Almost three months and thirteen games into the new campaign and Roma capitulated to the Viola in dramatic fashion. Three goals against and three red cards gave credence to ‘unlucky thirteeen’. As the Giollarosso await the visit of the so far unbeaten leaders Juventus, the storm clouds continue to gather.
So if you like your Roma roundup sugar-coated, maybe your gaze should be averted. Despite the fact that anyone with the temerity to criticize ‘new’ Roma risks being labelled a non-believer, we are thirteen games into an unpalatable season and have witnessed sufficient calcio to offer a considered appraisal.
Boiled down to its bare bones, Roma was bought by a well meaning and enthusiastic American beguiled by the eternal city and its love affair with the beautiful game. Despite a distinct unfamiliarity with calcio, Bostonian Thomas Di Bendetto made good on his ‘passione’ and became the first non-Italian owner of a Serie A side.
In the space of a few short months Di Benedetto bankrolled a sweeping raft of changes that contradicted his patent lack of football knowledge. Understandably, out went Vincenzo ‘l’aeroplanino’ Montella, replaced by a coach with no experience of first team management in his native Spain, let alone in Serie A, and particularly the hotbed of a scudetto starved Rome.
Accompanying Luis Enrique came a swarm of imports from disparate European enclaves – and although each individual acquisition bought discernible quality to the Giallorosso ranks, Trigoria was a hub of newness – a complex melting pot of differing nationalities and abilities governed by a manager born of rich heritage, but void of meaningful managerial experience.
In conservative terms, it should come as no surprise that the thirteenth game of Roma’s new epoch proved unlucky. In more callously candid terms, the Fiorentina game was an ill disciplined culmination of a torrid few weeks and a fraught campaign that leaves today’s Roma on the verge of unravelling.
As ungrateful as this may sound, Thomas Di Benedetto’s well meaning benevolence has lacked distinct purpose, strategy and structure – yielding uncomfortable unfamiliarity, and a team some distance from melding into a fully functional squad. Through this unfamiliarity, Luis Enrique has been unable to establish his optimum starting XI with players visibly growing frustrated with either being played out of position (Osvaldo) or generally under-performing (Bojan).
To put this theory into some sort of meaningful, on-field context, of Roma’s thirteen Serie A games this campaign, Roma have dominated ball possession in all but two ties – averaging 59% possession in all games to date. Despite this impressive figure, Roma have scored just fifteen goals compared to AC Milan’s twenty-nine, and the Giallorosso defense has been breached almost three times that of Udinese’s – seventeen to the six conceded by the Zebrette.
Some would argue that such ball retention indicates that Roma are functioning well, but instead, this statistic illustrates the reverse, within context of goals for and against. To enjoy dominance of the ball and not convert this into goals or clean-sheets suggests that Roma lose their way in both offensive and defensive thirds. In other words, Roma’s passing game breaks down in critical areas, clearly suggesting there is some way to go before Roma can be considered ‘a team‘ in the truest sense of the word.
In the last two performances we have seen distinct frustrations – and frustrations have a habit of manifesting into something tangible, such as Osvaldo’s contratemps with Lamela and Bojan’s, post red-card anger in Florence. And sadly, both could be considered a direct consequence of the whole, uncertain dynamic of an inexperienced coach coupled with uncertain players.
So is the answer, as certain factions are advocating, the sacking of Luis Enrique?
The honest answer is no. The worst case scenario for Roma this term is mid-table mediocrity as even a dysfunctional Roma could not follow Sampdoria into Serie B – so the penalty for persisting on this path is a Europe-less season next year – which is likely to a beneficial outcome anyway, if not fiscally ideal.
It needs a full season for Thomas Di Benedetto and Franco Baldini to properly judge the ‘project’, as it is annoyingly referred to. Personally speaking, the enormity of the task to rebuild Roma will eventually prove too great for Luis Enrique – not to say he is inadequate as a coach, just that the scale and many complexities of lifting Roma to a scudetto from such a raw state demands a certain something that is beyond Enrique at this stage of his managerial career.
For now, the very least Roma can do is allow Enrique this season to properly cut his managerial teeth, and if he is to leave, he can do so having been afforded ample opportunity to learn about his own limitations and abilities. Genuinely, this is not Roma’s season to challenge – and a year spent assessing the squad won’t hurt – nor will keeping with the Spaniard.
It won’t happen, not peacefully at least, but tifosi should let go of this season – allow Thomas Di Benedetto identify the flaws in trying to literally throw together a squad and use the season as means to learn for the long haul. Ultimately, for Roma to be considered earnest title challengers they may well need to be governed by a degree of experience and discipline – and it just so happens that in the summer of 2012 a candidate of such impeccable repute will become available – until then however let us ride out the storm and see what gives.