For much of the past 12 months, while Roma have clearly rattled Feyenoord, feelings have been brewing in the opposite direction too, with the incessant complaining by the Dutch side and their supporters getting on Giallorossi nerves.
When Roma lifted the Europa Conference League trophy in May 2022, they could celebrate the long-awaited end of their trophy drought. What they might not have expected at the time is for how long the team they beat in the final would grumble about how they should have won instead.
Feyenoord manager Arne Slot, despite his burgeoning reputation as a coach, could certainly have used some lessons in humility throughout the months in which he insisted several times that his team were better on that occasion, and that Roma – who had three shots on target in Tirana – apparently only had one chance. Worse still, over time he unnecessarily took aim at Roma’s playing style in comparison to other clubs irrelevant to the argument.
Thus, when Roma and Feyenoord were given a chance to settle their grievances in the following season’s Europa League quarter-final, there was much anticipation. Passions would be running high as the Dutch side sought revenge and Roma set out to remind them who is boss.
The first leg in the Netherlands ended 1-0 to Feyenoord, but their win was not as convincing as their comments in the build-up suggested it should have been. In fact, they had fewer shots on target in that match than Roma did in the Conference League final.
Therefore, Roma could always have confidence approaching the second leg, in front of their home crowd of more than 66,000 spectators. The motivation could well have been there to brush Feyenoord aside in a show of superiority, but it would have been equally satisfying to edge past them again and leave them in a similar mood to before.
Ultimately, the second leg was a rollercoaster ride that threw up elements of both. Roma started strongly before the game soon descended into a physical scrap, with elements of gamesmanship seen from both sides.
Leonardo Spinazzola’s opener allowed a collective sigh of relief from Stadio Olimpico, but when Igor Paixao equalised for Feyenoord – thus restoring their aggregate advantage – with 10 minutes to go, showing just how different Roma can be with and without Chris Smalling, who had recently been withdrawn due to injury, the anxiety in the atmosphere returned.
Briefly. Thankfully for Roma, a moment of magic finished off by Paulo Dybala, after a Lorenzo Pellegrini assist, took the tie to extra time with a minute to spare. From that moment on, with all the experience of Jose Mourinho on the touchline, was the outcome ever going to be in doubt?
Stephan El Shaarawy and Pellegrini – continuing his renaissance following his penalty miss in the first leg – scored in the additional 30 minutes to send Feyenoord packing and spark celebrations of a third consecutive European semi-final for Roma. Towards the end of extra time, they looked imperious – as typified by beloved rascal Gianluca Mancini barely flinching at being on the receiving end of a studs-to-the-knee challenge that earned Feyenoord forward Santiago Gimenez (who was earlier involved in the altercation that saw Roma assistant coach Salvatore Foti sent off) a red card.
Roma had risen above Feyenoord by this point. Some of the goals were fluid examples of team moves, particularly the one finished off by El Shaarawy after passes from Pellegrini and Tammy Abraham. It was perhaps how Slot wanted his side to be beaten in the first place. Either way, their fate was the same.
Finally, the Feyenoord boss had to reassess his opinions after the full-time whistle. “They have to be paid a big compliment for the attitude they showed tonight,” he said of Roma, the team who have got under his skin for the past 11 months. In his own post-match interviews, though, Mourinho was not willing to forget how his opposite number had “disrespected” Roma for months on end. He even reportedly chased him down the tunnel to have the last laugh after Slot refused to shake his hand.Embed from Getty Images
If Slot had been trying to get into mind games ahead of this tie, it backfired completely. One man you do not mess with in that regard is Jose Mourinho, the master of it all. The Special One’s celebrations on the touchline just before the final whistle represented a man in absolute awe-striking control of his crowd, generating a hyper-charged sense of belief in their team. A team to increasingly be proud of – but one that is not set back by the same sense of hubris that perhaps weighed down their Dutch visitors.
Feyenoord may well go on to win the Eredivisie title this season, which would be a commendable achievement by them, while Slot seems likely to earn a bigger job at some stage. But in the European arena, Roma are coming into their own – and although it took some doing still, the Rotterdam outfit have been no match for them.
Those 120 minutes of football in Rome may well go on to be remembered as being among the highlights of Mourinho’s time in charge of La Magica when all is said and done. But it cannot stop here.
Now, it is finally time to put the Feyenoord feud to bed and move on. Roma have some exciting weeks ahead as they prepare for the semi-finals against Bayer Leverkusen, who should be an even trickier obstacle to overcome. The final would be against either Juventus or Sevilla, serving up further grudges either way. But can Mourinho go all the way in Europe again? What a story it would be if he could.
For now, Roma can recharge after silencing the side that for far too long thought they were better than them (and probably received more attention than admittedly required in return). It has been a turbulent, sometimes comical yet sometimes exhausting sub-plot of the past 12 months, but a fitting finale has now been delivered.
Now, as always, the answer is clear. La Roma sì e il Feye no.