Come take this badge off of me, Ranieri, I can’t wear it anymore. Luciano Spalletti may not share Bob Dylan’s hairstyle, but he seemed to have a lot in common with the American singer when it comes to tone of voice, last Tuesday. ”I am lacerated,” he told the papers, “Rome had become my city. I have had everything here. These four years were wonderful.” He is right about the first three, at least. Second strongest team in Italy, twice quarter-finalist in the Champions League and Coppa Italia winner. Roma had not done so well since the Fabio Capello era. Last season, on the other hand, saw the crumbling of the edifice. Spalletti did for us what Rosella Sensi lacked the courage or the judgment to do, forcing a managerial turnover by means of his resignation – a resignation which tastes like a Samurai hara-kiri, an act of self-effacement for the common good by someone who has lost his honour. Spalletti was originally called in to remediate chaos, and now he leaves Roma in chaos. Full circle.
For the rest of the onlookers, there is very little to celebrate. Spalletti did the right thing, but he did the right thing too late. Our Club Focus has been advocating a change of Coach since long before the last season was over. The Coach should have been transferred over the summer. It should have been Rosella Sensi’s responsibility to clear the table and invite newcomers, perhaps scraping up some money in the handover of old Luciano. Italy currently enjoys a remarkable number of young Coaches who could have been lured under the breasts of the she-wolf – Walter Zenga, Massimilano Allegri and Davide Ballardini (not to mention the far less accessible Gian Piero Gasperini). And yes, controversial as it may sound, several of these names would have been preferable to the experientia-cum-mediocritas of Claudio Ranieri. They would have been preferable even to Carlo Ancelotti, a man long rumoured to aspire to Rome but whom this writer has very little respect for.
Given the right preparation with the new Coach, Roma could have achieved a lot this year. Unburdened by the Champions League and with a touch of luck, they might even have hoped for the Scudetto. Instead, throwing Ranieri into the hurricane without a week’s worth of preparation – without knowing the players, without having studied his tactics, without having met the staff – will cost Roma somewhere between 15 and 20 potential points come the end of the season. Come July, measure the gap between Roma and whoever is holding the first place, and see where they could have been. It is the right move, but at the wrong time – way too late.
The positives of bringing in Ranieri lie in his traditionalism. This is what we had to say about the team’s tactical crisis in March: Today, Roma need to go back to the basics from a tactical point of view and make the best of the youth they have. Turn to a simple 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1 if Baptista starts). Ranieri claimed in his introductory interviews that he is an adaptable Coach capable of playing with any formation, but judging by his stint with Juventus, this seems rather pavonine. He stuck to the 4-4-2 like a one-armed man to the edge of a cliff, and while this represented a limit for the Bianconeri, it may just prove the right medicine for the Giallorossi. What Roma need is a tactical tabula rasa, a purging from all of Spalletti’s intricate schemes and a new start from simple grounds. Technically speaking, the team is still one of the most gifted in Serie A. As long as the players are asked to fulfil simple tasks, they should prove quite effective on the field. We say this with relief more than we do with contempt, but Ranieri should manage to provide that simplicity.
Another important positive aspect is that Ranieri plays a rather defensive game. For a team that has conceded six goals in the first two games of the league, this is authentic manna. It is to be seen how quickly and effectively he will fix the defence, but the premises are there. It is also worth keeping an eye on how he handles injuries – some sources blamed the Roman injury crisis on the grinding training requirements of Spalletti, and if this is the case, then Ranieri’s greater experience should help put a stop to that. On to the negatives of Ranieri, what do we have to fear? One problem sticks out above all others – he has no talent in nurturing youth. His reluctance to play Sebastian Giovinco at Juventus was disgraceful and it ultimately cost him the Champions League. Roma, at this moment, need their youngsters desperately. Jérémy Menez, Alessio Cerci, Marco Motta and Stefano Okaka, to mention but the most prominent, are all footballers who must see some playing time. They need that in light of the future, among other things because we doubt Ranieri will be here for very long. Ideally, he should handle Roma for this year and the next, taking them out of anarchy and into solid upper-table stability (potentially including Champions League qualification, which Roma are more than capable of achieving). After that, his mantle should pass on to someone younger, with fresher ideas. Ranieri is good as medicine, but he will never taste like cherry. And Roma deserve cherry.
Our final thoughts go to our old legionary, Spalletti. “Memory in football is short,” said Rosella Sensi, “but ours is not, and we thank Spalletti for what he has given us.” This writer shares in the sentiment. The man walked into the Olimpico with the silver coin of humility and he walks out of it with a far greater deal of treasure. His 4-2-3-1, for the good or for the bad, has changed the face of Italian football – and to some extent that of Europe. We take our hats off to you, soft-spoken centurion. We shall remember you for the scourging of Milan and the 11 victories in a row, for the humbling of Lyon and Real Madrid and the glimmer of hope before the downfall against Manchester United, we shall remember you for the Super Cup stolen from Inter in their own home and for the Scudetto that they shamelessly stole from us, and for the Coppa Italia, conquered amid the shouts and banners of the Olimpico. Spalletti, we shall remember and owe to you the Golden Boot awarded to Francesco Totti, and we shall remember the most beautiful football in Europe. They called it calcio-champagne, in Italy. Then this toast is for you, Luciano. And thank you.
Roma Club Focus 2009/10
The senate is adjourned – August 25, 2009
Houston, we have a problem – August 28, 2009
The time of Penelope – September 1, 2009
Good move, bad timing – September 4, 2009