Number 14: Daniele De Rossi
Club Team: Roma
American-Based Professional Sport “Soulmate”: Brian McCann, C, Atlanta Braves
Daniele De Rossi is lucky to be alive. No one bloodies Brian McBride’s face with a flying elbow and lives to tell about, except this particular Italian. Yeah, De Rossi is that guy. But don’t be fooled by his moment of violence against an American hero in 2006, De Rossi’s not exactly cut out of the Rino Gattuso mold. Think more along the lines of Francesco Totti, actually, think directly along the lines of Francesco Totti. So much so that AS Roma fans affectionately refer to Daniele as “Capitan Futuro,” and if you can’t figure out what that means in English go read some other blog. Along with his Roman club, it’s also widely speculated De Rossi will assume the captaincy of the Italian national team after the armband is forcibly removed from Fabio Cannavaro with the use of a horse tranquilizer and a circular saw. Daniele’s way more likely to be next in line for the Azurri armband if this year’s World Cup team makes a run and finds a way to defend their title, but what you won’t hear from the “experts” on the other websites is that aside from the evergreen best keeper in the world Daniele De Rossi is the single most important player to Italy’s World Cup aspirations.
No, he’s not a ridiculously creative Ronaldinho type. No, he’s not an overpowering physical force. He’s not even an “always comes through in the clutch” type guy like Fábragas, Gerrard, or Totti himself. But this isn’t exactly a “he’s just what Italy’s got” situation either. De Rossi is the midfielder that every American wishes Michael Bradley was. Think about everything MB90 does well, De Rossi does every one of those things better than the American center mid (except for hard tackling, but in a revelation, De Rossi maintains great defensive positioning and doesn’t have to chronically dive in for card inducing tackles). De Rossi brings great vision going forward as well, along with a keen understanding of when to send a teammate through, when to keep it himself, and yes, even when to back pass. They’re Italy, not Brazil. He’s also got a mean power-shot from distance, both in the run of play and on set pieces as our beloved Yanks found out in game one of the Confederation’s Cup. The Totti comparisons do start to take hold.
But it’s crucial to point out that De Rossi plays a slightly different spot for the Italian national team than he does at Roma. For the club he’s asked to play a more defensive role while Totti freelances Frank Lampard-style. So in true Shakespearian fashion, it is again Totti who defines De Rossi’s role on the national team. Francesco’s retirement from international play has paved the way for Daniele to assume his old role with the national team and partner with Gennaro “Javier Mascherano wants to be me” Gatusso. With The Snarling Dog acting as the best midfield security blanket anyone could ask for De Rossi gets the chance to take more offensive chances, which is why he’s a much more exciting player in a blue shirt than he is in a garnet one. And we’re not talking about a guy that’s busting out back-heels, stopovers, and shot feints like Robinho every time he gets an inch of space, De Rossi plays within himself and makes Italy better for it. Perhaps most importantly to my argument and to Daniele’s high placement on this list of 32 is what links De Rossi with Braves catcher Brian McCann. Simply put, they’re the only guys on their respective teams who are actually in their primes.
Now I’m not saying that everyone else on Italy and the Atlanta Braves sucks, but take a step back and survey the territory we’re dealing with. Start with the Braves. Aside from the do-everything catcher/badass that is Brian McCann, you’ve got a bunch of players who are either past their prime or have yet to hit it. Tim Hudson, Troy Glaus, Chipper Jones, and Derek Lowe are all at the tail ends of their careers. Likewise, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Jason Heyward, and Yunel Escobar are all great but have yet to hit their primes. Meanwhile the three time Silver Slugger and four time All-Star catcher that looks like a sixth grade science teacher is in his prime and bashing. This is not to say that the Braves can’t have success or that McCann has to be the hero on a nightly basis, but if they’re going to have a great season McCann must be the engine. The same goes for Italy. The regulars from last World Cup have become cult heroes in The Boot but that doesn’t mean that Pirlo, Toni, Cannavaro, and Camoranesi aren’t old as dirt. Similarly, the Sebastian Giovinco/Juventus academy/Gianfranco Zola Italy U-21 contingent are mercurial but not ready quite yet. Both the old and young Italians are tremendously skilled players, but they’ll need an inspired performance from their young maestro midfielder if they want to shock the world (and yes you over-zealous Italian-Americans, it would be a SHOCK) and repeat the feat of 2006. Can Daniele De Rossi and the best goalkeeper on earth inspire the old to play young and the young to play older and come away with a second World Cup in a row? Probably not, but hey, that’s why they play the games.
Jon Levy is a senior writer and managing editor for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @TYAC_Jon.