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Stuart Harper On August - 15 - 2011

Sette Sempre Unica: The Strain of Stranieri At AS Roma

Fittingly, for the first Serie A club to fall under foreign ownership, AS Roma’s willingness to embrace change continues with gusto. An influx of youth and experience from various corners of the globe is creating real fervour amongst tifosi, singling Roma out as one of world football’s teams to watch this season.

But amongst the excitement and anticipation, does the existing blend of old and new make for a harmonious camp or is there discord for which further fine tuning is required?

It is no secret that Thomas Di Benedetto is making purposeful strides away from any vestiges of calcio as we know it. From the Spanish coach, to signings pulled from Europe and South America, it is clear that the Giallorosso are fast becoming an increasingly cosmopolitan club. Furthermore, even when seeking the services of a bona fide Italian in Franco Baldini, they have a man who has long and publicly eschewed calcio.

A common denominator amongst Roma’s burgeoning collection of world talent is youth. Indeed - with the exception of Gabriel Heinze - Roma’s outfield signings only José Angel has celebrated his 21st birthday with Bojan Krcic and Erik Lamela months shy of this landmark. Even Maarten Stekelenburg at 28 is young by goalkeeper’s standards.

So what does this blend of cosmopolitan youth mean for the club, the season ahead and for established members of Roma’s playing staff?

Serie A has proved itself a fertile ground for new talent, particularly that of South American origin. Two recent exports successfully cut their footballing teeth on the peninsula, and have since earned high profile moves away.  Chilean Alexis Sanchez and Argentine Javier Pastore, have both proved that Italy is accommodating of both youth and a swashbuckling brand of football that South American’s favour.

The question for Roma however does not revolve around Lamela, Krcic and Angel fulfilling their clear potential, it is whether or not they can form a cohesive unit in their first season together. The real danger for the Olimpico faithful is a natural tendency to expect too much, too soon. With change is brought expectation, but against stable, well established teams such as Milan and Napoli, a brand new squad is likely to be found out.

Feasibly, and if rumours of a further four signings come to fruition, Luis Enrique could field a starting XI consisting of all but one or two established players – and although unlikely, it highlights the scale of Roma’s transformation. So, with a group of players unfamiliar and unable to communicate with each other, and indeed strangers to Italy, not only does it call for patience but critically, will place demands upon Roma’s established stars – and here’s where complications could arise.

Luis Enrique will understandably look towards Francesco Totti as his captain and will expect ‘il capitano’ to help coalesce Roma as a unit but, for all his genius, Totti is no orthodox captain.

As witnessed throughout the turbulence of last year, Totti was a mixture of a reclusive sulk under Claudio Ranieri and ebullient enigma under Vincenzo Montella, but at no time was he a publically vociferous figure despite the club floundering for much of the season. However, and as seasoned tifosi know, although Francesco’s lack of leadership flies in the face of what’s expected from those blessed with the armband, that’s the payoff for possessing a peerlessly unique icon.

Then there’s Totti’s apparent heir, ‘il capitano futuro’ – Daniele De Rossi. Last season saw him harangued by personal issues which blighted his form and manifested into disciplinary issues. Without being unduly harsh, the most recent examples set by De Rossi are unbefitting of captaincy status, and between the present and proposed future captains; Enrique lacks a much needed figure to glue together, what is currently a brand new and somewhat disparate collective.

As of this moment, De Rossi’s future, let alone his state of mind remain undecided. This week Daniele has rebutted questions about his contract situation, all of which perpetuates further rumour and conjecture. And if Roma’s new acquisitions are looking for leadership, they will not find it where commitment is seemingly lacking.

Ironically, and almost certainly by design, Roma’s new coach may have to turn to another new arrival to compensate for the qualities lacking from De Rossi and Totti. In Heinze - as Serie A Weekly previously explained - Roma possesses an experienced and revered campaigner with the linguistic dexterity to involve Nego, Krcic and Lamela without exception.

Totti will of course retain the armband, but how this considerable amount of change will affect him remains to be seen. Interestingly, it appears pressure is already being applied by Baldini who is yet some months away from officially being a Roma employee. Baldini is keen for Totti to focus on playing rather than political duties and even concurred with Ranieri, who this week classed Totti as lazy – comments which obviously, were not well received.

Clearly, all encompassing change creates a state of flux and tensions will arise. Totti has been the one constant throughout Roma’s recent history - how and if his mindset alters is debatable and how his relationship with the architect of this transformation, Luis Enrique, manifests, is yet another fascinating subplot.

Ostensibly, Enrique should demand Totti’s assistance and that of De Rossi, as the Spaniard looks to meld a new look Giallorossi – but here is where the former Barcelona coach will find unprecedented dynamics at play and will learn that Roma is simply a team unlike any other – all of which suggests that the tifosi will require patience as the stranieri and accompanying strain is managed.

Stuart Harper

Freelance sports writer covering football, calcio & futbol. A Villa, Roma & Barca fan. Cycling too.

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