Francesco Graziani makes a most charismatic entrance, with apologies for his late arrival, blaming the Italian traffic and in search of a phone number for Bruce Grobbelaar.
‘Do you have one?’ he asks. He seems to be serious. No-one does. ‘We must try to find one. He must come back to Rome, back to the Olympic Stadium, in front of the fans and we will take the penalty again.’
Graziani perhaps fancies his chances. At 65, he looks as lean and strong as the day he was suckered by Grobbelaar’s ‘spaghetti legs’ in the first European Cup final decided by a penalty shoot-out.
Francesco Graziani still looks lean and strong as he talks to Sportsmail about that penalty
And at ease with his unfortunate role as the fall guy on the biggest day in the history of Roma, the team he supported as a boy and which rejected him at 14.
By the time they signed him at the age of 30, he was a world champion who had been plundering goals for a decade with Torino and Fiorentina.
‘I didn’t care how much they were paying me,’ said Graziani but the pinnacle of their time together, the club’s only appearance in a European Cup final was destined to end with bitter disappointment and a tragic postscript.
‘I wish I didn’t have to think about it but people remind me. The final result was so bad and it wasn’t just me who missed a penalty but people mainly remember me.
‘When you take the responsibility and then you make a mistake you feel like you have broken the dreams of the supporters, your team-mates, everyone.
‘I would have loved this accolade as European champion, and what makes me sadder is knowing it was taken away from the club and the supporters.
‘There are fantastic memories from that day, building up to the final, walking into the stadium filled by the colours of the giallorossi and only a tiny section dedicated to Liverpool supporters. We thought we had a little advantage.
‘The hardest part was back into the dressing room. We felt alone and empty, a lot of sadness and unfortunately that’s the clearest memory, the deep sadness back in the dressing room.’
He was suckered by Bruce Grobbelaar’s ‘spaghetti legs’ in the first European Cup final decided by a penalty shoot-out
The penalty shoot-out record from the 1984 European Cup final – won by Liverpool.
Phil Neal gave Liverpool an early lead and Roberto Pruzzo equalised before half-time but the teams were inseparable through the second half and extra-time.
Steve Nicol and Conti both fired over in the penalty shoot-out before Graziani stepped forward to find Grobbelaar fooling with his wobbly legs routine on the goal line.
‘Like a clown,’ said Graziani. ‘That’s what we say, in Italy. Trying to make me lose focus. I understand why he did it. Some people say he was taking the mickey, goofing around like that but I’ve never thought that. I don’t have a negative memory of him.
‘The only thing that annoyed me was the photographers, right behind the net.
‘You take the ball and put it on the spot and you’re thinking: Where am I going to put this? And then the flash of the photographers. We complained about it afterwards and they are not allowed to stand there anymore.’
Graziani’s strike was firm and beat Grobbelaar who dived away but the ball struck the bar and skidded over. Alan Kennedy stepped up to win Liverpool’s fourth European title.
The fifth followed, in Istanbul, 21 years later but Roma have not been close since and the night has gone down as one of sorrow.
‘We remember it as a very bad episode in the history of Roma,’ said Graziani. ‘So, when they beat Barcelona to reach the semi-finals, we all wanted to play Liverpool.
‘There were two reasons. One was to avoid Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, and the other because Roma can take its revenge.’
Graziani blazes the vital penalty over the bar, to hand the European Cup to Liverpool in 1984
Cavatelli all’amatriciana is served in honour of Graziani’s Roman roots (not spaghetti in honour of Grobbelaar’s legs) while the man himself skips a pasta course and opts for salmon and vegetables.
In two hours, he will be live on air for his late-night talk show on Mediaset.
Graziani, known as ‘Ciccio’ is one of Italy’s most popular pundits, a boisterous showman in contrast to the selflessness which characterised a glittering playing career.
‘Normally, I wear colourful glasses but I wanted to be more serious today,’ he explains.
His designer outfit is Toad of Toad Hall meets the Untouchables and a sartorial upgrade on the time he mimicked Dani Alves by appearing in a tangerine blazer and a bow tie.
‘Dani, I said, call me next time because you need help, you can’t get dressed properly,’ said Graziani, with his charming knack for disarming the megastars of modern football.
‘I would love to play today. Not for the earnings but everything else. Players are more athletic and the game is faster.
‘We wore woollen shirts. If it was raining it was so heavy I needed help to take it off. I could jump high but with lighter clothing and modern kit and boots and a stronger body, how high could I jump?
‘I mess about on TV with the players and tell them I would score 35 goals a year because the defenders are far worse than before. They don’t mark you. You can just wait for mistakes. Markers used to follow you to the end of the world.’
Graziani came in designer outfit which was like Toad of Toad Hall meets the Untouchables
It leads him to the brutal brilliance of Daniel Passarella, a centre-half, a team-mate at Fiorentina.
Graziani would warn opponents not to antagonise the Argentine, having once seen him attack a physio who dared to squirt water at him.
As the teams left the pitch down a set of steps at Verona, Passarella unleashed an elbow which broke the physio’s nose and smashed teeth, sparking a riot in the tunnel.
‘We left the stadium seven hours later,’ said Graziani. ‘We were locked in the dressing room with the police. When they let us out we were escorted all the way to Bologna.
‘If you respected him, he respected you but if you insulted him or offended his mother or father it was the end of the world. He would go nuts. But he was a great defender.’
Graziani is trembling with emotion as he charges the glasses with red wine and drinks to Agostino di Batolomei, his friend, room-mate and the captain of Roma in 1984.
‘Like many other team-mates I am very angry with him,’ he says. ‘We have all asked ourselves a lot of questions and we have felt guilty because none of us ever thought he could do something like that.
‘We didn’t know if he had financial problems or other problems. We were unaware. He was very much loved in Rome.’
Di Bartolomei, born in a suburb of the Italian capital, joined Roma at 14 and become undisputed leader of the team which won the Serie A title under Swedish coach Nils Liedholm, in 1983
Grobbelaar and Phil Neal lift the European Cup after Liverpool beat Roma 4-2 on penalties
Liedholm deployed him as a playmaker in front of the centre-halves, behind gifted Brazilian midfielders Paulo Roberto Falcao and Toninho Cerezo.
Graziani compares his style to Franz Beckenbauer. He was also a free-kick specialist and took the first penalty against Liverpool, blasting it past Grobbelaar from his customary one-step run-up.
Di Bartolomei did not want to leave but when Liedholm joined AC Milan after the final and replaced by Sven Goran Eriksson, Roma let him sign their captain, too.
His career fizzled out after three years in Milan and he retired in 1990. Four years later, on the 10th anniversary of the European Cup final, he took his own life, at the age of 39.
‘We don’t know if the date is a coincidence or he was giving us a signal,’ said Graziani. ‘It is a mystery to us. We’re very sorry about it.
‘Some say he had tried to get back into Roma and they were taking their time about it and he felt abandoned.
‘But we say if he had called me or Bruno or anybody to say he was unwell and needed help we would have helped in any way we could. We always looked after our own.
‘We cannot understand why he did it. That’s why we’re angry.
‘Agostino was always a very reserved person. At times we found him to be sad, but he was a sweet guy, friendly and never raised his voice. He was a good captain.’
Liverpool players and coaching staff celebrate with the European Cup: (back row, l-r) Bruce Grobbelaar, Kenny Dalglish, Steve Nicol, Alan Hansen, Michael Robinson, Gary Gillespie, Mark Lawrenson, Ronnie Moran, Ian Rush, Tom Saunders; (front row, l-r) Ronnie Whelan, Phil Neal, Sammy Lee, Graeme Souness, Craig Johnston, Alan Kennedy, David Hodgson
Graziani is back in the Roma fold, working with five of their academies in the United States and one in South Africa.
He is also is the midst of touring 10 Italian cities to promote sport at school, which rules him out of the first leg of the semi-final, where he should have been part of the Mediaset team.
Pruzzo is deputising at Anfield and, for the second leg, the cameras will join Graziani inside his home in Arezzo, in Tuscany, and will be sure to capture a moment of euphoria if Roma emerge victorious.
‘We don’t feel like underdogs,’ said Graziani. ‘We all have great respect for Liverpool but we work on the assumption both teams have a 50 per cent chance to win.
‘The American owners have brought a different mentality with great aspirations. One of the objectives is to build a new stadium and that will be amazing.
‘This is a great time for Roma, with good, young players. In the Champions League they have made very few mistakes and the second leg against Barcelona was a perfect match.’
Roma will go into their Champions League semi-final feeling like they are the stronger side
If Roma fall, Graziani will support Liverpool in the final in Kiev because he and wife Susanna have developed a deep affection for the club which caused him such pain 34 years ago.
‘Since that day I have supported Liverpool when it comes to English football,’ he said. ‘It is the dream of my wife to visit Anfield but we have never been.
‘It looks like the coolest stadium and anyone who has been tells me the atmosphere is special. Next season, we will try to go, if we can get tickets.’
Despite his affiliation, he was a lucky Champions League omen for AC Milan in 2007, in Athens, when his friend and former Roma team-mate Carlo Ancelotti, avenged the defeat in Istanbul.
‘I wasn’t in Istanbul,’ said Graziani. ‘I was doing a TV show and I couldn’t go. My wife sent me a message to say Milan was winning 3-0 and I was like, no… what have I missed?
‘When I finished the show I saw another message to say they lost on penalties. I called Carlo at 1am when I was driving home and he was distraught; he was in bits.
‘Two years later, Carlo thought I was a lucky charm, because I was with him for the semi-finals against Manchester United.
‘When I said I couldn’t come to the final in Athens, he said he would get me a private plane if I came to the game. Me and another mutual friend ended up on the team plane with AC Milan.
‘At last we could celebrate with the European champions.’
If Roma fall in the Champions League semi-final, Graziani will want Liverpool to lift the trophy