As the festive season approaches a new star rose and shone high up above all of Rome on Saturday evening. The exquisite skill of Jeremy Menez, for anyone who was still in some doubt, reflected deeply in the eyes of all those watching. We all knew he had the ability but it was the consistency that was ever so lacking. However, he has been central to the current roman resurgence and his goal and assist against Udinese had many onlookers comparing him to his compatriot and world cup winner, Zinedine Zidane.
We will dedicate part of this week’s Club Focus to the Frenchman. For those who missed the match, Menez was a constant threat and the Friulani had no option but to foul him if they wanted to stop him. We have long campaigned for him to be deployed out wide on the wing, where his pace and dribbling skills can destroy the morale and belief of even the world’s finest fullbacks. We still stand by this, as both his goal and assist came from a starting position on the flanks. But, what Claudio Ranieri has effectively done is to give Menez an old school ‘free role’, something that is quite unheard of in these very stringent and highly defensive tactical times. In this liberated roaming position, he has the freedom to attack from either side of the pitch and is horrendously if not impossibly difficult to mark or halt without a defender committing an infringement.
The flamboyant midfielder has always struggled to regularly replicate the flashes of genius that first attracted the Giallorossi into purchasing him. He is a still a young man at 23 years old, growing in experience and mental toughness. Both these attributes have been what he was mostly in need of, and now it looks as though they have finally implanted themselves in his psyche, in the form of a newfound self-belief. No longer a player of great potential, but one that can make the difference and to do so week in week out. Not unlike a certain Francesco Totti. Remember him?
We had intimated some weeks back that we should watch carefully how Totti was handled over the ensuing months, as he was now no longer considered ‘undroppable’. On Saturday evening, we witnessed further evidence of how Er Pupone’s role within the team is mutating and potentially becoming less important. With the Serie A game relatively safe and the Champions League midweek game against Bayern Munich on his mind, Ranieri decided to rest Jeremy Menez and the other goal scorer, Marco Borriello. The captain was left to see out the match, even though his second half performance was dreadfully dismal. A season or two ago he would have been wrapped in cotton wall and asked to take a seat on the bench, in readiness for the next important match. Not anymore it seems. Totti is no longer the talk of the town, but Jeremy Menez most certainly is.
Looking ahead to the important game with the Bavarian giants, Daniele De Rossi and John Arne Riise are back and available to play. Chilean David Pizarro is also in the squad but Simone Perrotta and Rodrigo Taddei are still not fully healed of injury. It will be interesting to see the team Ranieri picks, as there are two potential predicaments which could emerge, especially with the January transfer window on the horizon. In defence, he must choose two from Philippe Mexes, Juan and Nicolas Burdisso. With much transfer talk of the swash buckling Frenchman being courted by the likes of Chelsea, it is games like this where the Coach signals his intentions as to who he believes are his best pairing and if ‘Phil’ is asked to warm the bench again, he may look to pastures new. A similar issue is brewing in attack, as Mirko Vucinic seems to be the one paying for Menez’s scintillating form. Should Ranieri decide to start with a trident of Menez, Totti and Borriello, then the Montenegrin might feel his playing opportunities are becoming too limited. Football has become a squad game but these pampered sportsmen are not easily convinced that the rotation system should include them and both Mexes and Vucinic will not be short of offers should they start to signal discontentment.
Even in times of accomplishment, top-flight sports management is never an easy vessel to sail. Ranieri is currently smiling as his team is only seven points off the top of Serie A, but he needs to juggle his players with great care and attention if he is to avoid one or two of his stellar personnel wanting to jump ship.