Football Features

Footballers you forgot played for Roma, from Guardiola to ‘The Emperor’

By Ben Green

Published: 14:29, 6 May 2021

Well, Serie A is going to be interesting next season. Jose Mourinho’s short-lived (enforced) sabbatical came to an end on Tuesday as he put pen to paper on a three-year deal with Roma, catching everybody by surprise.

The Portuguese tactician returns to Italian soil 11 years after guiding Inter Milan to successive Scudetti, and a treble in 2009/10, hoping his medal-hoovering success at the San Siro can translate to the Eternal City, who will part with Paulo Fonseca at the end of the season.

Mourinho will be joining yet another of Europe’s aristocratic clubs, adding one more illustrious gold star to his CV, with the Giallorossi boasting some stellar past names, including the likes of Francesco Totti — ‘The Eighth King of Rome’ — Daniele De Rossi, Cafu, Mohamed Salah and Brazilian Falcao.

But, it’s not been all calcio kings and hall-of-famers, there are perhaps one or two names among the Stadio Olimpico alumni that may have slipped your mind. For every Rudi Voller or Alisson there’s a Fabio Borini; and here we celebrate the latter. The forgotten Romans who once donned yellow and red.


Cast your mind back to 2004/05, Adriano has just leathered one of his famous left-footed piledrivers past a helpless Gianluca Curci for Inter Milan against Roma in the Coppa Italia final. That was the sort of bedazzling wonderment Roma thought they were getting when they signed the mercurial Brazilian in 2010.

However, Adriano (who actually finished his career netting more goals against Roma than any other club) proved more vulnerable than venerable in the Italian capital, unable to recapture his halcyon days for Parma and Inter, and leaving the Giallorossi after just seven months and zero goals. ‘The Emperor’ won’t be fretting too much though, as he has recently been announced as the next entrant to Brazilian football’s Walk of Fame, with his handprints set to be immortalised outside the Maracana.

Ashley Cole

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and well, I think you know where this is going. It’s an image burned into the retina of every football fan, meme enthusiast and probably, Cole himself. That hilarious squad photo of the England star lurking in the background remains his only meaningful contribution in Rome — but one we all appreciate.

Pep Guardiola

Part of Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ at Barcelona, Guardiola upped sticks as he entered the dotage years of his career, relocating to Italian football during the comedown of the ’90s and “Golaccio”, but his sojourn in Southern Europe proved short-lived.

First, Guardiola turned out for Brescia, succeeding elite tempo-setter Andrea Pirlo, before moving on to Roma, where he lasted just 198 days and once joked: “I know the bench of the Stadio Olimpico better than the pitch,” when he returned as manager with Barca for the Champions League final in 2009.


Roma’s fruitful scouting network produced a masterclass in bringing a teenage Marquinhos to the club from Corinthians in 2012, initially on loan. The Brazilian defender only played a handful of games for the club but his class was manifest for anyone who watched him play, including a Parisian scout. PSG happily couriered £27m to Rome for the then 19-year-old, just a month after splurging £55m on Edinson Cavani.

Lucas Digne

Everton’s buccaneering full-back moved to Roma on loan in 2015/16 after finding consistent playing time scarce at Paris Saint-Germain. The Frenchman took to Italian football like a duck to water and was instrumental as the club finished third in Serie A, forming a strong link with Salah at times, notably when they both played on the left in a 5-1 win over Carpi, and both scored.

Digne was such a success that he declared he “wanted to stay at Roma” and the club had an option to buy him from PSG, but his performances did not go unnoticed and the covetous crosshairs of Barcelona zeroed in on him, taking him to Camp Nou instead.

Thomas Vermaelen

Post-Arsenal it was all a bit downhill for Vermaelen, who sat on the periphery at Barcelona and endured an injury-hit spell at Roma during a season-long loan in 2016/17. The Belgian probably knew it wasn’t going to work out on his debut, in which he was sent off for two yellow cards after just 41 minutes.

Gabriel Heinze

Since the ‘Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year’ award’s inception in 1987/88, only four defenders have taken home the end-of-season gong, and one of those is Gabriel Heinze in 2004/05, becoming the first winner from outside Europe. So yeah, he’s a pretty big deal in Manchester. Rome? Not so much. The Argentine played for just one season under Luis Enrique in 2011/12, and then returned for a swansong at Newell’s Old Boys before the curtains came down.


Roma may come to regret this one. According to several reports Barcelona have agreed a deal to bring the Brazilian back to Europe this summer thanks to his scintillating performances for Flamengo, whom the 23-year-old joined after leaving Roma in 2019.

Initially signed from Fluminense, Gerson struggled to acclimatise to the technical pastures of Italian football despite a fruitful loan spell at Fiorentina, and moved to Flamengo as a result, where he famously helped Jorge Jesus’ side seal Copa Libertadores glory two years ago.


During his nascent years, Bojan was tipped for superstardom, the ‘next Lionel Messi’ Spanish press bellowed from the rooftops, but the tricky winger just couldn’t hit the consistent world-class heights expected of Catalonian first-teamers, and he sought to become the centrepiece at Roma instead.

Barca did have hopes for the Spaniard, though, as they included a buyback option, and after just one season in the Italian capital, the pint-sized forward left for AC Milan on loan, before returning to the Camp Nou; and then, ultimately, those cold, rainy nights in Stoke.

Zoltan Czibor

I implore you to not cast your minds back to this one, as Czibor turned out for Roma in 1956. Part of the historic success of Hungary’s esteemed ‘Mighty Magyars’, Czibor is best known for guiding the nation to the 1954 World Cup final, as well as starting in the 6-3 win over England, a.k.a. the ‘Match of the Century’.

At club level he is most remembered for navigating Barcelona to two Spanish top-flight titles, as well as the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup under compatriot Sandor Kocsis, but before that, he actually played a couple of unofficial games for Roma before the Spaniards pounced. Oh what could have been for the Giallorossi.