I Am Doni

When the game between Roma and Bari resumed after the half time break, there was one notable change to the team that ended the first half: Doni replaced the injured Lobont (himself a distant second choice). He was booed and whistled, which proceeded every time he touched the ball. His crime? He had sort of a bad game seven months ago. Welcome to the downside of Rome's warm footballing climate.

It wasn't always this way, of course. For many years Doni had been the much appreciated starting goalkeeper for a Roma team enjoying one of its best periods of all time. Scudetto challenges were mixed in with advances into the European continent. Hanging horizontally up in the top corner clutching away shots from the jaws of almost certain goals were mixed in with attempts to re-define cool as he dribbled around Wayne Rooney 25 meters outside of his own goal in a Champions League quarter final. Or twice, as he did the same exact thing two years in a row. (Video: the more conservative display of cool, only fifteen meters out) Doni played brilliantly for Roma during the years of success under Luciano Spalletti, before things fell apart during the coach's last season in charge. Roma finished the season in sixth place, virtually no player able to live up to the standards they set themselves for three years prior. Yet only Doni was vilified. He was likely the least deserving candidate. Having played through injury for more than a year, he could go on no further after Roma's Champions League defeat to Arsenal on penalties, and was operated. In the wake of his surgery, information started seeping out from the medics that made it seem a feat of almost superhuman fortitude that he'd been playing for as long as he had with his hip injury. It placed what was perceived as goalkeeping mistakes in an entirely new light, his mobility drastically reduced for months on end. But it was too late: Doni was a liability, a calamity. He cost Roma the season!

When the 2009 season began, he was still recuperating. His old friend Julio Sergio, brought to Roma specifically on Doni's recommendation, was given a run in his place and immediately impressed. Julio Sergio earned the position on merit, and no other goalkeeper did better than him in the entire league during last season. This is fair: these are the breaks, and to Doni's credit he seems to accept the outcome with stoic calm rather than a sense of entitlement. Still, he's a villain in the story of AS Roma. This outcry against him seems to stem from mostly two nights: the one on which Roma lost on penalties to Arsenal in March of 2009, and the one on which Roma were beaten by Panathinaikos almost a year later. The old adage of goalkeepers having nothing to lose, and everything to win during penalty shootouts? Not in Rome. Despite saving the first penalty, Doni was made to be the scape goat against Arsenal due to the entirely populist stance that him always diving to the same corner was an unforgivable act of treason. Some goalkeepers remain on the line as long as possible, trying to get a read on the penalty taker; some goalkeepers decide early and get the head start in order to stand a chance of taking even a well hit penalty. There is no right or wrong, it's just a matter of preferences. Against Panathinaikos he was re-instated in goal, and let in three goals in both ties. Two, perhaps, can objectively be said to have been his responsibility to save. The rest were penalties, one-on-one situations with attackers, unstoppable headers in the top corner. He was doomed, then and there.

The same night as the defeat to Panathinaikos, Francesco Totti published on his blog an open letter of support for Doni. "The real value of this team has for years been the group, a togetherness of players and exceptional men." The letter went on: "I wish to stand close to my team mate, because one can't forget the merits of the player who has been one of the real protagonists of our many victories. It is too easy to be supportive when we're winning, we need to assume our own responsibilities and be close to people in their moments of difficulty". It was very much befitting a captain. Last night Daniele De Rossi commandeered the microphones belonging to journalists hoping to hear some joyous reflections on the win against Milan. They did not. Instead, De Rossi was livid and contemptuous at the same time as he rallied against all those who have been critical of Doni in the past. "Besides Buffon, Doni is the best goalkeeper I have ever known", he said, "and has been playing injured, and everyone knows it. He has had to pay for those who go on the radio shows blasting him, with their attempts to scorch the earth by saying he creates problem in the locker room. It isn't true."

I'm enjoying this display of solidarity as much as I am the three points against Milan. It justifies all the wasted hours watching this team, it serves as a good (and seasonly appropriate) reminder why these players make my heart flutter.