Legends of Rome: Amedeo Amadei

We continue our Legends of Rome series on asroma.co.uk with a look back at Amedeo Amadei, ‘the little baker’ who led Roma to their first ever scudetto.

Legends_of_Rome-Amadei

Amadei played as a centre forward for Roma (and later Inter and Napoli), and terrorised defences of the time not only with his pace and ability to strike the ball with either foot but also with his excellent dribbling skills. His trick was to flick the ball one side of a defender and race round the other side of him to collect the ball again in the blink of an eye. Technically gifted, he was an expert free kick taker, and became a reliable and prolific goal scorer for Roma. Amadei held the club scoring record for around 40 years until Roberto Pruzzo passed his total of 111 goals (the 36 he scored during the wartime championships are not officially counted), and was an incredibly popular figure on and off the pitch. He is also one of just two players in Serie A history – the other being Silvio Piola – to score over 40 goals with three different teams.

Amadei was born in Frascati, just outside Rome, on 26th July, 1921 into a family that owned a bakery set up by Amadei’s grandfather, Agostino, in 1876. As a boy Amedeo worked as a cascherino, delivering bread on his bicycle to local shops to help out his family, and played football in his spare time for Frascati. His opportunity came when he saw a newspaper clipping that said Roma were offering youth trials, so he got on his bike to cycle to Rome, took part in the trial and then cycled back. When he got back home, his father was furious at his absence and Amadei had to come up with the excuse that he’d been on a trip delivering bread to the Castelli Romani and that he’d got a puncture. Meanwhile, Roma were keen to sign Amadei straight away, but his father didn’t support the idea of him becoming a footballer as he insisted that he needed his son to work at the bakery. Amadei wanted to play football though, and with the support of his sisters Adriana and Antonietta, who took on their brother’s workload, Amadei was able to go to Rome to play for the Giallorossi.

Because of his background, he was instantly nicknamed ‘er fornaretto’ (the little baker). He made his Roma debut at just 15 years old when he took Dante Di Benedetti’s place in the team and played against Fiorentina in a 2-2 draw on 2nd May, 1937. He still holds the record for the youngest ever player in Serie A, and he also broke Gino Colaussi’s record to become the league’s youngest ever goal scorer when he scored the following week in a 5-1 defeat to Lucchese. 78 years on, that record also still stands. After two seasons of making occasional appearances for Roma, Amadei was loaned out to Atalanta to gain experience in Serie B, away from the pressures of playing in the capital. His loan was a success as he scored four goals in 33 games, but the Bergamaschi missed out on promotion back to the top flight by a point. Atalanta in fact tried to sign Amadei permanently in the summer but Roma’s price of 125,000 lire was too high.

When Amadei returned to Roma, he found himself competing for a place in the first team with Francisco Provvidente, previously prolific at both Boca Juniors and Flamengo. However, Provvidente wasn’t popular with the Roma fans; he carried himself with a swagger, moved so slowly it bordered on lazy, and rarely found the net. In Alfred Schaffer’s first game in charge of Roma, a goalless draw with Genoa, Amadei crossed for Provvidente who somehow skied the ball over the crossbar from two yards out. Amadei’s impressive performances on the right wing, combined with Provvidente’s bluntness in front of goal, resulted in Schaffer moving Amadei into the centre. Schaffer’s side played a counter-attacking style with a diamond in midfield, with Amadei playing at the top of the diamond behind forwards Niem Krieziu and Miguel Angel Panto. Although many supporters and experts felt that Amadei wasn’t ready to play such a key part in the side, the move was a masterstroke. The role gave Amadei the freedom to make the most of his pace as well as provide more of a goal scoring threat, and he finished the 1940/41 season with 24 goals.

It was the 1941/42 season that would go down in Roma history as the Giallorossi won their first scudetto – becoming the first team south of Bologna to win the title – and Amadei was at the centre of the success. It was often ‘er fornaretto’ who scored the most important, decisive goals as Roma held off a Torino team already on the rise towards their prolonged period of greatness and a highly talented Venezia side, containing the likes of Valentino Mazzola and Ezio Loik. It was against Venezia that Amadei scored the decisive goal that won Roma the title and himself the nickname of the ‘eighth king of Rome’. Not just anyone was given such an honour; only Paulo Roberto Falcao and Francesco Totti were given the same title in subsequent years. Since Italy was already at war though, it was not an appropriate time for big celebrations in the capital and Roma’s title festivities were suitably understated and simple. Some have suggested that the title was gifted to Roma by Benito Mussolini, an accusation Amadei always took offence at and often responded by saying that Mussolini probably had bigger problems to deal with in 1942 than who should win Serie A.

Despite the Second World War, the Italian league continued into the 1942/43 season. Schaffer was replaced by Geza Kertesz, but the Giallorossi couldn’t build on their success of the previous year as they finished in 10th place. The season was notable for an infamous Coppa Italia semi-final game with Torino, during which the referee Pizziolo allowed a Torino goal that was clearly offside. The decision resulted in heated protests against Pizziolo and his assistants, during which the linesman Massironi was kicked. The game was abandoned as a result, and because it wasn’t clear who the culprit was, Amadei – as the captain – was given a ban for life as an example of ‘Fascist efficiency’. Vittorio Dagianti later owned up to Amadei and his team-mates as being the guilty party, and fortunately for Amadei the ban was overturned after the war. Up until that point, Amadei had not only never been sent off – he had never even been booked.

Serie A didn’t resume for the 1943/44 season due to the war, instead dissolving into a number of small regional leagues. Amadei remembered that Roma did everything they could to keep him playing football in the wartime championships at a time when many other players were recruited for service in the army due to their fitness. “There was the risk of going to Russia or to the front against the Americans. I remember they wanted to send me to Randazzo [on the Sicilian front], but Roma did everything to allow me to stay”. During the war, his family bakery in Frascati was bombed, and Amadei revealed that everything he was earning at Roma went towards rebuilding the bakery. The building was rebuilt and it still stands today in the Piazza del Mercato in Frascati – though the bakery itself has now moved up the road to Vermicino.

Roma were in a disastrous state after the Second World War and lacked the financial means to go back to being a team that was able to compete with the top clubs. They flirted with Serie B on a number of occasions, finishing two points above the relegation zone in 1946/47 and one point above it in 1947/48. It came to the point where, due to their financial problems, Roma were forced to sell Amadei. He nearly joined the Grande Torino side, but instead ‘er fornaretto’ joined Inter in 1948 after they made Roma a better offer. Amadei played for the Nerazzurri for two years (scoring 42 goals in 70 games) and then for Napoli, but he refused to play against Roma. “When I went to Inter and then to Napoli, I made things clear straight away – I wouldn’t play when we played Roma, even if it was a game that could be vital for the scudetto. It would be like asking me to punch my own mother”.

While Amadei was at Inter, he finally made his debut for Italy. Vittorio Pozzo had never taken Amadei into consideration, given the massive use he made of the Grande Torino team and the fact that Roma were a mid-table side at the time. However, Ferruccio Novo called him up for a friendly against Spain on 27th March, 1949 and Amadei repaid him with a goal on his debut. He then became a starter for the national team in tragic circumstances, as on 4th May, 1949, a plane carrying the Grande Torino side crashed into the hillside at Superga, killing all 31 people on board. Shortly afterwards Italy played Austria in Florence, and in a game full of emotion due to the circumstances Amadei again found the net for the Azzurri. He went on to make 13 appearances for Italy, scoring seven goals, and played at the 1950 World Cup in the 2-0 win against Paraguay. His last appearance came in a 3-0 defeat to Hungary on 17th May, 1953, aptly at the newly inaugurated Stadio dei Centomila and which later became known as the Stadio Olimpico.

His final season as a player came in 1955/56, and as Napoli were threatened with relegation Eraldo Monzeglio was sacked and Amadei was offered the position of player-coach by president Achille Lauro. He accepted the offer, and saved the Partenopei from dropping into Serie B. However Amadei was a humble, honest man and soon realised that the increasingly cutthroat world of football management wasn’t for him. He was replaced by Annibale Frossi for the 1959/60 season only to be brought back after some poor form early in the season. Napoli went down the following year, and after finding out that some of his colleagues had offered to take his job without his knowledge, Amadei left the club for good. For Amadei, football was about respect, integrity and honesty, and after a short spell in charge of Lucchese he gave up coaching entirely.

Despite his unsuccessful foray into the coaching world, Amadei remained an incredibly popular figure, particularly in Rome. A few years previously, after playing in a 1-1 draw for Italy against England in May 1952 (during which Amadei scored the Azzurri’s goal), the Christian Democratic Party convinced Amadei to present himself as a candidate in the Roman municipal council elections. The popular ‘fornaretto’ routed the polls, coming second with 18,000 votes, but he didn’t have much interest in politics and after finishing his playing career he returned to Frascati to work in his family’s business. He later became the president of Roma club Frascati in January 2009 and was an honorary member of the Unione Tifosi Romanisti before being voted into the club’s Hall of Fame in September 2012. Amadei died aged 92 in his home town of Frascati on 24th November, 2013.

Although he played for Inter and Napoli with great success, Amadei’s name will always be connected with Roma because of the affection and passion that he held for the team and its fans. He always remained proud of his Roma, still going to watch them play at the Olimpico into his late 80s, and above all proud of his Rome – he once broke off an interview held against the backdrop of the Eternal City and told the cameraman, “I’ll move out the way lad, put yourself here – no one sees how wonderful it is from here”. Amadei was a truly great footballer who, but for the Second World War and the rise of the Grande Torino side, could have won more honours with Roma and become an integral part of the Italian national side. Nonetheless, he still became the 12th highest goal scorer ever in Serie A and will always be remembered as the ‘eighth king of Rome’ who played a key part in helping Roma win their first ever scudetto. In the words of Totti, “It’s no coincidence he was voted into our Hall of Fame, he was one of the best players ever to wear the Giallorosso shirt and is an irreplaceable part of the history of the Giallorossi and of Italian football”.

Honours: Serie A (1941/42).

Legends of Rome graphic courtesy of forza27.com

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