Legends of Rome: Giacomo Losi

We continue our legends of Rome series on asroma.co.uk with a look back at Giacomo Losi, ‘il Core de Roma’, who has made more appearances for the club than anyone apart from Francesco Totti and remains the only Roma captain to lift a European trophy.

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Right back, left back, centre back, libero – Losi played in every defensive position for Roma during his 15-year career with the Giallorossi, and became an icon loved by the fans for his competitive spirit and dedication to the shirt. He wasn’t the tallest, standing at 1.68m tall, but he was physically strong and very agile, if a little unorthodox in his movement, and was surprisingly effective in the air thanks to his anticipation and explosive leap. While he was strong and committed, Losi was also an incredibly honest and fair defender – he was only booked once in his entire career – and always respected his opponents. He is still the only Roma captain to lift a European trophy, winning the Fairs Cup in 1961, and by the time of his 451st and final game, he said that the Roma shirt was “like a second skin”.

Losi was born in Soncino, a small town halfway between Brescia and Bergamo, on 10th September, 1935. “My family was a poor one, my brother and I slept in the same room as my parents”, Losi remembers. In 1943, the year the Italians joined the Allies in the Second World War, soldiers came in the middle of the night to take Losi’s father away. “For nearly two years, we didn’t know what had happened to him, where he was, if he was even alive. Then one day he came back and we nearly didn’t recognise him. He’d run away from a workcamp in Czechoslovakia, next to a concentration camp. He never wanted to talk about that period”.

In his youth, Losi was a sporting prodigy; as well as football, he was a talented cyclist and also took part in the Soncinesi Olympics. “High jump, long jump, 100 metres, the marathon – which was actually running round the city walls twice, about 5km – I won them all”, he recalls. Football was where his real talent lay, and he initially started out as a forward with AC Soncino, scoring 17 goals in 12 games. He had a trial with Bologna and briefly played for Inter’s youth teams, winning the Torneo di Sanremo, before joining Cremonese. There he played in midfield and didn’t become a full back until Bodini – the coach’s son and first choice full back – got injured before a game with Brescia and Losi played in defence instead. The results were so good that the transformation was made permanent.

Playing in the lower divisions with Cremonese allowed Losi to gain experience and refine his technique, and in 1954 he came to the attention of Roma who paid 8 million lire for the 19 year old. It was a sizeable investment and at first Losi struggled – “I was a classic provincial boy sent to the big city”, he often said – but he was gradually integrated into the first team by Jesse Carver before being handed his debut against Inter on 20th March, 1955. Losi took Alberto Eliani’s place in the team that day and was a revelation as Roma won 3-0, marking Gino Armano out of the game and being congratulated by Inter’s Benito Lorenzi at full time. He would go on to play in seven of the final 10 games of the season.

Moving from the calm life of the province of Brescia to become a footballer in the intense and passionate city of Rome wasn’t an easy transition for Losi to make, but it didn’t take long for him to become an idol of the fans. The respect he gained was hard-won as he wasn’t a goalscorer or a midfield playmaker, but a defender. Losi stood out though thanks to his courage, combative spirit and strength as he battled for his team. At the time, Roma’s squad included the likes of Giancarlo De Sisti, Alcides Ghiggia and Dino Da Costa as they blended talented youngsters with more experienced players, but the Giallorossi usually finished in mid-table. Losi was a mainstay of the side though, playing – usually successfully – against the likes of Omar Sivori, Jose Altafini, Gunnar Nordahl, Jair and John Charles.

Early on in his career, Losi struck up a friendship with one of the greats of the game, perhaps the greatest of all time: Alfredo Di Stefano. Roma were playing a tournament in Venezuela in 1956 along with Real Madrid, Porto and Vasco da Gama. “We shared the same hotel as Real Madrid, and we were grating some parmesan that we’d brought from Italy on our pasta”, Losi says. “Di Stefano came over to the table and asked me, what are you putting on there? Some of our cheese, I replied, and he asked if he could taste it. “It’s fantastic, how can I get it in Madrid?” he asked. “Give me your address and I’ll send you some”. And I did, and from there on we were friends. [Losi takes out a newspaper clipping]. This was Spain-Italy, when Di Stefano and I were the captains. He was the best ever. Fortunately, I never had to mark him”.

Six years after making his debut, Losi achieved the biggest accomplishment of his career – winning the unconditional love and respect of the Roma supporters. It was 8th January, 1961, and Roma were 2-1 down at home to Sampdoria. Losi had actually picked up an injury, but substitutions weren’t allowed at the time so after having treatment he limped back onto the pitch and played on the right wing. Manfredini equalised, then with five minutes to go Roma won a corner underneath the Curva Sud. Francisco Lojacono swung the cross in, just evading Losi and going out for a corner on the opposite side. As Lojacono went past Losi to take it, he told him, “Take it like the one before, if you can”. “I’ll try”, Lojacono replied. It was identical, and this time, despite his injury, Losi somehow jumped to meet it to head the winning goal – his first for the club. From that moment on, the supporters called him ‘il Core de Roma’ (the heart of Roma).

Later that year, he became the first – and to date only – Roma captain to lift a European trophy. The route to the final was not uneventful, particularly for Losi himself. The second leg of the semi-final against Hibernian came 24 hours after he had played for Italy against Northern Ireland, and Losi only met up with his team-mates on the day of the game. The coach, Alfredo Foni, unexpectedly asked Losi if he was ready to play. The captain replied that, if his team-mates agreed, then he would. They all agreed, and Losi played. The match itself started badly as Hibs went 3-1 up, but Manfredini and Lojacono scored to make it 5-5 on aggregate. A few minutes before full time, Hibs nearly won it (there were no away goals at the time), but Losi made a vital block on the line to stop Roma from going out.

Losi won the coin toss to decide where the decisive playoff match would take place, and Roma duly won the decider 6-0 at the Olimpico to reach the final against Birmingham City. Roma came back from the first leg with a 2-2 draw, managing to keep the tie on level terms thanks to an excellent display from Fabio Cudicini (father of Carlo). Both teams were cautious in the second leg, but an own goal 10 minutes into the second half gave the Giallorossi the advantage before Paolo Pestrin sealed the victory two minutes from time. Losi was presented the trophy by FIFA president Stanley Rous and, as he himself recalls, he wouldn’t let anyone else near the trophy as he paraded it round the pitch at full time!

After featuring on the European stage, next came Losi’s place on the world stage as he played for Italy in his one and only World Cup in Chile in 1962. Losi had only made his debut for the Azzurri on 13th January, 1960 in a defeat to Spain, but the legendary Francisco Gento said of him that “I’ve never seen such a quick full back!” For someone who could run the 100m in under 11 seconds, it was high praise indeed. Losi had acquitted himself well on his national team debut up against the fearsome left flank of la Furia Roja, and his impressive performance made him into a regular under both Giuseppe Viani and Giovanni Ferrari. He was a pillar of the Italy defence up until the World Cup itself, and played in the 0-0 draw with West Germany and the 3-0 win over Switzerland, though was not involved in the infamous ‘Battle of Santiago’ against the hosts. The tournament marked the end of Losi’s short international career, as he was never selected by new coach Edmondo Fabbri. In all, he made 11 appearances, captaining Italy once in a 3-1 win against Belgium.

Nonetheless, Losi’s club career was still going strong and two years after the World Cup, Losi became the first Roma captain to lift the Coppa Italia. The Giallorossi beat Potenza, Napoli, Foggia and Atalanta to reach the semi-finals without conceding a goal, before beating Fiorentina on penalties to make it to the final against Torino. However because the previous rounds of the cup had been delayed, a problem arose when the final – played in September 1964 – finished goalless and had to go to a replay. UEFA needed teams to be registered for the Cup Winners’ Cup, but no one had won the Coppa Italia yet. The Italian FA decided to designate Torino as they had finished higher in the league and were expected to win the cup. The replay was played in Turin to try to ensure that the Granata would lift the trophy, but a late goal by Bruno Nicole was enough for Roma and Losi to carry the cup back to the capital.

All wasn’t well at Roma under president Francesco Marini-Dettina though as the club were suffering a serious financial crisis in the 1960s. It reached the point where Roma weren’t even able to put together the funds to travel to an away game at Vicenza, so coach Juan Carlos Lorenzo had to organise a whip round at the Teatro Sistina to collect donations from the fans. Losi volunteered himself to be one of those to collect the donations, and he described having to go around the theatre with a bucket to receive the fans’ donations as one of his darkest moments. However it was typical of his generosity of spirit and commitment to the club that he did. Losi gave his all on and off the pitch for Roma, and loved the fans as much as they loved him.

After being such a loyal servant to the club as well as a gentleman on and off the pitch, Losi’s Roma career should never have ended as it did. In 1968, Helenio Herrera was appointed as Roma’s new coach and, unexpectedly, he chose to sideline Losi from the team. ‘Il Core de Roma’ spent most of the year on the sidelines for reasons that had little to do with football, but was mainly down to the fact that Herrera was jealous of Losi’s popularity and that the captain’s personality would overshadow his own. “We went to fan clubs and they asked for my autograph before his”, Losi recalls.

Herrera’s animosity towards Losi was summed up when he said he didn’t want the captain at the celebrations after Roma had won the 1968/69 Coppa Italia, even though Losi had played in several of the earlier games. President Alvaro Marchini called Losi and said that he would arrange for another celebration to present him with his winner’s medal and then organise a testimonial game. He is still waiting for that game. Instead, the club let him go on a free transfer – but none of the directors had the courage to tell the player themselves, leaving the message to be carried to Losi by a subordinate. Losi became a coach after retiring before settling down in Rome, where he set up a football academy affiliated with Roma called Valle Aurelia ’87 and scouted local players for the club.

Losi was a small but great captain, who led Roma with decisive and strong performances on the pitch. Despite being from the north, he bled Giallorosso. In the words of Antonello Venditti, “Non è Romano chi a Roma a nasce ma chi da Romano agisce” – “A Roman isn’t someone who was born in Rome but who behaves as a Roman”. Losi is not only an adopted Roman, still remembered with affection by the Curva Sud who displayed him in their choreography in the derby earlier this season, but he will also always be the true ‘Core de Roma’.

Honours: Fairs Cup (1960/61), Coppa Italia (1963/64, 1968/69).

Legends of Rome graphics courtesy of forza27.com

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