Club Focus – Roma – The strategy for next year

More of the same, as the dictum goes. Roma were supposed to raise their heads after the Florence massacre, but if they did then it was only to offer the other cheek. To think that the midweek meeting between the players and the President was supposed to have cleared the waters a little, with promises on the squad’s side that they would end the season on a note as dignified as possible. A goalless draw against a relegation contender. Fancy that.


There are some pardons for the brittle 0-0 result against Chievo. Almost all of the chances were Roman, for one thing, so at least they can claim to have deserved more than their opponents. Also, Chievo has a much more solid record this season when playing away than at home, and their goalie seemed to be enjoying a particularly good day. That aside, though, there is little of good that we can take home from the match. Most of Roma’s players seemed spent and faded like slowly imploding stars and the collective performance was inorganic and sluggish. Francesco Totti alone provided efficiency, and there were some flashes of good game by Daniele De Rossi, Julio Baptista and Matteo Brighi. Too little, too late.

If there was any need for evidence that we are witnessing the end – an irreparable end – of a cycle at Roma, then this match represented just that. In such a sentence we may encapsulate the reaction of most sports media to the match. Generally speaking, this view is correct. The analysis of the situation, though, is typically hyperbolic – some commentators claim that Roma needs to re-wash the entire system, from the management to the Coach and the players. The tifosi, needless to say, picked up on the sentiment and amplified it even further. The match witnessed a popular remonstration of remarkable proportions, with most of the Olimpico deserted until the 83 minute, when the Curva Sud belatedly filled itself up with people bearing banners of protest. Several of those were asking Rosella Sensi to leave, and not in the kindest of terms.

Directing the ire towards Mrs Sensi is ridiculous. She is possibly the only figure in the club not to share in the responsibilities for the seasonal crisis – she did not even handle the mercato, which was left to Daniele Pradé and Bruno Conti (and the shortcomings of which are overstated anyway). Luciano Spalletti’s obsolete tactical system and the conflagration of injuries were much greater cracks in the hull, along with blind fate – chaos theory tells us that the moment when a complex system peaks in it’s potential is the one most likely to precede a crash, and the past year at Roma was sensational in terms of game expressed. Invoking destiny is hardly the most adequate thing to do in any situation, but perhaps there were some factors which were out of anyone’s control this year. Call it divine caprice.

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The reality of the situation is that a change of Coach may be sufficient to reboot the system. The management bears little share of the blame and the players – allowing for a much needed reinforcement in central defence and on the wings – are the same ones which swatted Lyon, Real Madrid and Milan, and on occasions even Inter, Manchester United and Chelsea. In fact, the chimera that a general reformation is the way to go for next year is so powerful that most readers will be startled by our thesis – that a flushing out of the team’s components, at this stage, should be deliberately delayed.

Why do we say this? Let us examine the situation a little more closely. Everyone agrees that Roma has reached the end of a cycle. Said cycle took them to the Golgotha of European football, but now the resources to renew the process are exhausted. On this account people claim that Roma should restart from scratch. But this is where the fallacy takes place. The cycle is over in the sense that Roma’s executive power can no longer be sustained in a stable fashion, not in the sense that it has suddenly vanished. If left to it’s own devices, the team will gradually become a mid-table contender (which, for all of the current bad year, it is anything but). This change will not take place overnight. Next year Roma will still be riding on the froth from the wave of the epoch that has just ended – the players will still be there and so will the talent. Not using this dying momentum in favour of a resurrection scenario riddled with incognitos and which will still be there in the future would be foolish. Failure to qualify for the Champions League will signify an inadequate mercato campaign, yes, but this will only weaken the team, not destroy it.

It is easier to reverse the current state of entropy before it has become too advanced than it is to rebuild a team from scratch. In other words, what Roma should do next season is not to head directly back for the golden age but to go into the year with humble short-term ambitions pointing to greater long-term plans. A revolution of the squad is necessary only if the aim is to conquer the Scudetto. This aim would be self-defeating – instead, the team should focus on securing an entry into the first four (and the consequent Champions League access). This would allow for the much-touted general renewal (of ambitions, among other things) to take place the year successive to that, with much more solid means to execute it and a far more stable starting position.

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The way to execute this in practice is to hold a conservative mercato, keeping doubtful players like Alexandre Doni or Julio Baptista and exploiting the youth to compensate for the absence of new arrivals (the exception being Simone Perrotta, who really is dead weight – word goes that Napoli are interested in the man, and it would be a celestial relief to see him go). That which is irreparably broken (the 4-2-3-1, for instance) must be fixed, but that which is only limping must be kept. Every resource must be put to use regardless of its long-term value, without major gambles in the mercato, the management or the squad. This will never be worth a Scudetto, but given the absence of international demands – and under the right Coach – it is almost certain to guarantee entrance into the first four. The objective is not touching the sky, it is damage limitation.

Such a solution seems frustrating to many tifosi – most have been spoilt by the last few good years and are impatient to compete for the Scudetto again. What supporters must understand is that the longer the team stays off the tip of the mountain, the harder it will be to climb back to its top. The fourth place must be reached next year – it is far more urgent than changing management or players. The blow that a failure to attain such an objective would represent to the team’s psyche and identity, and the potential players which could be lost as a consequence, represent a prospect of tremendous instability. Even the potential new owners from the Swiss-German group (currently being hailed as the arrival of the new messiah by several people in Rome) would have difficulty fixing it. This is especially true in the current war-zone Calcio scenario, which sees teams like Fiorentina, Lazio, Udinese and now even Genoa throwing unexpected threats from every side – over and beyond those of the big three Inter, Milan and Juventus. This is not the time to throw away everything and launch an untested ship into the storm. The objective must not be the Scudetto itself, but the renewal of Roma’s capacity to fight for it (financial as much as athletic). A real fresh start from the foundations should be initiated on those bases and therefore should begin – and indeed eventually it ought to – no earlier than the year after the next.

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