Daniele De Rossi debut: Boca Juniors signing is the most romantic transfer of the summer
The World Cup winner has spurned the usual pre-retirement payday to pursue his dream of winning the Copa Libertadores with the Argentine giants
As a footballer approaches the end of his playing days, the last decision he must make is the stage he chooses for his final flourish. Some, like Francesco Totti or Ryan Giggs, remain faithful to the club which saw them grow from their very first days and bow out where it all began.
Others may choose to drop down a division in a bid to prolong their career a few more years. For South American greats, an emotional homecoming in the vein of Diego and Gabriel Milito, Carlos Tevez or Maxi Rodriguez might be on the cards. There is also the promise of a final huge payday in the shape of China or the Middle East, where the dip in quality is more than compensated by the astronomical wages on offer.
Few, however, choose to take the sort of leap into the dark that Daniele De Rossi opted for this summer. The Roma great and World Cup winner signed terms with Argentine giants Boca Juniors, spurning guaranteed millions to enter one of the most cut-throat, intense footballing nations on the planet.
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It might be hard at times, submerged as we are in a sea of unscrupulous agents, contracts barely worth the paper on which they are written and slick commercial operations to find a shred of romance left in football. De Rossi, though, shows that there is still some magic and beauty in the game.
De Rossi’s adventure in Argentina begins on Tuesday in the most intriguing of fashions. The city of La Plata plays host to Boca’s Copa Argentina last-32 clash against second-tier Almagro, with the Italian set to line up against a group of veterans, young hopefuls and journeymen desperate to cause an upset.
His Superliga debut will probably follow on Sunday at the Bombonera against Aldosivi; with the stadium only open to home fans due to the six-year ban on visitors put in place because of endemic match-day violence between organised hooligan groups. Even that restriction is often not enough to avoid trouble, as Boca experienced first-hand last November when their coach was destroyed by missiles thrown by River Plate fans on their way to the Monumental, and River in turn back in 2015 during that infamous pepper spray attack inside the Bombonera suffered at the hands of a Xeneize supporter.
If that fact gives De Rossi a taste of the instability and difficulties faced in Argentina, another came on Monday: the local currency devalued by more than 25 per cent in a matter of hours and stock markets crashed over 30% on the back of nothing more than the result of the previous day’s primary presidential election.
Why, then, would De Rossi forego a quiet, lucrative stroll towards retirement in favour of waltzing merrily into the wolf’s lair? His relationship with Nicolas Burdisso, a former Roma team-mate and current Boca director of football, was logically key to pulling off this blockbuster transfer. But there was another, less tangible motive for the elegant midfielder, the chance to step where almost no European has ever dared to tread and conquer South America.
“Those who knew me best saw straight away that all roads inevitably were leading me to Boca,” the 36-year-old enthused in an interview with the club’s official website. “Even when I thought I might go elsewhere, in the end it was always Boca.
“Winning a big tournament here would truly be the crowning moment of my career, an incredible dream.”
Given a hero’s welcome upon his arrival in Buenos Aires at the end of July, De Rossi has wasted no time in settling in to his new environs. Obligatory trips to the city’s famous steakhouses and other local landmarks have been eagerly followed by the local press, while Boca fans were driven wild by his meeting with club legend Diego Maradona.
“The guy is a multimillionaire, he was earning €12 million a year at Roma and now he’s coming to our country, where people would kill for a pair of shoes,” Diego told La Red in his usual inimitable style after that chat.
“He said he came because he saw me in my box at a game when we played in the [Copa] Libertadores or against River Plate.”
Maradona: “Bosteros, tienen que persignarse cuando ven a De Rossi porque quiso venir”. La arenga de Diego sobre Daniele, en un encuentro mágico entre ambos, de la mano de @Arevalo_Martin. pic.twitter.com/DIvIGF9XD4
— No Todo Pasa (@NoTodoPasaTyC) August 12, 2019
The mention of River is far from coincidental to this story. Bruised and humiliated by 2018’s final defeat at the hands of their arch-rivals in the unlikely surroundings of Madrid, the pressure on Boca to win their first Libertadores since 2007 is higher than ever this time round.
As well as De Rossi the likes of Argentina international Eduardo Salvio and Venezuela prodigy Jan Hurtado joined in the off-season, as did Brighton‘s Alexis MacCallister on loan. As fate would have it, victories for both Boca and River in their Copa quarters would set up yet another continental Superclasico, no less a matter of life and death for taking place in the last four.
When the Italian speaks of a “big tournament,” it is the Libertadores he has in mind. The lure and romance of the famous old trophy brought him halfway across the world to Buenos Aires and he does not plan on squandering the opportunity: “I am motivated by playing football and by the passion I feel when I play serious football. This is a club that will allow me to play at an excellent level, just as I like it.”
Tuesday’s clash against tiny Almagro represents the first chapter of what will be one of the most gripping football stories of 2019, as De Rossi looks to conquer the hearts of Boca’s famously raucous support and end their Copa drought once and for all. His transfer may not have caught the most headlines and it certainly does not rank among the most lucrative in this current window; but in terms of pure romantic appeal few will match it over the summer.