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When a star collapses under its own weight, in an extraordinary phenomenon that occurs for a variety of reasons including an excess consumption of fuel, a black hole results. The star’s internal pressure cannot withstand the force of its own gravity, and essentially implodes, becoming a swirling outlet which devours anything it comes across. On a scientific level, this exists as mere fact. On a metaphorical one however, it seems that Francesco Totti has become a black hole at Roma- a former star whose power is now so immense that it threatens the existence of anything that crosses his path- including his team and fellow strikers.

Roma’s game against Cesena was a rather typical Claudio Ranieri Roma match. The game was rather scrappy, and Roma didn’t play particularly beautiful football, but the result was obtained. Up until Fabio Simplicio and Maximiliano Pellegrino combined to put a ball in the net that Adriano should have sunk moments earlier, the game could have easily gone Cesena’s way. Both teams had scored goals that were ruled out- Cesena for a handball, Roma for offside- and both had multiple chances at net. Furthermore, neither defense played particularly well, a problem that has afflicted Roma very much in recent games.

Marco Cassetti’s performance, in particular, illustrates just how badly new ownership is needed at Roma. Although he was serviceable, he displayed tremendous hesitation in clearing the ball. He was often caught in two minds, debating between hoofing the ball out for a throw-in and controlling it to re-build play, but instead he twice merely controlled the ball behind the goal line to concede a corner. In fact, his play was so rough that Ranieri decided he had seen enough and subbed on Rosi in the sixty ninth minute; the same Rosi who had only played seven matches all season, five of which were substitute appearances, and seems to have been written off entirely by Claudio.

That is, the same Claudio who made an enormous statement in subbing Mirko Vucinic and Jeremy Menez for Adriano and Marco Borriello during the final ten minutes. The two players started the game along with Francesco Totti, in a rare occasion that saw Borriello benched, perhaps undeservingly so (he is the team’s top goalscorer this season). The trident however had not truly worked, with all three players poking and prodding but never legitimately threatening.

Menez shone as the brightest of the three, continually running at Cesena’s defense and proving to be one of the star men in Serie A on the counter. He is the one who needs the most playing time as well, showing the most promise but still needing to practice his decision-making skills. For example, in the fiftieth minute, he dribbled his way through most of the Cesena defense only to be caught up under his own feet once he was near the net. Game-time should iron out these flaws in his play and allow him to truly blossom- something he seems to understand, given his dejected look once he was subbed off.

However, his disappointment was nothing compared to the anger of Mirko Vucinic. Feisty all game, the Montenegrin had already pushed a Cesena player in the sixteenth minute to get the ball for a throw-in and reacted angrily to a shirt pull in the seventy second. Once his number was displayed on the substitutes’ board, he stormed off the pitch, refusing to talk to Ranieri, and kicked a water bottle on the way to the dugout. Clearly, the two younger members of the strike force felt betrayed by coming off whilst the relatively ineffective Totti remained on the pitch.

Totti himself had a rather mediocre game. Both he and Menez are often ponderous on the ball, with the difference being that the latter uses his time to make a pass that allows play to advance, whilst the former tends to just slow down play entirely on counters. By keeping him on the pitch, Ranieri decided to gamble with age instead of youth, throwing on the two twenty-eight year-olds to partner the thirty four year-old. It remains unclear if the gamble actually paid off- Adriano missed the shot that should have won the game, and the final touch off a Roma player that led to the goal was from a midfielder, Simplicio- but it seems evident that the Roma dressing room is far from serene.

The struggle was exemplary of the transition through which Roma as a whole is undergoing. Desperately in need of new players and owners, Ranieri is caught juggling age vs youth, and is, in turn, being thrown into a struggle of his own, risking the trust of players such as Mirko and Jeremy. Other struggles run amuck as well, including Totti and Adriano vs Menez and Vucinic- past great strikers vs potential future greats- as well as players vs manager. Roma is defined by conflicts at the moment, and it seems unclear if Ranieri is the man for the job. Vucinic and Menez’s reaction suggests that they have lost faith in the coach, and the substitution itself suggests that the true power in the team still resides in Totti, a waning force. The man who was once an enormous star is creating an enormous black hole, and it is the careers of Mirko and Menez which seem at stake.

And yet, not all hope is lost. The team remains in fourth place and actually closed the gap with Milan to six points, due to Milan’s draw with Lecce over the weekend. Inter’s shadow looms large behind the capital team, the club boosted by the knowledge that winning both games-in-hand will boost them to merely three behind Milan, but for now Roma has done what’s important: getting the result.

It just remains to be seen if getting all three points will occur week-in and week-out now that this very public display of unrest has occurred.

Julian De Martinis

Calcio, Azzurri, and Roma tifosi. Blogger, correspondent, podcast host (@LaMagicast). Lover of books, movies, wordplay, family, and a good cappuccino.

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  • Michael Dixon

    It is ironic that the article suggests that the players who were actually picked should be annoyed at being substituted after an incredible 80 minutes, which is long into the game for a substitution to take place. For the old school like Ranieri,(and others myself as I am his age), this, surely, is another example of the spolit modern footballer wanting everything their own way. It is creeping in everywhere. Tevez at Manchester City is another.

    Nevertheless the points are well-made by the writer. The bad example of course was set by Totti who went home,no less, when he was substituted by Vucinic against Inter Milan, who then scored to win the game. Similarly the two substitutes on Sunday combined to win the game albeit very luckily. Was the coach wrong both times?

    I am at a complete loss to understand the behaviour of some of the current crop of top footballers. They fail to realise there are ample games in the season-Roma play again on Wednesday.They want to play every minute of every game; they are greedy and self-centred.

    But as indicted in the article it all stems from the Club Captain and his example. He must really do better if he is to end his career as a role model rather than a footballer on the slide but acting badly. He should and surely is much better than that. Maybe last Sunday was a case of Ranieri saying ” you have made the fuss, go out and show me what it is all about. By all accounts Totti did’nt.

  • Julian D

    Across the board, player temperament is a large problem. The situation at Roma is further escalated due to the club’s financial state and age of the players involved. Francesco Totti in particular is in a precarious position, given his age, his history with the club, and the fact that the club needs new owners.

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