If someone had told me at the beginning of the season that Catania was going to score six goals against Roma over the two games this season, I would have laughed the notion off. Now, the weekend’s 4-3 result seems not only plausible but logical. So consumed has become the spirit of the Romanisti by now that even the team’s (semi-miraculous) victory at one breath from the final whistle passes as news of little interest. Since the securing of a place in the UEFA Cup next year is in fact a very important objective, we may comment on this with a phrase which can be applied to the entire Roman season – what a shame.
The game against Catania saw Roma pulled between its own vastly superior talent and its equally overwhelming sense of depression. Some good work by Mirko Vucinic (as far as returns go, ever so welcome) and Simone Perrotta allowed Roma to take the lead. The effect was – it hardly needs stating – an immediate narcolepsy. The ease with which Catania spear-fished the Giallorossi rearguard highlights the team’s most urgent issue. A defence which was in need of being renewed at the beginning of this season (and it was not) now needs to be completely overhauled. Perhaps only Marco Motta and Philippe Mexes are players worthy of the Roma shirt, even though the former is still young and the latter’s year has been in decline rather than on the rise (Juan may deserve a shot if he gets off of the wheelchair). The rest need to go – not necessarily right now – but over the next three years for certain.
The attack needs some reinforcement as well, but it is nice to see that what’s there is still working. When Roma want to, they have all the raw talent to break through a defence quickly and efficiently. It was a little surprising not to see Francesco Totti score in the midst of such a flurry of goals. Then again, it was also surprising to see Perrotta score two. His first notch was pretty typical for his role – a run into the box and a prompt header on a very good cross by Vucinic. Not the kind of thing you would be allowed if you were playing against Nicola Legrottaglie or John Terry (or any team of Champions League calibre), but a highly useful contribution nonetheless. The second goal was rather more fortuitous – the ball rebounded along some spaces and came to Perrotta, who suddenly understood just how much more satisfying his existence would be if he threw the ball to the stars. The shot was going, as all of Perrotta’s shots have done since the dawn of man, nowhere even remotely close to the net. Fortunately for the Romans a defender saw it fit to stick his leg in and deflect the ball towards the only direction where Perrotta would never have been capable of conveying it – into the back of the net. Goal for Roma, draw for Catania and that was it, until Christian Panucci hammered in one final goal in the endgame and secured some breathing space for the UEFA.
In case the tone of the above paragraph hasn’t already made it obvious, Perrotta’s utilitarian performance is not a valid enough reason to keep him. Roma need players who can score by skill rather than by repeatedly banging their heads against fortune until it breaks (until fortune breaks that is, not the head). Besides, all of Perrotta’s functions in the midfield are now covered for by Matteo Brighi, who has the advantage of being on the right side of thirty and not missing four or five ready-made goals per game. Alternatively, why not buy a replacement? Torino’s Alessandro Rosina has almost the pace and energy of Perrotta with younger legs, greater humility and far, far more talent. Several other players, especially if one extends the search to include the foreigners, could also take up the mantle. And that’s without mentioning the Roman youth, from Valerio Virga to Felipe and Ricardo Faty.
Hard as it is to celebrate anything in the current Roman scenario, Panucci’s goal should be seen as a blessing. The UEFA Cup means more than most people give it credit for – it yields prestige and money, and it keeps the team on its toes in terms of playing on the international stage (this is especially important for the youngest among the wolves). And it is a Cup which last year’s Roma could have conquered with half its players sitting on the stands. No-one knows what face the Giallorossi will present to the continent come next September, but they could (and should) be serious competitors for the trophy. So start fighting for it now.
Next team up is Milan. A glance at the boards suggests a slaughter is at hand in favour of the Rossoneri, but these are strange times in Serie A. The major league of the greatest football nation in Europe is in the midst of serious mutation. The law on television rights is about to change, Milan and Juventus are both sacking their Coaches (and closing their respective cycles), Roma may be about to be sold and everyone wants to build their own stadium. That Milan should mean to get rid of Carlo Ancelotti is unlikely to be a source of great surprise to many, least of all to the commentators of Football Italiano. In fact, this writer was quite vocal on the issue already in January – see the
Roma-Milan preview here. Still, it is relevant to us because Milan find themselves in such chaos at the moment what with Ancelotti’s flirts with Chelsea and Kaka’s motion picture with Real Madrid (title: The Neverending Story ) that they are capable of losing even against the current Roma team. Admittedly it will take a masterpiece of self-destructive catastrophes on the part of Ancelotti to keep his offence – composed of elemental gods for the most part – from cutting through the ranks of snowmen that constitute the Roman defence, but we should not put that past him. If he managed it against Udinese, who defend with prayers and candles more than they do with footballers, he could well repeat the feat against Luciano Spalletti’s men.
At the same time we should not underestimate the two factors playing in Roma’s favour (the only two factors, yes, but they should be mentioned nonetheless). The first is the possibility that we may see one last heartbeat of pride amid the Giallorossi, a kick from the depths which would allow them to play at levels closer to their full potential. That really is all it would take for Roma to become dangerous again. The second factor is the Roman offence, which may not be as immediately glamorous as that of Milan but which has all the potential to pack a sting. Vucinic has been the Northern team’s nemesis for a few years now, and Francesco Totti himself has left a scar or two over their black and red hearts. While the defence of the Rossoneri is unlikely to crumble the way that that of Roma might, they could well make enough concessions to lose the day. It is not a likely outcome, but it is not a completely impossible one either.
Almost all superficial factors point to Milan as the team to come out on top, from the fact that they are playing at home to the absence of Daniele De Rossi, Roma’s best midfielder (and, at the moment, their best defender as well). But as we said, these are strange times. Milan-Roma will be a match with little to offer in terms of what is at stake – every battle is already lost and won, as Macbeth would have put it – but this by no means makes it predictable. The result of a game between two flawed teams is much more difficult to predict than one between two strong formations. Call this one for Milan. But don’t put your money on it.