Gregoire Defrel has revealed the secret of Roma’s fairytale Champions League heroics against Barcelona: Al Pacino’s iconic team talk in the movie “Any Given Sunday.”
In the film about an American football team, Pacino — as coach Tony D’Amato — urges his team to “climb out of hell one inch at a time” ahead of a game that ends in typical Hollywood fashion.
Even scriptwriters would have struggled to imagine the scenario Roma wrote for themselves in the Stadio Olimpico as they stunned Barca by reversing their 4-1 first-leg deficit with a 3-0 win that took them through to the semifinals on away goals.
Defrel told RMC the comeback had been inspired by coach Eusebio Di Francesco — and his use of classic Pacino.
“The coach was good tactically,” Defrel said. “We changed [from the first leg] and went 3-4-3. He asked us to be aggressive. He also gave a good team talk before the game and he showed us a video to fire us right up, and I think it worked. He showed us Al Pacino’s team talk, which lasts four minutes, and we all watched that on the bus. He put it on in English and in Italian.
“There were also words from [Daniele] De Rossi and [Aleksandar] Kolarov. We felt there was something and you could see that on the pitch.”
Roma looked highly unlikely to go through to the semifinals for the first time since 1984, but Edin Dzeko’s early goal ignited hopes with De Rossi’s second-half penalty putting the tie in the balance.
Kostas Manolas’ header eight minutes from time clinched the win and sparked celebrations around the city.
“It was incredible,” Defrel said. “Few people believed we could do it. Amongst ourselves, we believed in it a bit, but not too much. We wanted to put in a good performance. But our coach told us to always believe we could do it.
“There was [grit and determination] in the dressing room before the game. You could feel that we were going to play well. The whole team showed that on the pitch.”
Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco says the Giallorossi must “continue to dream” after they earned a place in the Champions League semifinals on the biggest night of his coaching career so far.
Di Francesco was surrounded by a crowd of fans at training the morning after his side’s historic win. The former Sassuolo coach, who made history by leading the Emilia-Romagna club into last season’s Europa League, took the plaudits for a tactical masterclass, but he said he has had to fight back from plenty of setbacks before, not least when Sassuolo fired him only to reappoint him the year before they marched into Europe.
“I’m very happy, it’s very satisfying to see all this,” he told Sky Sport. “What we’ve done for Italian football is great and we continue to dream.”
When asked about his own contribution to Tuesday night’s victory, Di Francesco said that he is and always has been a fighter.
“I’ve taken plenty of hits but I’ve always responded,” he said, also responding to criticism following the defeat in the first leg and a loss to Fiorentina in Serie A last weekend which saw them fall behind city rivals Lazio in the standings ahead of this weekend’s derby.
Ian is ESPN’s French football correspondent. Twitter: @ian_holyman