And now for the future. The key word is ‘reconstruction’ – the key question is money. All the rest are peripheral predictions – and ninety percent of these will be wrong, including our own, for the simple reason that Roma’s impending fate is at a crossroads. Very much will depend on questions of ownership, and on whose hands will be holding the rudder of the red and yellow battleship. Rumours of President Rosella Sensi selling the club to wealthier businessmen have been circulating for several weeks now, and as this site foretold from the outset, none of them have come to anything. With important long-term decisions such as the reconfirmation of Coach Luciano Spalletti being taken now, it seems unlikely that the Sensi family will enjoy their exodus this summer, but we cannot rule out the possibility either. If a new owner were to come along, it would of course make a world of difference to the mercato panorama, not to mention the potential change in management philosophy. If Roma stick with Rosella Sensi, their range of action will be significantly more narrow (albeit more experienced). Nonetheless, there are certain common problems with the team which will have to be addressed regardless of who is leading the wolves, and we may focus on these.
To begin with, let’s discuss Luciano Spalletti. His permanence at the Roma bench should be seen as an opportunity for him to fix everything that he has been doing wrong – not since the beginning of this year, but since the beginning of his stay in the Olimpico. It should be kept in mind that the man is still young as a football Coach, with little history before his explosion amid the Giallorossi. We may attribute his shortcomings to inexperience – and these shortcomings are, in order, poor skills in psychological and moral management, a disproportionate tactical rigidity and a failure to exploit (or invest in) young talent. Today, Spalletti has coached the boys from the capital for long enough that the original excuse no longer holds, and at least two of these three problems will have to be erased next year. With no Champions League final at the Olimpico and no overbearing expectations to keep up from the previous year, this is the ideal time for him to prove his worth. If he cannot solve these major issues, then it really will be time for Roma to get rid of him. As for our prediction – can he solve them? The first two problems can be addressed with assistance by his staff and a little humility. So yes, in that respect. The third is a little more complex and it ties in to how urgently Roma needs to re-conquer the fourth place, leaving only relative space for experimentation. So no to the third one. The other two problems could be solved, but we expect the veterans to quash out the rising stars yet again.
The media have suggested that Roma’s mercato priority for next year, alongside a general rejuvenation of the squad, will be an attacker and a defender. Surely this is inaccurate. The defence is in tatters and it needs heavy reconstruction, so that part of the argument holds, with Christian Panucci, Simone Loria and Soulemayne Diamoutene all likely to leave the team this summer (good riddance for most of them, by the way), this leaves only two central defenders in a group which needs four or five. One of the new acquisitions will necessarily have to be of great quality – Lucio, for instance, or Lugano. The other may simply be an average player – an excellent and comparatively accessible option presents itself in young Cagliari defender Davide Astori – or, even better, a youth product such as Marco Andreolli.
Roma do need a defender. They do not, however, need another forward. With Francesco Totti and Mirko Vucinic as starters and Julio Baptista and Jérémy Menez as subs (not to mention young and home-grown colts Stefano Okaka and Alessio Cerci, who are bound to return from their loans), Roma has more than enough firepower to descend into the arena. Admittedly some of these players have had some difficulties in fitting in (Menez), but they only need to be better exploited, not replaced. And some of the alternatives being suggested are frightful. Roman Pavlyuchenko is a passable choice, although he costs more money than he is worth, but what should we say of David Trezeguet from Juventus? The man is not a bad striker – quite the opposite, at that – but he is as remote from Spalletti’s preferred style of forward as one can possibly get. He holds no good cards in terms of age, wages or humility either. If these are the players Roma is looking for, why not renew Vincenzo Montella’s contract? It would be simpler and it would cost less. The Trezeguet rumour will likely remain a rumour, although ironically Juventus – who are linked to Roma by many mercato threads, as of now – do possess one striker who would fit the Giallorossi much better than the Frenchman. We are referring to Vincenzo Iaquinta, a fast, concrete and versatile attacking player who struggles to find a starting spot with the Bianconeri and who has been a fixation of Spalletti’s since 2005. If Roma decide to sell one of their major strikers – say, Baptista – and therefore find themselves in need of a replacement, then Iaquinta would make for the perfect option, assuming that Juventus are willing to negotiate.
Roma’s most urgent needs are not in defence and attack, but in defence and wings. The team desperately needs players capable of working on the flanks – not twisted half-forwards or bastardised central midfielders, but true role-players who can make the absolute best of the line of space around the central strip of grass. Last year, Roma had Amantino Mancini, Ludovic Giuly and Mauro Esposito. Today, the only real winger left is Rodrigo Taddei, who is beginning to wane. Whilst a steely central defender is more crucial than a winger, the wingers are even more sparse. Roma has the resources to buy one great winger and fill up the bench with young players (Cerci, for one). This should be put on the ‘to-do’ list just below finding a defender. It certainly takes priority over another forward.
Steps are already being taken. Stefano Guberti, from Bari, is a hair’s breadth away from being signed up. While this is positive news – the man is dear to Spalletti, he is relatively inexpensive, rather young and promising in many ways – it is not nearly enough. Other sources link Roma with Marco Marchionni from Juventus – a somewhat less enthralling prospect, as the man is likely to cost more than Roma should pay for him. He has an injury-prone history too, and that’s the last thing the Giallorossi need right now. There are several other options, some more or less imaginative. The most charming one would be that of picking up Alessandro Rosina, but the idea belongs to this writer more than it does to the Roma management. With Torino going down to Serie B next year, and with his form having been a bit low this season, the youngster may be up for grabs – and for an accessible price too. Unfortunately though, he is not a pure winger and as such he would only represent another player bastardised into the role. While he would be a wonderful addition to the roster, he does not provide the solution to Roma’s problems.
Part of the problem is tactical – since Spalletti is staying, it is not unlikely that the 4-2-3-1 will be staying as well. In this formation, only the right-winger really acts as a winger – the man on the left has very reduced defensive duties and is more of a striker who starts out wide from the left than anything else (the role used to fit Mancini like a glove – other players have needed or still need more time to get used to it). This means that potential wingers so far needed to be selected with extreme care lest they should turn out to be too orthodox role-players and fail to adapt to the formation. Yet what we are claiming is that Spalletti needs to find a way to get the formation to adapt to these players, and not the other way round. This is what we mean when we say that the team’s tactical disposition needs to become less rigid and more flexible. The 4-2-3-1 was not good but perfect when the players fielded were Daniele De Rossi and David Pizarro as holding mids, the trio Mancini-Simone Perrotta-Taddei just in front and Francesco Totti up ahead (more on him later). In the last two years, the situations and accessibilities of these players have changed. A new formation, or at least a new version of the 4-2-3-1, needs to be found. This will be one of Spalletti’s greatest challenges. The fact that he has experimented with the 4-3-1-2 this year, unearthing new possibilities and new solutions for the team, gives room for hope. Ideally, the Roma team should be able to switch between the two formations by means of only one or two substitutions, switching from an offensive identity into a defensive one and the other way round. A double-faced Roma would be much more potent than the monological one we have been seeing for the past two years, and this is the direction we hope to see the team go towards.
Besides, the 4-2-3-1 will have to become more flexible anyway. It has relied too much and too heavily on the peculiarity of its forward, Francesco Totti. While everyone hopes that the man may stay healthy, these last few years have proved to us that the captain cannot be relied upon for a full season. When he is not on the field, Roma must find a way of being every bit as potent as in the times when he is. More than that – Spalletti must build a Roma team which is strong a priori, one that works as though Totti were not on the roster. Then the team may go ahead without becoming paranoid about their best man’s health. As for Totti, the man can play in any formation – losing Totti means losing the 4-2-3-1, but losing the 4-2-3-1 does not mean losing Totti at all. Whatever change comes along, it will not harm him. This is why we advocated in the past, a turn to a simple 4-4-2. It was intended as a way of going back to the basics, to a formation that works by virtue of its simplicity, and where players can be swapped around – Matteo Brighi for Alberto Aquilani, Totti for Baptista, Perrotta for Pizarro – without the change having devastating effects on the team.
If the formation can become more flexible and the team can keep its spirit united – two factors the onus for which will rest entirely on Spalletti – then the future of Roma will depend on the quality of the mercato. This is strictly tied to the ownership, of course, but where that goes is something we cannot predict – our money is on Rosella Sensi staying, and on this being for the best. She has the wisdom to extract good things out of sparse resources. She also has a daunting task ahead. It is to be hoped that she succeeds in the mercato race, because there are more opportunities to be grasped in the next season than most people believe. The common opinion is that Roma’s objective will be to regain the fourth place. This is true, but in this case the objective belies the potential. People tend to underestimate the difference in mental and physical energy that results from playing or not playing in the Champions League. Roma, being the only great team to be excluded from that competition, will enjoy a considerable advantage over its competitors in the race for the Scudetto. We do not exaggerate when we say that next year Roma could actually win it, if luck is on their side and the referees stop gracing the big three. It all depends on two individuals – Spalletti and his capacity to learn from his mistakes, and Rosella Sensi (or whoever takes her place) in handing him the resources for a decent mercato. One great central defender and one great winger is all it will take. And lots of heart, naturellement. But that comes with the shirt.