Roma, Je T'aime

Paolo Bruno

There's a French-directed romance playing on the biggest screen in Rome. Long live Rudi.

Have you ever been in love? Real love. Not teenager love, or yeah-we've-been-together-a-long-time-so-we've-built-love love. No. The real thing. Heart-thundering, blood-roaring, mind-emptying, cheek-splitting, life-affirming love. Truly in love. The type where the other person's happiness isn't your primary concern, but the only one. The type where their smile is your smile because goddamnit, you just can't help it. The type where if you turn the corner and come upon them, you can actually feel your knees drop while your smile lifts, your human vessel a marionette of the gods. The type where if you're typing something in Evernote for a church masquerading as a website masquerading as a church a few years later and the first few lines are about being in love, two of the three related notes at the bottom become letters from her you'd forgotten you'd saved and maybe next time you'll use Word. Jesus.

The match against Bologna is on in the background. Well, the first half. The download of the second half was corrupted or something, so it's downloading once again. Insert Spalletti joke here. It was on in the background on Sunday too, which means if you're looking for a tactical breakdown, this isn't the place. It's been a week. On Sunday, I showed up late. I completely missed four of five goals. Roma ran rampant without me having so much as a clue. Basically, I was Bologna. Try the veal.

During the match I was darting eyes between video highlights and the live feed, S**Cast on the most infuriating ninety-second delay, and I spotted something. It was Alessandro Florenzi smiling. Not smiling, really - gleaming. Yet nothing had happened. There was no reason to smile but for his presence in this current reality. This is a kid who is more business than anyone on the squad not named Michael Bradley and shows up to a football match with the same ferocity and approach as a man sauntering toward the front line of war. And he was fucking beaming. So I was too.

It's something I began noticing during the first goal celebrations under Rudi. Sure, Roma has never been a stranger to love, and a touch of homoeroticism (Romaroticism?) has never been far away, but this is different. There is a fervent passion about these celebrations, as though all eleven men on the pitch just scored. Perhaps because they did. There is a palpable professionalism about them, but the unadultered joy permeating their performances on the pitch overwhelms. They seem happy. Truly, genuinely happy. And so their happiness has become ours.

No one knows what happened on that damn rafting trip but for the men that were on it and the interns at Penthouse tasked with reading submitted letters and determining their worthiness by how long they must wait to stand up. (Legend persists of a poor kid who received a particularly saucy recounting from a mysterious "M. Borriello" and hasn't been able to leave his chair since 2007.) Something happened, an emotional structure divined, and Rudi has built a team. Not a collection of players, but a true team. The kind you truly believe would bleed for one another, almost to a man. The kind which can occasionally dismiss of tactics and win based solely on will, though Mehdi Benatia dancing through the entire opposition and scoring from his arse was definitely drawn up on the Trigoria whiteboard. And the kind, both finally and in finality, that Francesco Totti deserves.

I'm easy. Don't act like an idiot and I like you. That's how it goes. But this club? I love this new old DDR. I love the solidity of the midfield which hasn't existed in a decade, going beyond even the Spalletti years when an inherent central vulnerability was accepted as the bastard sidecar of footballing sex. I love that Alessandro Florenzi, Gervinho, and Adem Ljajic have, at times, been criticized for their early performances this season, yet each share the club lead in goals on at least a one in two ratio. I love that I don't have to qualify Mehdi Benatia as a beast "for a footballer" - he's just a beast. Put him in any number of sports and one gets the feeling he'd be a stud there too. I love that he is, right now, also Roma's closest thing to a prima punta - that goal against Bologna was the hallmark of a physical, intuitive, technically sound box-based poacher. I love that we can joke that Maicon was clearly holding this team back and silently wonder if maybe he was demanding a little too much of the ball and play should have been a touch more central. I love Gervinho's forehead. I didn't say that. I love the dominance of the triangle in front of Morgan De Sanctis, rendering him a nonparticipant, and forcing us to wonder if maybe one day they can get a bit frisky and pull the keeper early in the second half. Why not? I love the fact that somehow "sheer willpower" is suddenly a term that applies to AS Roma. I'm going to need a minute.

This is a special start after a series of special starts, only those involved leashes and helmets for adults and lots of liquor for the spectators with ketchup and mustard leanings. And it's all happening by accident. Rudi Garcia was not Roma's first choice. Everyone knows who Roma's first choice was - it was Max Allegri. They also sat on Walter Mazzarri. They tried to give the reins to Manuel Pellegrini too. The latter two wouldn't have been poor choices, in fact the long term remains to be seen, but it wouldn't be this. Far from this.

At one point toward the end of the match, Rodrigo Taddei, hair tight and shorts tighter, was trying to move the ball out of Roma's final third, and when confronted by a Bologna player, did a stepover and simply burst past him. Read that again. That's where Roma's at right now. It was a singular moment, but it encapsulates everything which has transpired over the past six weeks: It's not supposed to be like this. I'm not supposed to be smiling like an idiot when Florenzi can't hold his.

You don't explain love. You don't look for logic where none exists. You just accept it, hand yourself over completely at the mercy of an entity with all the reason of a child, and pray reality grows into the dreams offered before you.

This might be the real thing.

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