It has happened – Luciano Spalletti has left the Giallorossi. It has been part of the ongoing soap opera that is AS Roma – a club that currently has no money to spend on players, that is looking to be sold one minute and then isn’t the next, where the manager is being confirmed as untouchable in one breath but then is out the door a moment later, a club that was playing Champions League football last season and now finds itself dead bottom of Serie A. Whilst the driver was warming the engine of his car to take Spalletti to a meeting with club directors to offer his resignation, they were already in talks with Claudio Ranieri about becoming the new Coach of the club. You couldn’t make this stuff up even if you tried, you really couldn’t.
Leaving to one side the complete disarray in which Roma finds itself, there is plenty to discuss when it comes to Luciano Spalletti and the manner of his demise as the capital’s club Coach. In all honesty, his four years in charge have seen a degree of success – runners up in Serie A twice, two Coppa Italia trophies and an Italian Super Cup doesn’t seem to be a bad haul for a club in financial dire straits. But, there are a myriad of obvious failures that have, over the course of this period, highlighted the inadequacies of the man from Certaldo. Spalletti’s inability to divert from his 4-2-3-1 formation, his lack of success in making the most of a Calciopoli weakened Serie A, his to failure to further the careers of the Roma youth players, his lack of experience in being able to turn the events of a game by making clever tactical switches at the right time and, possibly the final nail, his inability to convince Ruud Van Nistelrooy to join his club on transfer deadline day, have all been contributing factors that have lead to Claudio Ranieri being given the job. Let’s consider where Spalletti went wrong.
Either through inspiration or as some critics may think, sheer luck, he discovered a formation that suited Roma down to the ground and had them playing the kind of football that drew comparisons with Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. During the season 2005/06, no fit strikers at his disposal, the now ex-Roma Tactician decided (or had little choice) to play Francesco Totti alone up front, with two wide players and an attacking midfielder, who was asked to burst into the box from deep. With Totti drawing centre backs all over the field, Amantino Mancini and Rodrigo Taddei in the form of their lives on the wing and a Simone Perrotta that scored goals reminiscent of David Platt (for those who don’t remember Platt, he was an attacking midfielder who could time his runs to a split second from midfield to get on the end of crosses or any ball played into the box to score a hatful of goals), Roma were virtually unstoppable. But this tactical triumph was a double edged sword, as Spalletti had no alternative if ever this mythical 4-2-3-1 failed – and it eventually did He had no replacement for Francesco Totti, who was key to the formation. Roma rarely won without the talismanic Captain and the Coach failed in finding a substitute whether in personnel or in a different footballing system. This was failure number one.
In 2006 Calciopoli left Serie A without direct rivals Juventus, Milan and Fiorentina. In the two seasons where these teams were either missing or still rebuilding, Roma finished runners up to Inter. An opportunity was missed to win at least one league title, which Inter grasped ruthlessly with both hands. He had a team which was playing beautiful football but was still dropping points whenever the 4-2-3-1 was misfiring or Francesco Totti was missing. In 2006/07, points were dropped against the likes of Empoli, Livorno and Siena, which meant that they lost the title to the Milanese club on the last day of the season by a mere 3 points (at half time on the final day, Roma were Champions of Italy). This was failure number two.
The squad was forever light on players and with the lack of funds at his disposal Spalletti missed an opportunity to bring through the potential of his youngsters. Players like Aleandro Rosi, Alessio Cerci, Stefano Okaka, Gianluca Curci, Daniele Gallopa, Valerio Virga, Marco Andreolli and Ricardo Faty had all featured and had shown some potential. But, they were either sent away on loan or sold off and any first team development at Roma just never happened. Even on his final Sunday as boss, his last game in charge, only a week or so before where he had declared that due to a lack of cash he was going to count on the youngsters, he left Cerci, Guberti, Motta and Andreolli out of the side against Juventus in favour of ageing Marco Cassetti (whose error gave away the first goal), Rodrigo Taddei (who was subbed at half time) and Simone Perrotta (who hadn’t played in months and is long since the Perrotta of the 2006 World Cup). And that was failure number three.
Two and a half seasons ago, Roma were on the cusp of starting a long cycle of success but Spalletti failed to further on this early good work and its fair to say that the team has in fact gone backwards since then. So much so, that on deadline day 32 year old Ruud Van Nistelrooy turned down an offer to join the Italians from Real Madrid. Even though he is third in line for a starting place at the Bernebeu, the Dutch forward would rather stick with the Spanish bench than join Roma. A team that has no real striker, no real target man, yet Van Nistelrooy wasn’t interested. This really does sum up the state of the club. To his credit Luciano did the honourable thing and resigned to save himself and the club any further embarrassment.
His replacement has been confirmed as Claudio Ranieri, an altogether different proposition. Ranieri played for Roma and has declared that a dream has been fulfilled by now coaching the club closest to his heart. His systems have always favoured the 4-4-2 formation and he is not afraid of changing his tactics and personnel at any point during a game. He has had varying degrees of success, coaching amongst other teams, Napoli, Fiorentina, Chelsea and Juventus. He has the experience on the big stage but has failed to win anything major, which is the real question mark hanging over him. His appointment will almost certainly mean a change in formation but what he does, is now conditioned by the players at his disposal. However, a change in coach will, without a doubt, provide a fresh impetus for the players. It may reinvigorate and motivate some, and give hope to others who have not had much playing time. A new set of ideas and strategies, players all fighting for their place in the team and a new man in charge looking to be impressed will most certainly be the shot in the arm the club has needed in a long while.
If a team can/t be refreshed by the injection of new players then surely a new man at the helm is the only other way to achieve this. Spalletti may not have been pushed but his resignation may well be Roma’s only chance of salvaging something from a season that already appears a write off only two games in.