After scraping to victory over Sampdoria in 2016, then-Roma coach Luciano Spalletti uttered the immortal words: ‘Uomini forti, destini forti, uomini deboli, destini deboli. Non c’è altra strada.’
This scathing criticism of his players and their lack of character on the pitch translates as: ‘Strong men, strong destinies, weak men, weak destinies. There is no other way.’ It sounds better in Italian, honest.
Spalletti had clearly not anticipated the historic success that the Stadio Olimpico would witness only three years later. A team which had recently reached the heights of the Champions League semi-finals, that had come from three goals down to humble European greats Barcelona, was about to enjoy its first taste of title success since winning the Coppa Italia in 2008.
On 11 August 2019, Roma found themselves in a final. A major final. it had to be a major final after all, given the calibre of their opponents. Making the trip from one capital city to another, Real Madrid arrived in Italy with one objective, and one objective only: Operation Mabel Green Cup.
For those of you who may not have ever heard of the Mabel Green Cup, two things. One: where have you been, and do you even like football? Two: the Mabel Green Cup was a competition organised by Mabel Sports, hoping ‘to raise awareness and promote interest in sustainability, and the protection and longevity of the planet,’ according to the AS Roma website.
But we all know there was much more at stake than that. The prize? Well, only the most glorious and coveted trophy in world football.
A bonsai tree. That’s right. Roma and Real Madrid competed for a plant in August 2019, and the pictures were truly something. In fairness, it was a pretty hefty tree.
And as with all cup finals, both teams were desperate for success from the off. Roma hit the bar early on, but it was the visitors who opened the scoring, when Marcelo cut in and buried a right-footed effort into the far corner.
Diego Perotti equalised for Roma, before Casemiro pencilled Madrid’s name onto the plant pot with a lovely header. Edin Dzeko restored parity once again though, scoring one of the most important goals of his career to level the scores.
The game eventually went to penalties, and with Roma ahead 7-6 in the shootout, Marcelo – the hero earlier – rattled the crossbar to condemn Madrid to defeat, and the Stadio Olimpico erupted to the sound of thousands of Romans celebrating a famous victory.
And of course, as with all cup finals, Roma raised their trophy aloft for the world to stew in envy.
And of course, the players took it very seriously and struggled to see the funny side whatsoever in earning this prestigious award.
Wonder who had the pain of taking it home and watering it every day?