Roma Club Focus: Season Preview 2013/14
Roma Americana, take three. After Luis Enrique and Zdenek Zeman comes Rudi Garcia, who has the unenviable task of needing to produce results quickly after two years of frustration.
James Pallotta was keen to stress that Garcia is his first permanent coaching appointment since becoming president, but there will be little time for a honeymoon period for the Frenchman as he attempts to succeed where the Spaniard and the Czech failed.
In just a month’s time comes the first Rome derby of the season, and it is past time that Roma beat Lazio. The Giallorossi will have to hit the ground running.
Once again, sporting director Walter Sabatini has been busy in the transfer market to provide Roma with a competitive squad.
This year though, the focus has largely been on experience and proven ability rather than potential: Kevin Strootman rather than Panagiotis Tachtsidis, Maicon instead of Ivan Piris.
Roma have also (legitimately) exploited some loopholes to sign extra non-EU players, signing Amara Konate and Babu before selling them abroad in order to open up extra spots for Maicon and Gervinho.
The two major departures this summer have been sales of necessity.
Marquinhos was the revelation of last season and an approach from one of Europe’s elite or nouveaux riches clubs was inevitable; the eventual €35m offer from PSG was impossible for the club to turn down.
Others including Maarten Stekelenburg, Matteo Brighi and Tachtsidis have also left for pastures new, while Simone Perrotta retired at the end of last season. More sales look likely, with Rodrigo Taddei linked with Livorno and Marco Borriello being offered to anyone who will listen.
However Sabatini has spent money wisely this summer, landing Mehdi Benatia from Udinese (€13.5m plus co-ownership of Valerio Verre and Nico Lopez) and Kevin Strootman (€16.5m rising to a potential €20m) from PSV.
Beating Manchester United to Strootman’s signature was a real coup for Roma; the 23-year-old, who has already captained the Netherlands, is a complete midfielder capable of helping out in both defensive and attacking phases.
Tin Jedvaj has arrived to attempt to plug the Marquinhos-shaped gap in defence, which has also been strengthened by the signing of Maicon on a free transfer.
Lukasz Skorupski will provide back up to Morgan De Sanctis in goal, while Gervinho will renew acquaintances with Garcia after Roma paid Arsenal €8m for the former Lille forward.
“For us, Rudi represents what is good about the coaches that have preceded him. We chose him for his past, his results, his flexibility and his great desire for Roma.”
His achievements at Lille, including a league and cup double in 2011, are commendable as he maintained charge over a constantly evolving team that had to cope with losing its best players each summer.
His attacking mentality is what Roma’s owners have always been after and in Lamela and Gervinho, Roma have two wide forwards with great dynamism and ability to switch roles – something Garcia is keen to utilise.
There will also be a greater attention to the defence than under Luis Enrique or Zeman, and there is a wealth of experience and Serie A knowhow in the Giallorossi backline mixed with the promising pair of Jedvaj and Alessio Romagnoli.
In pre-season, Garcia’s 4-3-3 system has looked fluid and mutually supportive with full backs supporting attacks, the front three switching positions and the midfield trio constantly moving to provide options or close down space.
Strootman’s box-to-box style seems ideally suited to the system and will be part of a high calibre midfield alongside Daniele De Rossi and Miralem Pjanic. Garcia will have to work on the defence though (stop me if you’ve heard this one before); Roma failed to keep a clean sheet in seven pre-season friendlies, including against a local representative XI during the ritiro at Brunico.
There are reasons to be hopeful ahead of the new season. There is a coach that fans can be united in their support for (unlike Zeman), sensible moves have been made in the mercato, the team look to be adapting to Garcia’s tactics in pre-season, and there is finally a real sense of team unity in the dressing room.
Osvaldo’s departure should also create a better atmosphere in the stands, where the treatment of the Italian often bordered on shameful. “Some of the fans treated me really badly, it was always my fault,” Osvaldo said after joining Southampton.
“I don’t understand why, I gave everything for the Roma shirt. Too many people in Rome believe what is said on the radio and in certain newspapers.”
However, while the dressing room will also be a calmer place without the Italian international someone must step up and fill his goalscoring boots.
Whether Mattia Destro can stay fit for long enough to do so is debatable, and any new signings will have to settle in quickly. Unfortunately for Garcia he will also have to make up for the lack of progress of his predecessors; in the two years since the Americans took over the club, the marketing and commercialisation of the club has moved on while there has been stasis on the pitch.
Qualification for Europe is essential this season. The Champions League appears to be a step too far with Juventus, Napoli and Fiorentina looking strong, but a Europa League finish would at least be progress. I believe Garcia is the man for Roma, but the pressure is very much on.