Roma lost to Genoa on the first game of the season, and the skies are already looking very dark. In some ways this may be for the good – if anyone was nurturing unrealistic expectations, within or without the team, then that person has probably already sobered up. It should also be noted that the future is not necessarily as bleak as this defeat may suggest. We made this argument at the end of last season, and it is worth reiterating it now – Roma is the only major team (alongside, perhaps, Napoli) that does not play in the Champions League. On the long run, this is going to prove an enormous advantage as concentration stays set on the Campionato and no energies are wasted. Despite the diffused feeling of doom and gloom in the post-Genoa wake, Roma can go far.
Genoa did not win because they were the better team. They won because they had the greater heart. From this point of view at least, we can say that Genoa truly deserved to win the game. The heart of Roma was beating very faintly last Sunday, and one of the reasons for this is that several of the Roman senators were failing at their job. Juan, Doni and Philippe Mexès were all absent, leaving a defensive line which conceded three goals and promises even worse for the future. Daniele De Rossi was disappointing, a fact which is surprising. It is also terrifying – the man is the heart itself of Roma, as much as Francesco Totti is its soul, and if he does not improve quickly, then the team is headed for a repeat of last season. As for Totti, he was very tightly marked and never much on show, but it is hard to knock his performance as long as he keeps scoring goals (eight in the last four games), however chancy they may be.
Several of the Roman senators failed to show up last Sunday, and this was the main cause of the defeat. Even so, none was as absent as Luciano Spalletti. At the end of last season, this column suggested that a change of Coach would have been for the best. The first game of the season is not the benchmark for any final judgment, but the symptoms it showed certainly serve to confirm the above-mentioned thesis. Let us list the problems. Firstly, the team was still playing with the 4-2-3-1, a formation which was innovative and penetrating when Luciano Moggi ruled the earth. Secondly, the man is still obsessed with his old guard, from David Pizarro to Rodrigo Taddei (two tired men if we ever saw any, regardless of the latter’s goal). Expect little space for the youngsters this year, including a swift repositioning of Jérémy Menez on the bench as soon as some names come back from injury. Thirdly, the team once again slumped in the second half – but here we can make a true concession to Spalletti inasmuch as Genoa put up a sensational fight and there was little to do but to resist. Finally, and most importantly, the man is void of fire.
There is a reason people follow football, and it is not the fact that a ball gets kicked around. The reason is passion. Pathos, the Greeks might have called it. Watching Gian Piero Gasperini, the Genoa Coach, as he rallied his troops on the field last Sunday, was an example of passion. Even when his team was winning by 3-2, he was still on his feet and yelling, his arms flying around like those of an angry shaman summoning his warlords. It made Spalletti’s attitude shameful to witness. We have seen more vitality at the Curling contests in the Winter Olympics than in old Luciano. He did not even flinch or change expression during the match. He lumbered around the pitch a little bit at the beginning of the game, hunched up in his horrendous coat like the spirit of Nosferatu, after which he sat down and spent the rest of the game looking completely lost. That’s right – he sat down. He might as well have picked up a Sudoku magazine while he was at it. If that is the extent of your contribution to the game, dear Spalletti, why not watch it from home?
It is sad to see a good team in the hands of an inadequate Coach, and it is to be hoped we are wrong in this initial reading. As we said, Roma can go far. They are not burdened with the Champions League and a deal of their competitors are overestimated. But they will never make the most of their opportunities if their commander can not be bothered to lead the ship – or even worse, if he does not know how to use a compass. Look at the images of him sitting down – him sitting, and the furore unfolding around him. How could anyone reasonably expect the men to produce some passion on the field, when this is the example they are given off it? Please do prove us wrong, Luciano, and learn how to roar. Roar, or get out of the Roman senate.