Will the real Roma please stand up?

Despite continuous investment and influx of players, AS Roma have failed to live up to the expectations but Aditya Bajaj wonders if this season will be any different.
 Aditya Bajaj
 Feature | Serie A
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There are overachievers and there are underachievers. While the likes of Udinese and Catania have over the past couple of seasons exceeded all expectations, Roma on the other hand have continued to underachieve over the past few seasons. Perhaps the fact that Antonello Venditti – the songwriter of the club’s official anthem – even requested the owners to stop using it is enough to gauge the frustration of the fans that reached the tipping point when the team was met with angry supporters during their first pre-season training in July.

“This is no longer the Roma that I knew”, is what he said venting his anger at the state of the club and quite frankly - fans aside - it summed up a universal notion.

Once a regular in the Champions League as one of Serie A’s ‘big four’, the Giallarossi haven’t even been close to qualifying for Europe’s elite competition – let alone do well in it since the end of the Sensi family era back in 2011.

Sold to Thomas Richard diBenedetto – a partner in the Fenway Sports Group (FSG) who also own the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool – the club has seen significant investments over the past couple of seasons but the results have been the same. Having signed players like Erik Lamela, Bojan Krkic, Gabriel Heinze and Maarten Stekelenburg it did seem like 2011-12 would finally be the season where the Lupi stood up to the likes of Milan, Juventus and Inter just like in the first half of the past decade but it was just another false dawn.

Luis Enrique, the man vested with the responsibility to bring the club back to its feet failed heavily trying to incorporate the tiki-taka philosophy he mastered with Barcelona B back in Spain as Roma finished a miserable seventh failing to even make it to the Europa League. He quit citing a need for a break, and the story continued next season when Zdeněk Zeman was brought back for a second term with the club amidst the promise of ‘Zemanlandia’.

The Czech certainly did not disappoint with Roma playing some of the best attacking football in Europe during his time in charge but ignored the defence completely ultimately getting fired in February leaving the Giallarossi in eighth position and Europe a distant dream once again. His time would be more fondly remembered for his altercations with core players like Pablo Osvaldo, Maarten Stekelenburg and Rome’s own boy Daniele De Rossi when he sidelined the trio during his stint polarising the dressing-room as a result.

None could have described the situation better than Miralem Pjanic himself when the midfielder said the club’s all-attack style play was their strength but also their biggest weakness. The results improved to some extent under interim coach Aurelio Andreazolli but he was never the one to take the club forward ending his tenure with a heart-breaking Coppa Italia final loss to city-rivals Lazio adding insult to injury and infuriating the millions of supporters who had had enough.

Perhaps, letting go of Vincenzo Montella in the summer of 2011 will ever remain the biggest regret within the hierarchy who decided against making him the permanent manager opting for Enrique instead. The former Roma forward has been a revelation since, with Catania and Fiorentina playing some of the best football in the league under his management.

Moving on from the events of the disastrous past couple of seasons, it’s paramount that Roma understand that a new season brings along with it a chance to start over again. The club has made all the right noises in the transfer market this season starting with the appointment of former Lille coach Rudi Garcia as their new manager. The Frenchman won the double with Lille back in 2010-11 season and it’s under his tutelage that current Chelsea star Eden Hazard found his feet and became a house hold name. It was he who made Arsenal sit up and notice Gervinho as the pacey Ivory Coast international enjoyed a crucial spell with him, even though failing to realise his potential later at the Emirates. The important point is that he has his way with the youngsters and the Giallarossi have a host of future stars who he would like to groom just like he did in France.

Man of steel | Roma boosts a midfield consisting of Strootman, De Rossi and Florenzi

It has been a fruitful mercato so far, and just like the previous campaigns Roma have re-enforced themselves with potential signings, the biggest being Dutch international midfielder Kevin Strootman who alongside Danielle De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi could form one of the best midfield trios in Serie A.

An already potent attack looks even more dangerous with Gervinho returning to play once again with Garcia. The winger would hope to regain his confidence and play an important role in an attack that already consists the likes of Erik Lamela, Mattia Destro, Pablo Osvaldo, Marco Borriello and the ever present Francesco Totti who is set to kick off his 21st season at the Olimpico. Roma had one of the best attacks last season and if their pre-season form is anything to go by, they look ready for the new season.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Garcia would be to handle the unsettled and mercurial striker Pablo Osvaldo, who ran more into trouble with the club and the supporters than the opposition’s defense last season. There are no doubts about his talent. He is still in national team coach Cesare Prandelli’s plans for next year’s World Cup in Brazil and scored 17 goals in 31 games last season but it’s his temperament and attitude that threaten to thrash away a successful career in the capital city. With no potential suitors for his signature, it would be of immense benefit for both the club and the player if he keeps his head down and concentrates on his game with a potential World Cup spot hanging in the air.

Another area of distress is the ever inconsistent defence (they conceded a monstrous 56 goals in 38 league games last season. Marquinhos has been sold for quite a sum but a very able Mehdi Benatia had already been signed on from Udinese. The Morrocco defender would look to carry his impressive form with the Zebrette to the Giallarossi. Serie A veteran Maicon returns to Italy after a rather low key season with Manchester City and with the World Cup in mind, he will hope to play like the beast that terrorised the right flank during his time with Inter. Though on the wrong side of the thirties, his experience could be valuable to the flurry of players like Leandro Castan on the roster who with a year of experience in Rome is set to partner Benatia at the heart of the defence. 

With Maarten Stekelenburg sold to Fulham, former Italy international and Napoli goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis will take up the spot between the sticks and it would be interesting to see if he can solve the problem that has plagued the capital side for quite some time now.

It’s not like the club doesn’t have a good squad. In fact there is more depth than the likes of Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina but what really needs to change is the attitude of the team when up against the minnows of the league. Roma were the true giant killers of Serie A last season having picked three points against the likes of Juventus, Inter and Milan but what they forget is that not long ago they were amongst the giants too and it’s this mentality that needs to change. A good victorious run is often followed by a series of defeats, mostly against the smaller teams, and this inconsistency has the hurt the club more than anything else. If at all there is something that Garcia needs to change within the squad, it’s their inability to secure results in such fixtures.

With Juventus up there as the strongest, this season will be the fiercest not for the title but for the two Champions League spots behind the Bianconeri. Winning the Serie A is still a distant dream and there is still some time to go before the Olimpico once again rejoices like they did in the summer of 2001, but it’s their ability to compete for the European spot that would be the ultimate test for the progress of the diBenedetto project that has until now, failed miserably.

With the likes of Napoli, Fiorentina and Milan still ahead for various reasons maybe the Giallarossi miss out on another Champions League next season but if they give up in the race like the previous two seasons they might stop being an attractive destination for players like Kevin Strootman who was brave enough to place his trust in a club he believes has the ability to achieve much more than what they have over the years.

Fiorentina failed last season, but their continuous fight with Milan for third place won many a heart and Roma would do well do take some inspiration from the Viola.

For the fans, it would be nice to have the old Roman spirit back. As for the neutrals, it would be nice to see the Real Roma stand up.

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