Project Roma: An Ode to Luis Enrique

PARMA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 25: AS Roma manager Luis Enrique looks on before the Serie A match between Parma FC and AS Roma at Stadio Ennio Tardini on September 25, 2011 in Parma, Italy. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

"My goal is not to come here and change Italian football, my goal is to make AS Roma the best football team AS Roma can be…We will do everything in our power to do that; we will try to increase the revenues coming to the team, which will give us the resources to hire the best players." DiBenedetto said.

This rather pithy quote from Thomas DiBenedetto serves as the guiding principle for the new direction of AS Roma, which is less of a "project" and more of an ambitious business plan, aimed at making Roma a consistent competitor at home and abroad.

This plan is hardly Earth shattering, as shrewd spending and creating and maximizing new revenue streams is hardly unique to Roma, but in the absence of any prior business plan, it takes on the aura of a "project". Though, to be fair to the Sensi family, the finances and debt the club incurred surely limited their ability to move forward with any real purpose or consistency, despite their best intentions.

Be it a project or simply a new paradigm, the product on and off the field is being affected. Seeing as the financial goals will take years, if not decades, to bare any substantial fruit, it seems absurd to pin all of the success or failure of this new business model on a first year coach, but that is just what happened.

Luis Enrique, for better or worse, became the personification of the new Roma. Hearts and hopes swooned at the thought of combining American dollars with the hot-shot Spanish coach, who had nurtured some of the best young talent on the continent. It’s fair to say that his credibility as a coach was somewhat inflated by the hype surrounding DiBenedetto’s takeover. Enrique had an unquestionable resume as a player, playing for both Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, not to mention multiple world cups and even a gold medal from the Barcelona Olympics. Impressive as his resume and stint as a youth manager might have been, they, in and of themselves, did not necessarily qualify him to manage a club the stature of Roma, at least not at this point in his managing career

Enrique, with respect to the expectations placed upon him,was remarkably prescient:

"This is what I do, this is how I play, this is why I'm here… If it doesn't work out or if I sense that the club no longer has confidence in me, I'll go. I'm not going to chain myself to the Roma bench."

But just has he was given a bit too much faith, given his modest managing experience, he has received far too much blame for a project that is barely 12 months old. Enrique inherited a team that sold off such valuable assets as Mirko Vucinic, Jeremy Menez and Philippe Mexes. While some fans can quibble about the relative merits or consistency of these players, they were integral parts of a competitive team. Making matters worse, their replacements, over a dozen of them, were purchased in a matter of weeks prior to the start of the season. Worse still, much of the reinforcement was concentrated on the midfield, leaving the defense standing upon either tired (Juan, Heinze, Cassetti) or inexperienced legs (Angel, Kjaer), not to mention losing Burdisso’s animal like tendencies.

To be certain, the circumstances surrounding Enrique’s first topflight managing experience were less than ideal. To his supporters, this is far more disappointing than any loss Roma endured this season. DiBenedetto, Sabatini and Baldini looked to the world’s most successful club, and by extension Enrique, as the on-field stewards for their project, fully aware results would be best measured in years not months. In fairness to them, it was Enrique who decided to leave. Nevertheless, we’re only left to speculate what Enrique could have achieved with the benefits of a year’s experience and a properly conducted transfer market.

So who bears the brunt for this failure? No one…at least not yet.

DiBenedetto’s stated goals are far larger than any single manager. Luis Enrique was merely a temporary means to a much larger end, he was never meant to be our Sir Alex. Collective self-actualization for Roma won’t occur until both phases of this project are humming: a successful and entertaining product on the pitch, coupled with a recognized and respected global brand.

This all starts in earnest this summer, the onus is squarely on Baldini and Sabatini to pick an experienced manager who embodies their preferred style of calico and to arm him with the best talent DiBenedetto’s dollars can buy. Success on the field breeds revenue and prestige, which, in turn, brings in star players. Simple equation that, when repeated over several seasons, will elevate Roma’s stature to that of the elite.

This whole season was merely the first step in a longer journey. Those of us who were excited for the Enrique era hope that he is remembered for what he is; an honest, hardworking man with a vision in which he earnestly believed.

The possession oriented, attacking philosophy he championed may very well succeed at Roma. Unfortunately, he felt he was not the man to see it through. That is a disappointment, not a failure.

Project Roma lives on.

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