Hindsight is, as ever, both enlightening and a cruel bitch. Of late it's offered us a chance to see all that Roma has done wrong, a bit that it's done right, but mostly, a heap over there in the corner left for the more adventurous and cocksure to interpret. The coaching changes over the last years, particular since the stars and stripes entered the frame, are due the most scrutiny. With enough distance and sample, Luis Enrique is beginning to look slightly better, Zeman perhaps worse, Walter Sabatini and Franco Baldini even worser (word). Now reverse all of those and the same holds true. There is simply no answer.
But going beyond that, the future is now of interest, and yet the future begets images of the past, and so on and so forth. This means one particular name mentioned in the same steamy breath as Roma's not-empty-but-Aurelio's-just-keeping-it-toasty coaching seat is eliciting a lot of thought in the caverns of my mind: Walter Mazzarri.
Walter's done some things in Napoli during his tenure, though it'd be interesting to see Edinson Cavani ripped from his teat and assess Napoli accordingly. Something says having one of the world's five best strikers in a league largely devoid of truly great attackers these days might be worth more than a couple of spots on the table. Call it a hunch. Or hell, just call Zlatan's trophy cabinet and see if it can wade through the calcio trinkets.
His time with Napoli, however, is of less concern to me. What's been rattling around the mind is this:
Some may remember that when it became clear Luciano Spalletti had lost so much mojo he was beginning to regrow his hair (the horror), two names dominated the list to replace him. One was Claudio Ranieri, and we all know what happened there. (You know - he was hired.) The other was Walter Mazzarri. They were, reportedly, the two top names. They were both well-respected coaches with a solid enough background to stabilize a sinking ship at the very least,while offering the realistic potential for something more in the long-term. They were, seemingly, safe, because that's what Roma needed - safety, even in a literal sense at that point.
Curiously enough, roughly one month later Claudio would go on a run of indirectly handing out pink slips, leaving Napoli coach Roberto Donadoni in a wake along with his other victims, and Mazzarri would be hired for the spot a little south after being overlooked for the capital. Claudio taketh away, and Claudio giveth back. Nice guy, him.
What has happened since accounts for two diverging trajectories - and no, that doesn't mean the flight path to Monaco. The Roma Ranieri assumed took a few weeks to gather her sea legs, then took off like a rocket on one of the most magical journeys we are ever likely to see as Roma fans. There's no other word for it - it was magical. And if you try to use any other word, I will find you, and I will bump Liam Neeson from the Taken 3 script, I swear. Magic. That's it. From the very bottom rung to a near historic title against the eventual treble winners, it was, in it's most poignantly bittersweet, the romantic's perfect season, because the hero must always perish. But goddamnit, they went out on their shields and the other guy's, too.
And then there is Walter Mazzarri's Napoli, an improved club since he's taken over, an excellent marriage of those who run the club and those who steer it on the weekends, but one which has not assumed a real title run, nor will it. Sorry, it's been Juve's since July-ish. Yet he's built a solid Champions League-caliber club, if they've only made it once (or twice - it seems locked this year), with a steady income from Europe. They're easier on the heart because it's not quite expected that they'll challenge for the throne, but they will be right in the middle of Europe at the end of the day, perhaps even a guarantee. For Roma, that is far less assured and taken in a larger scope, since those months of September & October of 2009, Napoli has been, simply put, a better club.
Which means we're now left with a chance to use hindsight with reckless disregard: assuming the same fate were to piggyback each coach, which past would you choose? No, it would never work out like that, but go crawl in a hole, you pedants, and leave this to us who don't give a damn about the details and maybe, just maybe, still believe in Santa Claus.
Would you take Napoli's steady rise over the last years - something solid, steady and reliable up "there," but without that passionate tingle of true glory's potential realization? Or would you take that one season, 2009-10, in which Roma flirted with the romantic ideal yet fell short at the final leap, subsequently crumbling over years? Do you choose romanticism or pragmatism? The tortoise or the hare? Of course the tortoise won, but years later, guess what those other animals were telling their grandanimals. "You should have seen that hare, kids. He was something really special. I never saw anything like it again. In that singular burst, we were transfixed and transported." People talk about the metaphor, the moral; the emotional reality lived in the moment is a far different, sometimes stronger, pull.
So do you choose the narrative or the medal at the end? Would is be years of a steady Roma, never flirting with greatness but never suffering a crippling blow, or that single leap across the canyon, one hand grabbing the ledge, but unable to pull themselves to the very top before falling to the rocks below?
Me? Well, I'm easy. I once told someone that there's nothing in this world worth working for, only things worth fighting for; it is, one might say, the motto by which I live life. The ability to inspire passion, to inspire pain, to inspire emotion of any nature to such extraordinary heights, is a gift too often taken for granted. So give me Ranieri and several broken hearts twelve times out of ten, because talking about a steady European standing over the last years elicits the same emotion as reading off a cereal box. But ask me about 2009-10? I could be speaking Estonian, but you could still see it in my eyes. My eyes would tell the story for me.
And no, the irony of choosing Ranieri as the least pragmatic of two options is not lost on me.
It's a philosophical question more than a sporting one; a specific question which begs for a far more generalized, intimate confession only capable of being interpreted through the lens of one's own life:
Who are you?