The time has come and we can now lift our heads out of the sand and finally say what we have all been thinking all along since the Cesena match: Roma are a club in crisis. We will no longer whitewash the sad reality by enumerating wins against Inter and Genoa or the Champions league victory over the lowly Romanians Cluj. The Giallorossi have laboured over every point earned this season and have lacked in consistency in any of their matches thus far. The defeat to Basel at the Olimpico on Tuesday has brought the whole situation to a head and it is now down to Claudio Ranieri, Francesco Totti and the rest of the team to put it right, immediately. It is last chance saloon and either they come out guns blazing or they run away and hide.
Club Focus has been rather lenient on both coaching and the playing staff. The squad has always been given the benefit of the doubt due to their unfailing confidence in their Coach’s ability to put things right. Ranieri’s men have literally fooled us into thinking all was well to such an extent that the draws and defeats were mistaken for just a blip from which the real Roma would eventually emerge. But the game against the very average Swiss side earlier in the week encompassed all that is currently wrong with the club. Just like their rather naïve assumption that because they wear the red and yellow jersey, everything will turn out well in the end. Well, assuming makes an ass of you and me, as the saying goes and what really does it is just play good, old football.
We shall dissect the Tuesday performance to prove this damning verdict. We begin with the team’s apparent lethargy, especially in the first half. Only when Marco Borriello equalised, did the legs start to gain strength, but only in time to concede a second goal just before the half-time whistle. Basel’s second was down to lack of defensive concentration and the unfortunate Simone Perrotta. But why was the World Cup winner playing as a left sided midfielder? He simply is not a wide enough midfielder, even less so in his advancing years which is bound to make him prone to more mistakes. Ranieri played a 4-4-2 – a formation most familiar to him – and one we believe he has wanted to play from the beginning. However, as illustrated by the need to play Perrotta on that side of the pitch, the team has no natural left-sided player. So why allow Stefano Guberti and Alessio Cerci to leave? Only Rodrigo Taddei can play on the flanks in a midfield four and, without him, the club has no one else. If the team is to have title aspirations, it needs experts in all areas of the field, not players that can fill in and hopefully do a job. Teams like these do not win trophies. Roma dominated the second half but they failed to make the possession pay off.
The Swiss had one good chance and scored. This was Basel, lest we forget, not Barcelona and although Ranieri’s team is big in names, it still remains frustratingly small in quality. Adriano, Julio Baptista, Cicinho, Jeremy Menez, Philippe Mexes, Mirko Vucinic and even Daniele De Rossi, all players that can perform but seemingly only when they want to. Every imaginable is rolled out as to why they are not at their best – injury, lack of form, tiredness – yet week in, week out, the fans are let down. We will accept these reasons or any others no more.
A meeting between owner Rosella Sensi, the Coach and the players, amid claims that some were unhappy with the off-season preparations, that others are feeling tired and struggle with tactics, has culminated in a whole new approach to the rest of the campaign. The idea of the ‘ritiro’ was immediately scrapped but training will now place a higher emphasis on fitness, stamina, speed and improving the team’s consistency and sharpness. The coaching staff has been asked to be more approachable and less confrontational with the players. The column inches are full of new Coaches replacing Ranieri and players leaving, Mexes to Liverpool and John Arne Riise to Bayern Munich, to name but two. These moments of poor performance on the field inevitably lead to rumour-mongering off it and only manage to inflame the situation, as opposed to improving it.
The game with Parma will be crucial and anything but a victory would surely sound the death knell for the Roman Coach. Not so long ago in a press interview, Ranieri proclaimed “Questa squadra ha le palle!” And he wasn’t talking about footballs. If ever there was a time to prove it, that time is this weekend. He may not get another.