Marco Delvecchio is wheeling away from goal. He’s just done what he would go on to be famed for. He has given Roma the lead in the derby. It is his second against the Biancocelesti. It’s a typical Marco Delvecchio goal, nothing spectacular but vitally important. But as he is mobbed by his teammates, he raises his hands to his ears. It is an act of defiance against his own fans.
The imposing striker was not born in Rome. He is originally from Milan and was brought through the Inter academy. Unsuccessful loans at Venezia and Udinese followed. He returned to the San Siro. By this time Roma were sniffing and would land the striker in the summer of 1995.
Delvecchio was far from unknown. He was a bright young forward, a member of the Azzurrini side that claimed back to back European under-21 titles, he was also part of the Italian Olympic side at Atlanta 1996. Yet coming into the latest derby, the Roma faithful were far from happy with the tall forward.
Gabriel Batistuta was the man they craved. Delvecchio was the fall guy. As neither a great goal scorer or a scorer of great goals, Delvecchio was an easy target. It was not his fault that Franco Sensi could not deliver the player of the fans’ dreams. But as the Roma fans would learn, he was a man who produced on the biggest stage.
Going into the first derby of the 1998/99 season, Zdenek Zeman’s men were under pressure. They were lagging behind early pacesetters Milan and Lazio, having won only half of their opening ten matches. Despite Delvecchio’s early goal, Lazio raced into a 3-1 lead with Roma having a man sent off. The vultures were circling.
A Eusebio Di Francesco effort halved the deficit before Delvecchio’s quick thinking played Francesco Totti through for the equaliser. Roma’s season had been saved. Delvecchio’s Roma career had been made.
After the match, the Roma ultras demanded a meeting with the forward. An agreement was made. The fans would not whistle Delvecchio and he would not provoke them with his celebration. The desire of Delvecchio to be loved by the Roma fans was clear.
Weeks later, Delvecchio made his international debut at the Stadio Olimpico against the FIFA world-stars. Later in the season he would score a double against Lazio in the reverse fixture. This time there was no animosity in his celebration, just pure joy as he ran in front of the Curva Sud. A derby hero had been born.
At the end of the season, Delvecchio finished with 18 goals, his best return for the Giallorossi and just three short of the in-demand Batistuta. The Argentine forward did not join in the summer but Fabio Capello did.
Chelsea were monitoring the situation. Delvecchio was close to leaving the Italian capital, Sensi had even agreed a fee with the English side. Yet he persuaded Capello that he would be instrumental in a push for the Scudetto.
Capello rejuvenated the Giallorossi, with Delvecchio now operating on the wing. His bursts of acceleration and link-up play with Vincenzo Montella and Totti proved to be deadly. This new attacking intent was evident in the first derby of the season.
After just seven minutes, a fine through ball from Cristiano Zanetti found Delvecchio, whose typically cool finish gave the Giallorossi the lead. The inform Lazio were in shock. By half-time it was 4-0. Delvecchio had added another after fine play from Totti. His celebration summed up the match; he was so shocked he did not what to do with himself. The joy just took over.
Capello tried to calm his players down at half time but to no avail. They lost the second half 1-0. It summed up their season in a nutshell, a mixed bag. In the return match, Lazio prevailed and would go to claim the big prize.
In the summer, Roma had to react. Batistuta finally arrived from Florence to much fanfare. It was the lift the other side of the city needed after watching their neighbours parade the Scudetto. It also proved to be a crucial summer for Delvecchio.
Having been selected as one of Dino Zoff’s 22-man squad, Delvecchio made little impact initially on Euro 2000. Yet in the final, to the surprise of most, he was favoured instead of Montella, Alessandro Del Piero and Filippo Inzaghi to lead the line. He did not disappoint.
Delvecchio scored the opening goal in the final after 55 minutes. Incredibly it was his first goal for Italy. The man for the big occasion had struck again. Italy though would concede two late goals to hand France the title. It was the worst moment of Delvecchio’s career, apart from his last game for Roma.
Despite Batistuta’s arrival, Delvecchio remained confident of holding his place in the Giallorossi side. But the most famous trio in Roma’s history would take centre stage. The incredible form of Totti, Montella and Batistuta would set the league alight. Delvecchio would have to make do with the bench. He would not score his first goal of the season until January.
Even so, Delvecchio would once again strike against Lazio. In late April, the derby took on even more significance. Roma were top with Lazio were seven points behind, still in with a shout but equally determined to ensure it was not Roma who took their crown.
Delvecchio started the game and made his impact. His lung bursting run and neat cross was tucked home by Batistuta moments after the second half begun. Delvecchio then expertly finished a long hopeful ball as he lunged forward. Despite Lazio coming back to draw the game 2-2, Delvecchio had stolen the show.
Roma would win the scudetto on the final day of the season at the Olimpico, with all three of the deadly trio scoring. Delvecchio could only look on. He had played a part in the Giallorossi’s third league title but only a small part. His Roma career would never again reach the heights of the previous two years.
Even though he lost his place in the starting XI, Delvecchio could always be counted on to find the net against Lazio. In the following campaign, he broke the deadlock in the first derby of the season in stunning fashion.
A long ball was played forward by Emerson. Delvecchio controlled it on his chest before taking on Alessandro Nesta. He turned the Lazio captain, who fell to the floor, before slotting past Angelo Peruzzi. It was a piece of individual brilliance. He saluted the Curva Sud with the same celebration he had done in 1998. This time there was smiles all round.
Delvecchio would add one more to his derby collection in 2002. He pounced on the rebound of Montella’s saved shot and finished high into the net as defenders rushed towards him. Once again, he rushed in front of the Curva Sud to lap up the applause of his adoring fans.
The signing of new forward John Carew was the final nail in the coffin for Delvecchio. He turned on Sensi, lamenting him and any critics who declared he had no place in the first team. There would only be one winner.
Sent out on loan to Brescia, Delvecchio would make five appearances without scoring. In the summer of 2005 he was let go on a free. A sad end to his time with the club. He made 300 appearances for the Giallorossi, scoring 83 goals.
A return to the Olimpico would follow with Ascoli. He scored with a neat finish. His instinct took over. He wheeled away in delight. But then he realised, he had not scored for his favourite club. In front of the Curva Sud, he apologetically raised his hands.
It would prove to be his last season in the professional game. A series of knee injuries cut his career short.
“Although I was born in Milan, Rome is my city. I am in love with it, the fans and the atmosphere. My future will be in Rome.” He said some years after retiring.
Even when he played for other sides, Delvecchio still felt like a Roma player. He was delighted when they won and disappointed when they did not. The connection with the fans lives on. He still attends games, often in the Curva Sud. He also hosts a sports radio show in the capital.
Not long ago, Roma published a list of his top 5 goals, and 3 of the 5 were against their city rivals. The link between Delvecchio and the fans was forged during those derby games. A man for the big occasion, it was no wonder he became a fan favourite.
In 2015, Totti overtook Delvecchio’s record of the most league goals in derby. He did so with a double, immortalised with his selfie celebration in front of the delirious curva cud. Delvecchio himself stated, “If someone had to beat my record, I’m glad it was him”.
Delvecchio was an unremarkable striker, with a remarkable record in the biggest games. His passion and raw emotion was infectious. He will always be remembered as tormenter of Lazio.
Words by Richard Hinman: @richardhinman