Tommasi made a heroic return to a rapturous Stadio Olimpico in a 2-1 win over Ascoli 15 months later.
Now 30, Tommasi had signed a new one-year deal prior to the 2005-06 campaign on minimum wages so as not to burden the club with a player who may not even make it back onto the pitch.
His reason? “Because I love football.”
A devout Catholic and once an altar boy, Tommasi even gained papel blessing for his decision through the Vatican’s L'Osservatore Romano, that noted: “Damiano has always thought that a famous footballer has a responsibility as an example to young people and he has always modelled his behaviour with this in mind.”
It was yet another gesture that highlighted the humility and generosity of Tommasi, who put everyone else’s needs before his own both on and off the pitch.
That would prove to be Tommasi’s final year with Roma, who finished as runners-up in both the league and UEFA Cup.
“The second part of my career in Rome was the best,” he revealed in and interview with Il Romanista in 2017.
“Coming back after the injury and having left my mark that season was my greatest satisfaction. And the fans recognised me for what I was and what I managed to do in the Roma shirt.”
He certainly managed a great deal over his decade of service in Roma and Tommasi’s story is an inspirational one; a true underdog crowd-pleaser filled with glory, heartache, and commitment, hostility turned into adoration, and the comeback that so nearly delivers a fairy tale ending.
A great footballer, an even better human being - here are five of his best goals for the Giallorossi…
1. The perfect comeback...
vs. FIORENTINA (h)
27 November 2005
Any doubters over the fairy tale quality of Tommasi’s story need only look at this goal, scored just two minutes into his first start back from that long injury lay-off in front of a packed Olimpico sent delirious by their midfielder’s sharp finish from Antonio Cassano’s cross.
"I'm not in the habit of scoring goals, but I'm satisfied today,” Tomassi said after the game.
“Obviously this goal feels extra special, because it's arrived on the day of my official return as a regular player.”
2. The one in the snow
vs. JUVENTUS (h)
26 January 2006
Tommasi’s role in Roma’s run to the Coppa Italia final in 2005-06 was significant and, in heavy snow in Turin his strike helped dump Juventus out at the quarter-final stage.
His calm finish past Christian Abbiati made it 2-0 on the night as Roma ran out 3-2 winners and secured their passage to the semis on away goals at the expense of former Serie A winning boss Capello.
3. Booking a final spot
vs. PALERMO (h)
12 April 2006
Having played just an eight-minute cameo in the 2-1 first leg defeat in Sicily, Tommasi was back in the starting line-up for the Olimpico return.
On the half hour mark, Tommasi raced in from the right to head home Cesare Bovo’s cross at the back post to provide the only goal of the game and send the Giallorossi into the final.
4. Icing on the cake
vs. BARCELONA (h)
26 February 2002
Serie A glory in 2000-01 brought with it a first taste of Champions League football for the Giallorossi and their 3-0 demolition of Barcelona on home soil remains one of the most memorable nights in recent Roma history.
After goals from Emerson and Vincenzo Montella, Tommasi wrapped up the win in the dying embers of the game as he collected the ball from Cafu just outside and to the right of the Barcelona box, before drilling beyond a young Pepe Reina in the Barca goal.
At the time, Roma were simultaneously top of Serie A and top of their Champions League group (this was the era of two group stages in the competition) - a special moment at the very peak of the game.
5. Captain fantastic
vs. UDINESE (h)
22 April 2001
We can’t put together a list like this and not include one of Tommasi’s three Serie A goals from the 2000-01 title winning season - and this one is a beauty.
Wearing the captain’s armband in the absence of Totti, Tommasi hits a sublime left-footed strike on the half volley that rockets in via the inside of the post.
It was just his fourth goal for the club and a beauty at that.
What happened next for Tommasi?
Tommasi - who represented Italy 25 times and scored twice for his country - left Roma for the Spanish top-flight and joined Levante in 2006, where he spent one season before they dropped out of La Liga.
While in Spain, Tommasi encouraged his teammates to donate their disciplinary fines to worthy charitable causes and led to the development of a football centre in Kosovo.
Spells in England with Queen’s Park Rangers and China with Tianjin Teda followed prior to his retirement in 2009, but six years later - at the age of 41 - Tommasi was lured back by San Marino side La Fiorita.
Solely playing in their Europa League qualifying matches, Tommasi made 10 appearances in Europe for La Fiorita with his most recent outing in 2019.
Tommasi’s contribution to the Giallorossi was made official in 2015 as he was named in the club’s Hall of Fame, an honour he accepted in characteristically gracious fashion.
“Beyond the satisfaction of being inducted into the Hall of Fame, it makes me think that I don't feel up to par with those in my company,” said Tommasi.
“Being in this gallery of the greats of the history of Rome is a bit like a day with your favorite champion.”
In 2011, Tommasi took up the presidency of the Italian Footballers' Association, a role he held for nine years until leaving the post in 2020.
Read more in this series: