What if… Luis Enrique tries to turn Roma into Barca?
Luis Enrique is the new manager of Roma, and the former Spain international promises tiki-taka football straight from the Nou Camp. In joining Roma, Enrique brought an end to a very successful three-year stint at Barcelona B, the reserve team of their namesake, where he got them promoted to the second division and may even have steered them to La Liga itself, but for rules against reserve teams playing in the same league as their own.
Enrique has made it clear that he wants Roma to play just like Barcelona. “My intention is to bring to Italy what I learned at Barcelona in these years, so offensive football with good team play”, he announced.
Not so long ago Roma were known for beautiful football, but in the last two or three years they have disappeared from global football fans’ radars a little. And adopting the style of the world’s best club is easier said than done. There are a number of factors that need to be put in place – and obstacles that need to be removed – for Roma to play the lightning-quick, short passing game of Barcelona.
First and foremost, skilful, speedy players who have the ability to put tiki-taka tactics into practice need to be in the team. Enrique is allegedly interested in bringing a number of Blaugrana players – seniors and reserves – to the Stadio Olimpico, and a deal for Spanish wunderkid Bojan Krkic is close to being finalised. Roma are also rumoured to be sweet on the young Swiss winger Xherdan Shaqiri, and with a new owner in Thomas Di Benedetto money should not be too much of an issue, leaving Roma with more freedom in the transfer window.
But what of the players already at Roma? Enrique wants to implement a 4-3-3 formation, the same formation that Barcelona have used to magnificent effect. Tricky, intelligent, quick players are the order of the day. In midfield, there are still places for enforcer Daniele De Rossi and the diminutive David Pizarro. The latter has excellent passing skills and so can play a crucial part in the new-look Giallorossi. There may also be room for Taddei, but the ageing Simone Perrotta doesn’t really fit into the new plans.
It’s in the attack that difficult decisions really have to be made. Mirko Vucinic and Jeremy Menez could play on either side of the centre-forward in the front three, but there are issues with both players. Vucinic has pace, vision and great technique. However, the Montenegrin has never been prolific and with many other clubs interested, Enrique could cash in.
Menez is another skilled attacking player. There are few footballers with better feet than the Frenchman, and he has a deadly eye for goal. But there are problems with his temperament and spats with Enrique’s predecessor Vincenzo Montella will alert the Gijón native to potential problems. Another reason for Barcelona’s success is the respect the players have for each other and the coach. If he is in the way of achieving that at Roma, he has to go.
Arguably the most important issue is the question over Francesco Totti. For years, Romanisti have been stressing the importance of having a successful back-up plan for when Totti is unavailable, yet one feels that Roma have never really had one. Er Pupone is still so important to the team: when he plays, every goalscoring chance involves him. When he doesn’t, chances become scarce.
But tiki-taka isn’t suited to Totti. He is approaching 35 and lacks the pace necessary for the system to work. Montella used him as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and to good effect, but the players around him will have to run their legs out if he is to be a first-team choice.
Arsenal are another club whose free-flowing football has won many plaudits but, unlike Barca, no trophies. It is now six years since they last claimed silverware, and part of this lack of success is down to the absence of a reliable goalkeeper and centre-backs. While Roma’s central defensive pairing of Juan and Nicolas Burdisso is respectable, they lack a top ‘keeper, so a new No.1 will surely be high on Enrique’s priority list.
Barcelona haven’t ‘bought’ success. They have nurtured their youth and brought them up to play the kind of football that the first team plays. Roma have been known to bring in excellent youth players such as De Rossi and Alberto Aquilani, but the conveyer belt has slowed down of late. And just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, this type of youth system cannot be bought. It would take years to create such an efficient academy, so it would only work if Roma are fully committed to the Barcelona philosophy.
So if Roma are to employ the quick-passing, high-possession game to good effect, they need a change up front, a better goalie and an excellent youth system, as well as time for these changes to be made. But, if Luis Enrique does get them playing his way, what then? You only need to look at Arsenal to understand that attractive football does not equate to winning trophies. And Serie A is a tougher league than most to convert beauty into success.
That’s not to say that the Italian game is ugly – Milan, Udinese and Palermo have won praise up and down the peninsula for their stylish nature. But whenever a big team of this sort emerges in Europe, an Italian club is always their biggest challenger. The seemingly invincible Barcelona succumbed to Inter last year, as they did to Milan in 1994. Neither Inter nor Milan were beautiful, but both did the job.
Such is the difficulty of the task when compared to the current state of Roma, who missed out on Champions League football this season, that qualification for Europe’s best tournament may be the best they can hope for, even when Enrique’s project gets going.
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