Three games lost in a row, the last two of which should have been theirs for the taking. Roma is sick, and Udinese gave us part of the diagnosis. Claudio Ranieri knew it before it was given – Roma’s men are lost, in body and spirit, and they need to be recuperated. Some of the players are simply past their time, and nothing can be done about that other than using them to patch up the holes. Others are simply demoralised.
This situation reflects itself in all three departments of the Roma team. Take the defence. Philippe Mexès is the shadow of himself, and Juan still cannot get over his endless injuries. Both these players have the potential to do great things – a few years ago they were being called one of the best central defensive duos in the world. What’s happening to them now? When will we see them back? John Arne Riise does his best, which is better than nothing, given that Max Tonetto has become the echo of the excellent left-back who once grasped an Azzurri shirt. Then there is the Marco trio – Cassetti, Andreolli and Motta. One is too old, the other two are too young. Their deficiencies might be filled up by Cicinho, if the latter’s ancient injury had not left him as anaemic and insipid as he has become. In other words, no-one is ready. Roma have gone for 13 games in a row without managing to keep a clean sheet. What does that say of their defence?
Chapter two – the midfield. Rodrigo Taddei and Simone Perrotta are too old. Everybody knew that, and the game against Udinese carved it in stone. Taddei played 10 minutes of football, then he went back to offering no contribution other than short passes backwards. The red card was the cherry on the cake. As for Perrotta, he was asked to quash Gaetano D’Agostino during the defensive phase and offer support to the attack when on the offence. Alas, he could only fulfil the former task. He no longer has the pace to do both things, and his most natural substitute, Alberto Aquilani, has taken his talent and his injuries elsewhere. When Taddei was sent off, Perrotta was shifted onto the wing, where he came just short of invisibility. Apparently the team renovated his contract. How comforting.
David Pizarro also had his contract renovated, but in his case it is a necessary step. With Aquilani gone, he is the only outlet for creativity in the midfield. As for the rest of the men, the same goes for them as for Mexès and Juan – they must come back. Daniele De Rossi is scoring like never before (another notch against Udinese), but he is also playing poorly like never before – a fact which raises a world of concerns, among other things in light of the upcoming World Cup. Matteo Brighi had a season of living wonderfully, now his performances come rarely and seem generic. Come back, fellas – we miss you ever so much.
Finally there is the offence. Perhaps nowhere are our concerns as marked as they are here. Mirko Vučinic once again chose to impersonate Perrotta and missed the most amazing opportunity, spoiling what good he had done until then. This is the striker who was being sought by Manchester United for more than 20 million pounds this summer, so what is wrong with him? Jérémy Ménez, Alessio Cerci and Stefano Okaka need to grow, all three of them. And Júlio Baptista still needs to find a formation which can exploit his great physicality and technique while minimising the damage of his disastrous passing skills. All in all, an army of ghosts. Ghosts of fantastic players, showing avatars of greatness (future or past), but ghosts nonetheless.
Francesco Totti deserves a discussion of his own. When he is on the field, Roma win. When he is not, Roma lose. The equation is becoming so depressingly simple. Its reliability defies belief – how on earth could Roma have lost at home to Livorno two games ago? But even though the equation is reliable, the man himself is not. This is the third (arguably the fourth) season in a row in which we only see him half of the time, at half of his form. Much as we love the man, it is time to face up to the facts – the age of Totti is over. Roma need to learn how to walk on their own feet, and they need to learn this desperately. The best thing Totti could do would be to hand his captain’s armband to De Rossi at the end of this season. Not to stop playing throughout, but to admit that this team now requires more than he is capable of giving. Not to stop playing, because it would be foolish to throw away an endless goal-scoring resource like him, but to use him only to the best of his abilities, not to turn him into Roma’s only ability.
We said that Ranieri was aware of these problems. A lot of his work has been focussed on recuperating some key players (he even made a public statement about wanting to get Mexès back to his old impressive self). We stated a few days ago that his work so far had been good, and we stand by that reading, despite the poverty of the sine-Totti results. There is still space for a lot of growth. But there is also space for one major regret, and for the first time this column shall allow itself a major criticism of Rosella Sensi, our president. Ranieri was supposed to come in earlier. He should have been brought in immediately after the end of the last season. The courage to let go of Luciano Spalletti should have been found. If that had been done, Ranieri could have spent the summer getting to know his men (and getting them back). He could also have tested out all of the tactical solutions – something which he is doing now, as he switches from one formation to another almost in accordance with the weather. If he had only been offered the right platform to start his work from, Ranieri could have gone so far. Now, the match against Bologna – yet another must-win, especially given that Inter come right after that – is already stained with desperation. Bologna themselves know this, and they will face Roma with no fear. Nowadays, nobody faces Roma with fear.
Roma Club Focus 2009/10
The senate is adjourned – August 25, 2009
Houston, we have a problem – August 28, 2009
The time of Penelope – September 1, 2009
Good move, bad timing – September 4, 2009
International week (Georgia-Italy, Italy-Bulgaria)
Break means homework time for Ranieri – September 7, 2009
A win that means more than three points – September 15, 2009
Ranieri chases team spirit – September 18, 2009
Champagne! – September 22, 2009
Children of Chaos – September 25, 2009
Catania is beginning to get on our nerves – September 29, 2009
Ranieri has yet to stabilise i Lupi – October 3, 2009
A solid win at a heavy price? – October 6, 2009
Rumours as IFFHS ranks the Giallorossi as best in Italy – October 9, 2009
The strange attractor of two inherently chaotic teams – October 16, 2009
The sound and the fury – October 20, 2009
The importance of being Francesco – October 23, 2009
A shot in the foot – October 27, 2009
Waiting for Godot (and the rest of our men) – October 30, 2009