Roma and the Beautiful Game
Andrea Pirlo, Ricardo Quaresma, Jose Antonio Reyes and Rafael van der Vaart have more than just football in common. They may be highly regarded international players of Italy, Portugal, Spain and Holland respectively but they are also boasting Romani heritage.
Football and Roma are more often discussed together with reference to right-wing hooligans in Eastern Europe and their tirades against Roma communities. However, the Roma connection with football is something which should be celebrated and can act as an inspiration to many young Roma.
Modern Roma footballing talents have graced the greatest stadia in the world, from the Nou Camp in Barcelona to the San Siro in Milan and the above quartet were selected as, among current Romani players, they have had the most illustrious and successful careers.
Each player’s career to date will be profiled before we ask the big question: Who is the greatest Roma footballer of all time?
- ANDREA PIRLO
Born into a Sinti family in the town of Flero in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, Pirlo is widely regarded as the best deep lying playmaker of his generation. The Italian made his breakthrough as a teenager at Brescia before a lucrative move to big-spending Inter Milan in 1998. During this time, his progression at club level stalled but on the international scene his star was rising.
At the European under-21 Championships of 2000, Pirlo, who captained the young Italians, was not only top scorer but was also voted the best player of the tournament for which he received the Golden Player award.
However, at Inter he continued to find himself out of favour and was sold to their greatest rivals AC Milan in the summer of 2001. Inter’s loss was very much Milan’s gain as demonstrated below as he scores one of his legendary free-kicks in the Milan derby.
Pirlo became an integral midfield component of an excellent Milan team, winning the Champions League in his second season by beating fellow Italians Juventus in the final of 2003.
The following year, Milan won the Serie A title with the creative midfielder at the heart of their success.
Meanwhile in the Italian national team, Pirlo played an instrumental role in Italy’s remarkable victory in the 2006 World Cup. Having defeated hosts Germany in the semi-finals, Italy beat France on penalties in the final to lift the trophy and Pirlo was awarded the Bronze Ball after being voted the third best player at the tournament.
In 2007, Pirlo lifted the Champions League for a second time with Milan and represented Italy at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup before finishing his Milan career in 2011, fittingly ending a 10-year spell at the club by winning Serie A for the first time in seven years.
Now at the age of 32, Pirlo plays for Juventus where his experience and class is hoped to restore Italy’s most decorated club to former glories.
2. RAFAEL VAN DER VAART
Hailing from Heemskerk in the north of Holland, van der Vaart has survived a turbulent career to become one of the most prolific attacking midfielders in Europe. Born to a Spanish mother and Dutch father, van der Vaart grew up playing football in caravan parks across Holland.
He made his break at Ajax where he quickly became one of the most sought after midfield players in Europe. He had a knack for scoring spectacular goals, and plenty of them. During his time at Ajax he won the Johan Cruyff Prijs for the Dutch Football Talent of the Year before claiming two Dutch league titles in 2002 and 2004.
He followed this with a move to Hamburg in 2005 where his excellent form further raised his international profile and earned him a prosperous move to Spanish giants Real Madrid in the summer of 2008.
By this time van der Vaart had already represented Holland at the World Cup in 2006 and the European Championships in 2004 and 2008. In the World Cup 2010, he finished the final as the Dutch captain although they lost 1-0 to Spain in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The 28-year old Dutch Roma maestro is now playing for English club Tottenham Hotspur where he is a pivotal figure in their drive for domestic and European success.
3. JOSE ANTONIO REYES
Born to Spanish Kale parents in the Utrera district of south east Seville, Reyes has dazzled fans in both Spain and England with his lightning quick running and powerful shooting ability.
As a teenager, Reyes was a massive success in an ambitious Sevilla team, scoring 22 goals as a winger in 86 games before being sold to English club Arsenal in January 2004 at the age of 20.
The Kale youngster was so popular among Sevilla’s fans that the president decided it would be impossible to sell him to any other Spanish team, even though the likes of Real Madrid were very interested.
In England, Reyes was part of the invincible Arsenal team who won the Premier League in 2004 and followed this with the FA Cup in 2005.
After a year on loan at Real Madrid, Reyes signed for neighbors Atletico in 2007 and three years later lifted the Europa League after beating Fulham in the final in Hamburg.
At international level, Reyes has picked up an impressive 21 caps during a time in which Spain has had its most talented and successful squad of all time. Reyes’ greatest moment for Spain came in October 2003 when he scored twice in a 4-0 win against Armenia.
In the last month, Reyes has re-joined his boyhood club Sevilla and will hope to rekindle not only their fortunes but also his own with Euro 2012 approaching.
4. RICARDO QUARESMA
Flamboyant Portuguese attacker Quaresma was born in Lisbon and hails from a Romani family. It was in his native Lisbon where he made his first impressions on the football world, terrorizing defences with his trickery while playing for Sporting where he won the Primeira Liga in 2002.
Subsequently, Quaresma was signed by the mighty Barcelona where he spent one season before returning to Portugal to play for Porto. Here he would add another 3 Primeira Liga titles to his medal cabinet in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
The wonderful goal against Belgium in 2007 was the first of Quaresma’s international career which has so far seen the winger attain 31 caps. In Euro 2008, the precocious talent also scored a fine goal in a 3-1 win against Czech Republic in Geneva, Switzerland.
Spells at Inter and Chelsea followed before he was signed by Turkish club Besiktas in 2010. In Turkey, the highly skilled Quaresma has re-discovered his early career form and added a Turkish Cup winners medal to his growing collection in 2011.
These four modern talents have prospered in the World’s most popular game, showing audiences around the world exactly what a Roma sportsman can do. Here we have World champions, European Champions as well as English, Italian, Portuguese and Dutch champions.
These players let their feet do the talking, and in doing so were a thousand times louder than any extremist thugs stumbling and mumbling around the terraces.