He is one of those who features on the Wall of Legends. The 23rd-most capped player in the history of the Club, with 249 games played, Flavio Roma had a fundamental role in the success of AS Monaco in the early 2000s in the team that won the Coupe de la Ligue in 2003 and then had an epic Champions League run the following year.
His love for the Club
Returning in 2012 to end his career there two seasons later, it was a real love story that was tied between the Club and him. On a day when he celebrates his 49th birthday, the former fortress of the Rock agreed to take a little time during his vacation to answer our questions, all with great kindness and in always impeccable French.
Hello Flavio. Can you give us a bit of news. What are you doing right now ?
I have just finished the season with AC Milan where I am the goalkeeping coach. So I have stayed in the world of football since before, I was in the training center of AS Monaco. I then stopped and had the opportunity to sign for the Italian club at the request of Paulo Maldini last summer. It was a great season where we were in the semi-finals of the Champions League. I also train a fantastic goalkeeper, in Mike Maignan. It’s a great experience.
Tell us about joining the club in 2001. I believe it was Didier Deschamps who convinced you to join…
Before joining, I played in Italy and I was contacted by the Club and Didier Deschamps. But at the time, it was not necessarily an obvious choice to leave Italy to join France. Didier then convinced me by saying to me “come join us, your integration will be easy, we will create a great team”. I then had the chance to meet Antonio Pintus, our physical trainer, who is also Italian. My integration was therefore easier, and especially since Didier spoke Italian.
You joined a squad that was young and which developed to win a title in the Coupe de la Ligue. What memories do you have of these first two seasons?
We can say that the first season was really difficult on all sides because we were a large squad and a lot of players couldn’t find their place. From memory, I think we were 30 players, it was not easy, and we finished the seaason in 15th place. Also, I broke my shoulder in January 2002.
I had a major operation and I missed the whole end of the season and the start of the next one before my return in September. I regained my starting position and we had a superb season where we finished second, and which also ended with this title in the Coupe de la Ligue. In fact, as soon as Didier had the opportunity to build his team and develop it, we really took off.
Looking at this final, what memory do you keep?
It was our first final but I experienced it “easily”. We had a young and slightly wild group. It was already obvious that they were good players. So I experienced it in a good frame of mind. I have very good memories with the players, the staff and the President Jean-Louis Campora. We had a great final and everything about the victory still remains a good memory today. It must be said that having won it definitely helps.
And then the following year, you had this epic run in the Champions League, when no one could have imagined that at the start of the season…
It is certain that no one could imagine that we would go to the final, even if within the squad, we were not there only to participate. We already wanted to go through the goal then afterwards, in quarters and half, we played against superb teams. Winning was really something special.
As I said before, we had a zany and strong squad, that’s what helped us in these matches. In fact, we never felt inferior against the big teams. We said to ourselves “Come on guys, we can do it, we have the qualities for it. It will be difficult but we try.” We never left with the idea of not conceding three or four goals. We were always positive, from the staff to the players.
Was there a click where you said to yourself “there, we can do something crazy”?
After the group stage which was already difficult against good teams, we found ourselves facing Lokomotiv Moscow. It was not Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United and we told ourselves that against them, there is a way to pass. We then faced Real Madrid and we say to ourselves that we had to try. I don’t think there was a particular key since we always played the matches without fear and without telling ourselves that we had lost in advance. It was something that clearly helped us.
From this run, which match do you remember in particular?
I’m obviously thinking of the matches against Real and Chelsea because those were the best matches we’ve played, in cities like Madrid or London. We played two superb teams, especially Real who had fantastic players. I also remember the final because it was the final (laughs). Unfortunately, the result was not there for us that day.
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You were one of the older players in that locker room. Was your role to bring experience and give advice to the younger ones?
Yes because I had already played several seasons in Italy. But at the beginning, this was not necessarily the case because being a foreigner, I did not necessarily speak French. I was not someone who spoke a lot and spoke with the other players. On the other hand, I was mainly trying to set an example to follow on the pitch, whether in matches or in training. On the other hand, when I had to say something, I said it.
Who were the players in the locker room who did not hesitate to raise their voices?
There were a lot. I am thinking in particular of Ludo (Giuly) who had already been at the Club for several seasons, and who therefore knew how things were. There was also Lucas Bernardi and Edouard Cissé. The French players, who were young like Julien Rodriguez or Sébastien Squillaci, didn’t talk too much but had personality. We can also add Fernando Morientes or Andreas Zikos. To sum things up, we were a good squad that talked to each other and didn’t let things go. We would discuss everything.
And at the end of the day, that’s what forged success for this group.
Yes, as a squad we were together and we were ambitious. There were players like Fernando Morientes, Andreas Zikos, Ludovic Giuly…, who had already played at a high level, and wanted to remain so, while those who were not there yet had the will to reach it, players like Jérôme Rothen, Patrice Evra or Sébastien Squillaci for example. This is what made the strength of this group which was also mentally strong.
How do you feel when you think about the fact that you have played 249 games with AS Monaco?
I’m happy to tell myself that I had the chance to play almost 250 games with AS Monaco. It was the same when I was able to return to the Club to finish my career there because I had spent eight seasons before, between 2001 and 2009. Finishing here was something very important for me since I almost spent half of my career and I had the chance to win something with the Coupe de la Ligue.
Besides, I still had friends in the locker room. It was therefore essential to come back, even if the Club was in Ligue 2 at the time. We then had the joy of moving up to Ligue 1 and qualifying for the Champions League the following year. Then I left since age was not helping me at that time (laughs). I really remember only positive things at AS Monaco.
You then receive a vibrant tribute at the end of the season in 2014. I imagine that marked you?
I obviously have good memories and a lot of emotions. Coach Ranieri allowed me to play. In my mind, the match itself took second place. What came to mind at that moment was telling myself that this was the last time I would be here, on a pitch, with the guys. I was just thinking about that. I was also happy to see the players from Bordeaux coming to greet me and congratulate me with respect. Then there was the party with the supporters and inside the Club. It was a beautiful evening but inevitably difficult in terms of emotion.
Which players impressed you the most?
I think first of Ludo, because when I arrived, I did not know him since I came from Italy. There was also Patrice Evra, Lucas Bernardi, Shabani Nonda and of course Fernando Morientes. But the one who surprised us all was Hugo Ibarra. Admittedly, he was already established in Argentina and had won trophies there, but he was quite a surprise. He was a great player and he helped us a lot. We had the two strongest full-backs in the championship with Patrice Evra and him.
And Fernando Morientes, how was he?
When Nando came to us, he was already a champion. He had won everything: the Spanish league, the Copa de Rey, and the Champions League with Real Madrid. We obviously had respect for him. But of course, he too, in training, was something. He was almost stronger mentally than physically. It was really an area where he was impressive.
Tough question now, what would be your all-time XI that you played with?
It’s difficult because I have rubbed shoulders with great players in my career at AS Monaco. When I arrived, there was, for example, Marco Simone. So I would put him in attack alongside Shabani Nonda. As wingers, I would place Jérôme Rothen and Ludovic Giuly.
In midfield, Lucas Bernardi and Andreas Zikos. But there are also Diego Perez and Edouard Cissé. In fact, they all had different profiles that managed to play well together, that was our strength. On the flanks, Patrice Evra and Hugo Ibarra. And in central defense, Toto Squillaci and Gaël Givet formed a really strong pair.
Finally, a word for the Monegasque supporters who always keep you in their hearts?
I was surprised because when I retired, the Club gave me a book with all the messages fans had sent them before I retired. It was huge, there were thousands of them. It was a real surprise because I would not have thought there was so much love towards me, even if I felt it at the stadium. But for once, it was something concrete and I still have it with me. It was a beautiful proof of love from people who got attached to me, it was really incredible!