Paulo Roberto Falcao was back in Rome on Tuesday for the presentation of a new documentary about him, Chiedi chi era Falcao, made by Roma Studio and produced by David Rossi. The legendary Brazilian was joined at the presentation by some of his team-mates from the 1982/83 scudetto-winning side including Bruno Conti and Ubaldo Righetti, as well as current coach Luciano Spalletti, general director Mauro Baldissoni and Guido Fienga, Head of Strategy & Media.
Fienga: Thank you to everyone for coming. I’ll try to keep this short, but I wanted to explain what led the Roma media team to create this film. Ideally this film will allow the team to enter the second phase of their project. This project began 3 years ago, a lot of money was invested in it and it has brought many results which are a great source of pride. We’ve been able not only to produce an in-house TV channel, an international magazine, a radio station – one of the most popular in the city – but have also achieved unimaginable results on social media. This project is helping us to make our club visible on a level that has exceeded our expectations. We’re trying to provide a service to our fans, which is about providing emotions and history as well as all the information necessary in order to feel as though you are part of the Romanisti community. In this second phase the people who work at Roma TV have been able to become producers, and have been able to involve journalists and – most importantly – supporters in their work. There are various productions that have former players of ours as their stars. We’ve been able to become a club that is truly able to produce its own content. I’d like to underline that. The aim is to transmit emotion and passion to our fans, wherever they are.
Baldissoni: To give some context to this production, the club are trying to collate as much information as possible about its past. This club’s history was forgotten about for a time, but without the past there’s no future. We have to hold onto our deep-rooted values, held by everyone who’s involved on a Sunday, whether they’re players on the pitch or fans in the stands. The link between the players and the fans is the essence of this club, regardless of what we win. The reward for all this effort is to have these sorts of great players alongside us once more. I was just a young fan when Paulo arrived. I had a poster of Zico above my bed, because just before Falcao arrived it seemed as though Zico would be signing instead. But then Falcao joined. I had a weak spot for him, so I put a poster of him up in my bedroom too. The team was getting better, and Falcao’s arrival and the ability he showed were a real statement of our intent to the very best players. Thank you, Paulo, for all the joy you gave me.
Falcao: So who’s poster do you have in your bedroom now? [Laughs] This is a truly special moment for me, thank you Ubaldo, Roberto, Bruno – my team-mates during many battles. Looking back at those times is special for me, because leaving Brazil is always very difficult – particularly when you’re the only foreigner in the team. I had a coach, Liedholm, who helped me a great deal. Bruno was more than a brother to me. We began to make Roma into a great side, it wasn’t easy to beat those top sides – not technically, but politically. But that team played great football and won the hearts of everyone. It’s all down to Dino Viola and his family, to Liedholm, an extraordinary person for everyone in the team including me. We had 20 players in the squad, so things became very difficult as soon as 1 or 2 players got injured. In 1981/82 we lost 3 games without me, Bruno and Pruzzo; it was hard, but they were different times. Because we all went through those difficulties together, it gave us solidity and gave us the base on which to build a great team. When I arrived, this team hadn’t won the league for 40 years, so it was a big challenge. The team I left, Internacional, had won everything – I needed motivation and I took the risk [to join Roma]. I found the team were already suited to me, I found a city that gave me the perfect conditions to play and to feel as though I were back in Brazil. I brought both my body and my head here – sometimes players leave their head back at home. This is a special moment for me, so I have to thank all of my friends who helped create this film.
Are you more struck by the affection you’ve received from fans who watched you play or those who never saw you at all?
It’s difficult, you can’t define love. What has always struck me is when I walk down the street and meet a 20 year old who gets so excited he starts trembling. That’s not normal. It’s different for someone who watched me play and win the scudetto, that’s practically normal. But these guys weren’t even born, there’s no explanation for it, and that recognition makes me very happy.
How did you instil a winning mentality into the team?
I think they already had a winning mentality, but it was always difficult playing against the northern teams, against Juventus, a strong and powerful team. I’ve always said that you never win or lose a game before it’s played. Bruno was like a Brazilian player, he had the technique of a South American. The team had the ability to do more, it was just a matter of getting the team from a 7 to a 9/10. We were able to build a team that was capable of winning, I think I made them realise that they were able to win games and that they could win the title.
How far have Roma come since 1980?
It’s hard to say, but certainly a long way. It’s a true club now, with a lot of resources. At the time we had 2 training pitches and then on Saturday we’d go to Tre Fontane. Today there’s a fantastic structure in place, and the club are capable of achieving great things. At the time we didn’t have everything you do now – victories were the result of what you did on the pitch, now what you do off it is very important as well. Roma don’t just think about the present now but also about the future. It’s exciting to see – Trigoria is different, but it still has the smell of victory.
35 years on, it’s still a contest between Roma and Juventus for the title. How do you feel about that?
Are they still hard to beat because of politics? They were a very strong team, they deserved to win because they were that good. Their current team are strong too, Juve know how to build a team. That’s why our title win was so extraordinary, it came against a great Juve team who had half of the Italy squad in their ranks – they weren’t easy to compete with. It was Roma’s great victory. When I mention politics, I’m really talking about Turone’s goal. It’s great that this rivalry still exists today, Roma are a great team and they should be aiming high. This includes having their own stadium, it’s important to have your own home. I don’t want to get involved in the debate, it wouldn’t be right for me to talk about something I don’t really know, but I know that it’s important for a club to have its own stadium. That would be the icing on the cake for them.
Is there a parallel between the style of your Roma team and the tiki-taka of Guardiola’s Barcelona?
It’s hard to compare them. Every team played with a man-marking system, Liedholm wanted to change this to a zonal system. In Brazil we played with zonal marking, maybe that’s why they bought me. I knew the system, and Liedholm brought the zonal system to Italy. Then Sacchi modernised the game completely, with high pressing as well as a zonal system, which we didn’t really do. Bruno and Agostino knew how to play with the ball, the coach worked hard on that with us – the important thing was to keep hold of possession. Everyone in our team played to the best of their ability in their position, and that all helped us to build a team that played well and was able to attack effectively. We built a team that played well, but we also won less than we should have won. What we did win and the memories that we gave our fans makes me very happy though.
Why didn’t you take the coaching job at Roma under Viola?
In 1991 I was the coach of the Brazil team. My accountant had prepared a 2 year contract for me, but then Viola died a week later. Unfortunately that was the reason I didn’t come back.
What have you made of the relationship between Totti and Spalletti?
Totti is an extraordinary player, he definitely deserved to win the Ballon d’Or. Spalletti is showing just how good a coach he is as well. They’re 2 intelligent people. This isn’t something that happens very often, but I can see that they’re getting on well – the important thing is that they recognise the importance of the situation and the impression I get is that they do. I hope Totti plays until he’s 50. I invited him to come and play for Sport Recife when things weren’t going quite so well, but then he stayed here and renewed his contract.
What’s it like watching Roma play without the Curva Sud?
It’s awful for me. The Curva Sud were always there for us, not just at the Olimpico but anywhere. They displayed the banner “La Roma non si discute, si ama” [“You don’t question Roma, you love Roma”], and they took this sentiment with them everywhere. I hope the problem is resolved soon and that they can return. I don’t know the details about the problems, but the team misses them. I hope that they can go back to the stadium.
People are constantly looking back at the legends of the past, is it difficult for new legends to emerge?
There are extraodinary players playing today too. Things change, there’s so much news and discussion now – people have huge amounts of information that they didn’t have in our day. All we were concerned about was training and playing. Today you can listen to an interview from anywhere in the world. Things have changed for better and for worse too, I don’t like the world of social media very much. Today’s players are different from the past as well – the highest paid player in our era earned as much as what a modern player earns in a week. Messi, Ronaldo, Iniesta, Totti – these are fantastic, great players.