It’s incredible to think that should Roma beat Novara in Sunday’s early kick off, they could be as close as four points behind the final Champions League place. Despite their frightening inconsistency, long-term planning may pay dividends, seeing Roma return to where their fans believe they should be.
The word ‘project’ is possibly the most over-used word in all of calcio. Time and time again, presidents and coaches wheel out this word to make it look like they have some sort of plan for the coming years. Whether it’s AC Milan or AC Lumezzane however, almost none of them stick to the script. Three bad results and the project is ripped up and re-drafted. But perhaps this is where Roma differ from most sides in the top division. They do have a plan. And so far, it seems to be paying dividends.
The arrival of Thomas Di Benedetto signalled a new era for the capital giants. Long running owners the Sensi family relinquished control to the US entrepreneur in a deal worth a reported €60.3 million and the ground-work was laid. In came Walter Sabbatini as Sporting Director, Franco Baldini as General Manager (originally due to arrive in Summer 2012, the process was hurried as Baldini left his England post along with Fabio Capello) and most importantly, Luis Enrique as coach. Enrique had worked with Barcelona B the previous season and is seen by many as the next Pep Guardiola. A lazy comparison perhaps, but watching Roma this season it’s impossible not to draw comparisons between the two teams. Although Barca are clearly ahead of the Giallorossi in terms of execution, the Romans are working towards something very similar, and the patience shown by Di Benedetto during the formulative games of the season could even at that stage be defining.
Roma struggled to make an impact at the beginning of the season and took some time to find their feet. They only picked up one win from their opening four games, including defeat to Cagliari on the opening day. Their first win came at Parma but Roma were playing at a very slow tempo. At any other Serie A side the bullet could have been given, but the unheard p word, patience, was exercised and Enrique was allowed to develop the style of play. Although the inconsistencies have remained, results have been getting steadily better, save for the odd blip. In the space of 21 days they hammered Inter 4-0 but were then humiliated 4-1 in Bergamo against Atalanta. New, younger players such as Fabio Borini, Miralem Pjanic and Jose Angel have brought naivety, but also a freshness and speed to Roma’s play, something missing since the Spalletti days. With the new boys complimenting old war horses such as Totti and De Rossi, it seems that after some growing pains the Roma players are buying into what the club are trying to achieve.
With Novara, Lecce and Fiorentina all to come within the next four games, it wouldn’t be fantasy to suggest Roma could lead an unlikely charge for a Champions League place next season. Their inconsistency could put paid to those ideas, but coach Enrique won’t rest on his laurels, stating ’Let’s try to win them all!’ But it could be next season when we get a much clearer idea as to the progress of the project Thomas Di Benedetto and friends have created. With more players to arrive, including rumoured bids for such luminaries as Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez, Roma have many attributes to allow them to challenge at the top of the table. If Di Benedetto’s alien like patience within Calcio continues, perhaps it will break the mould inside the game and allow other coaches and projects to flourish. After all, if it can be done at a giant like Roma, why can’t it be done elsewhere?
Whatever happens, it certainly won’t be boring watching the Roma saga in the next few years. Should Luis Enrique continue the steady work he has begun this season, perhaps in time we will see the Scudetto shield on Roma’s famous Giallorossi shirts once again. For now however, most Romanisti will settle for the Champions League badge neatly applied to their sleeves come what May.