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Stuart Harper On September - 15 - 2011

AS Roma - Great Expectations

Thinking about it, events in the Giallorosso half of Rome make for a startling read. An American acquires the club and thus becomes the first non Italian owner in Serie A history. Despite an unfamiliarity with the game of football he dispenses with orthodox thinking, instead embarking upon a brave new course that sees Roma’s identity change beyond recognition.

A hefty raft of new signings are made, enough to field an almost unrecognisable starting XI for Roma’s first game of the season. Di Benedetto’s bravest move is possibly entrusting the hitherto untested Luis Enrique to not only supervise Roma’s rebirth, but to dictate which players should warrant investment - a strategy which has seen Europe and South America plundered in a remarkably eclectic recruitment strategy.

As Roma’s tidal wave of change gathered pace, even the once steadfast figure of Francesco Totti found himself in danger of being washed away - and sensing this, certain tifosi voiced their dissatisfaction accordingly. Under the Sensi regime ‘il capitano’ was untouchable, now however, the new owners are eager to whittle away Totti’s influence and turn Roma from the archetypal one-man team into an uncluttered democracy.

The question that remains on the cusp of a new campaign, can an what has so far been an unprecedented state of flux be transformed into a coherent force both on and off the pitch?

Considering Enrique’s purchases in isolation, Roma have bought well and questioning the quality of each signing is relatively futile. The real quandary surrounds whether or not an incredibly young manager, untested at this level, can survive Rome’s rarified air while traveling along a steep learning curve and coalescing his troops?

There is little doubt that Enrique is made of stern stuff, few migrate between Real Madrid and Barcelona without having their character severely tested or enhanced, but as a player, one faces relatively one dimensional challenges compared to managing. Even with the assistance of Walter Sabatini and what ultimately will be Franco Baldini, it remains to be seen how well can the new ‘Mister‘ spin plates and whether fans have patience should a few fall to the floor.

A critical part of the plate-spinning trick will be the speed at which Enrique and his imports acclimatize to life in Italy and indeed how well they communicate with each other. One or two imports is one thing, change on this scale is something else. What’s more, overhauling  AC Milan and Napoli, last season’s notable forces, will be a stern test considering each has carefully enhanced the exact same squads that made last season’s campaign so successful.

Interestingly however, Roma’s Europa cup exit may actually prove to be a blessing in disguise when  trying to chase down the aforementioned Rossoneri and Partonopei. Free from the added demands made by pan-Europe excursions, Enrique is afforded valuable time to work with his men while other protagonists endure additional, leg sapping encounters - conversely, this could of course translate into additional expectation and pressure such is life with the capital club whose tifosi are wise to the minute vagaries surrounding their club.

Ultimately, and while sounding terribly negative, it is hard to see this season affording Roma the breathing space necessary to gel into a formidable, scudetto chasing unit. There are simply too many variables at play.

There will be afternoons when the team belies its naivety and Roma’s inherent flair overcomes lesser opponents - there again, there will be typically stoic and well drilled Italian sides who will frustrate and take advantage of a brand new side who will sometimes look vacantly at each other in the heat of battle.

So, this season will prove to be the ultimate transitional phase to compliment what has been the ultimate in tumultuous summers - the only guarantees on offer is a liberal dose of excitement and a top-half finish. But if Luis Enrique can emerge from what is ahead wiser, with Roma’s tifosi on board and with clear development on show, this season will be considered a success - the bigger prizes and more tangible rewards just may have to wait a year.

Stuart Harper

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

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