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Some Thoughts On...Onwards

romamadrid.JPGOn Catania: We all saw two games because there were two games. The dejection which set in after it was clear Inter had scored brought about an interpretation of depression in footballing form. After that, with Catania buoyed by the goal and the knowledge that they needed a draw because Empoli was winning, it was all over. They were always going to score after that. Always.

I hate the fact that they quit, but having put in 10+ months of excruciating work and having the season won the way it was, nearly all of you would've done the same. There is nothing more frustrating than having your ultimate fate decided, and decided unfavorably, by someone else. I hated the last 15 minutes of the ManU first leg infinitely more than I'll ever hate the last 20+ against Catania.

Not the finest hour, but it was about more than just Roma v Catania. Circumstances.

On Brazilians:
After the Champions League run had effectively ended, I believed the only way forward was to show two tantalizingly talented, wildly inconsistent Brazilians to be shown the exit door. A couple weeks ago rumors arose saying that Roma was interested in a Doni replacement and a highly gifted vice-Doni, and at the time I wouldn't change my tune regarding the intellectually comatose Brazilian netminder. Last week Doni signed a four year extension, putting my cardiologist on call during weekends and occasionally midweek until at least 2012, and putting me on the lookout for a psychologist to talk through his performances with on Mondays. Safe to say I wasn't thrilled.

I'm ready to change my tune. Sort of. Now only one tantalizingly talented, wildly inconsistent Brazilian needs to be shown the door. I can't in good consciousness say that Doni is the keeper of the present and future, and that i lupi can reach the promised land between now and 2012 with Alex in between the sticks. His reflexes are fantastic and his skill is evident. It's the lapses in concentration which can turn fortune into despair in the blink of an eye. All it takes is one game. One half. One shot. One set piece. One Livorno. (I still...just...god.)

Undoubtedly he's made strides in knocking on the door of "world class" this year. Actually, he's been flat out majestic at times. There are days when I wouldn't trade him for Gigi Buffon & Lev Yashin's lovechild. There are also days when I'd trade him for half of half of Pietro Pipolo & Carlo Zotti's unloved bastard.

For now, he's won me over. I'll live contently with Doni as Roma's starting keeper for 2008-09, and truly believe that if he takes another stride of the length that he did this year, he'll be a world class keeper. However, if he reverts back to Old/Bad Doni, it'll be time to blow it up. I still pray nightly that Gianluca Curci comes to fulfill 50% of the hype and turns out to be a good, solid worthy Serie A keeper who won't cause me heart ailments and/or death. Thus I reserve the right to change course once Curci actually wanders out on loan and Doni has another full season of growth underneath his belt.

As far as Mancini goes, the day we see the back of him cannot come too soon. His performance was abysmal yesterday and, unfortunately, that's become par for the course. The way I see it, we've had two Brazilian wingers this season out of form. Their origins are probably different - Mancini was hurt before the year, but this doesn't appear to be a valid excuse, while Taddei has gone down a few times now and appears to be suffering from an injury-plagued year - but their contributions have been vastly different. When Taddei's technique and skill fails him, as it has during stretches and understandably so, he makes up for it with his workrate, tenacity and will. When Mancini's technique and skill fail him, not exactly a rare occurrence, Mancini accentuates it by dropping a figurative turd on the field. Roma might as well be handed a red card, because it's X v XI.

I find it hard to believe which such big money floating around Mancini will be in red & yellow Kappa next season. His backside walking out of Trigoria for good this summer seems to be a matter of when, not if. And, depending on whether or not he loves Roma just as much as he says he does, it'll probably be for a cut rate price. So we thank you, Andy Webster, for completely screwing up the sport for your selfish wants, you useless prick.

And Grazie Mancini, there were certainly some great times, but some things just run their course.

On De Rossi:
100% correct to say what he said, and I find it downright laughable anyone, especially Inter fans, whose team is being coached by the most classless man in calcio with some players equally devoid of class, would say otherwise. This has nothing to do with class or grace or anything of the type. Actually, scratch that. It does. I don't want anyone with class or grace in defeat anywhere near my team. It's all a bunch of bullshit.

"Show me a good and gracious loser and I'll show you a failure."

-Knute Rockne

Truer than true. This isn't a fucking bake sale, Sally.

Also, Daniele's right, which helps the argument.

On Mexes: In the most heated, most important game of the year, I think he was the calmest person on the pitch. My eyes must have been fooling me. The man is more Roman than half of Rome (the baby blue half). Couldn't be.

On Brighi & Aquilani:
There was a little question at the end of an interview yesterday with The Poobah on the contributions of Vucinic, and he quickly answered but made a point to mention the contributions of two others: Brighi & Aquilani. Matteo coming in after so many years on loan and becoming something of a defensively-inclined Simone and late game specialist. His workrate and grinding play is a huge boon late in games and allows Roma to close out when the legs are tired and in need of a crutch. Wouldn't say he's indispensable, but perhaps his contributions are underappreciated, much like that Simone guy. And who the hell knows, maybe one year in the system and next year we'll see him fulfill that massive hype (and transfer fee) which came after he was named Serie A Young Player of the Year.

As for Aquilani, Spal mentioned the difference of healthy Aquilani in the lineup. The loss of Taddei obviosly forced a shift in the lineup, Simone over to the wing and KA up top, a position he's less familiar with in the Spalletti system. I think we all see - along with Real, Barca, Juve, Inter, Arsenal, Chelsea, ManU, etc. etc. etc. - the insane qualities he possesses and that his future is mighty bright. An untouchable key piece of the puzzle, another year of maturation and, hopefully, major tournament experience, will do nothing to add to the experience and core of the Giallorossi next season. My heart always sides with the present, but my mind has always said 2008-09. One more year for Daniele De Rossi, now the best midfielder in Serie A, and one more year for Aquilani, a phenom oozing with technical qualities, means great things for the Roman midfield, and the whole of Rome, in 08-09.

* - And he's not going anywhere. End of.

On Vucinic:
I'm sorry I ever said comparing him to Zlatan was a bit exaggerated. It's not. Vuci is just that good, and has proven himself to be a world class player. I have a hard time saying a guy who's scored 19 games in a season before just had a "breakout year", but he at least broke through to another universe. His goal-to-big game ratio is simply something to behold, and the fact that he creates just as much for his teammates as he does for himself leads us to believe there's much more on the horizon when he and Totti get more familiar with each other as on-the-pitch colleagues as opposed to Jesus and backup striker waiting for Jesus to go down. That left wing is his, and we hope for many, many years.

As far as the negotiations with Lecce go, he will be in Rome next season and that is that. As high as his price may have soared, they can't afford not to buy him; after all the work they've put in developing him to sync with the system and the subsequent time they'd need to spend on a lesser replacement to fill his massive, yellow shoes it'd be simply foolish. This is as good as gold for the summer, because he's not a new buy who will need an assimilation period. Mirko is a break-the-glass, ready-to-use world class player for a unique system. Those are absolutely priceless and extraordinarily rare. The hierarchy will pay whatever, though I doubt it'll be a ton. More likely we'll see some fringe Giallorossi heading south for either a new Serie A struggle or a renewed promotion campaign down in B. One of the benefits of a world class youth system. Sometimes it isn't all about the money.

But regardless of what happens this summer, Grazie Mirko. There are only a handful of people on the planet who could make a sans-Totti Roma squad continue along the road of calcio so smoothly. Daniele De Rossi was easily the most important part of the equation this season, but Vucigol wasn't far behind. And can we all agree? He's got It. Whatever the hell It is, he's got it. You don't show up in that many important games with that much quality without it.

Now if he'd kindly bag a triple in the Coppa final I'll name my first born Francesco De Aquivucigol.

* - My thoughts are, joining Mexes and Taddei, he'll become the next non-Italian Romanista. Like Philou, the man was born for this shirt.

On Zlatan: I can separate my in-season self with my out-of-season self quite well, which will allow me to appreciate Ibra for the month of June during the Euros. Whether or not the game was reffed unfairly yesterday was only irrelevant in the sense that he walked onto the pitch after a lengthy layoff and pushed that team over the hump when they were heading towards second place. And we all know how absurd he was during the first half of the year when Inter was so dominant. Starting in 03-04, when with Ajax, through this year he has ended the season with a title. The guy is a walking, talking championship. Pray he gets sold to Real or Chelsea this summer. Whatever credit Inter deserves goes to him.

On Totti: Soon enough, Francesco. Soon enough that trophy will be yours.

On Luciano:
I've had more doubts than I'll ever let on. Tactically never a question, but the way this team operates sometime really brings to question his ability to extract the right mentality from this team, the first and foremost quality for any great coach, teacher, leader, etc. in any aspect of life. His football mind is top of the mountain, maybe a bit higher, but otherwise, I can't honestly say I'm sure he's a coach that can lead a team to greatness. That overwhelming sense to will themselves to a win. To defeat regardless of tactics, blow up the gameplan and just win.

What I am confident of is that Spalletti as a coach, much like the team, is still absorbing, growing and progressing. This is also a learning process for him, and sometimes I, perhaps others, forget that. He is by no means a finished product, and is in some ways representative of the team. Heralded for his workings in Udine, but not yet considered world class. Experienced, but not experienced enough on the largest stage. His rise has coincided with the rise of Roma. After all, he's just 49, still but a pup in the world of big game coaching.

My feeling is next year is it in terms of assessing Spalletti's impact on this team. If they can grow mentally, I will fully believe and plan four plus children just so that I can spell out The Grand Imperial Poobah on Christmas cards. (I'll feel might bad for "The", but he/she will have to deal with it.) I do think they will grow mentally, and that's not more hope than belief. I do believe that. Spalletti and the core has more experience now, more failures and successes to guide them in the right direction. This will be invaluable, and in the end I believe Spalletti will be invaluable. The journey continues.

On Serie A 2007-08:
I can't really do a proper assessment on the whole season until next week, and I do want to break down the season a lot more in-depth, but I figure there are a few things to be said.

It was a very good, borderline great season. 82 points in a difficult competition - Parma was in the UEFA Cup last year, Empoli this year....and they both got relegated, that says something - is nothing, absolutely nothing, for the boys to hang their heads about. Internazionale FC +1 has what was once called by then Chelsea-gaffer The Not So Special One "the biggest squad in the world". From top to bottom they are a payroll. Period. End of. And when the coach of @#$%in' Chelsea says that, it shows the the true depth of that team up north.

Roma is not that team. On paper, they have absolutely no business competing with a half-billion dollar team. And they did, right down to the final weekend, in a campaign marred by injury after injury after injury. When Inter lost Cordoba, Samuel and Materazzi, they simply plugged in Rivas and Chivu, two big money signings. When Roma needed an extra defender, they were forced to plug in two 30+ right backs. Roma has nowhere near the roster Inter does. On paper, the scudetto should have been handed out in August.

But what they did do was play better, and anyone not in bed with the Nerazzurri will agree. Inter was extraordinarily fortunate, if that's what you want to call it, to get the results that they did. Roma was rarely, if ever, so fortunate. Nor were any other teams. Read into that how you will.

I'm not sure people understand how many injuries this team endured with a squad which is still fairly thin in certain spots. Juan, Taddei, Perrotta, Aquilani and Jesus, all key members of the first team, went down on more than one occasion and missed significant time. Matteo Ferrari, Juan and the Pizaman all had a late start to the season which didn't help matters - especially not the first two, who couldn't get healthy the entire year. Marco Cassetti, arguably the best RB in the peninsula during the first half of the year (yes, I said that, and it's hard to argue with it - he was fricken' fantastic and oh so underappreciated), went down more than once in the second half and lost his stride. Marco Andreolli never saw a minute in the shirt, forcing a 35 year old full back to play in central defense much of the year. This was far from a full team at any point in the season.

What I don't buy is that Roma botched it will the small teams. When competing seriously on three fronts, you're bound to drop some games you should win. Every team does it. Every champion does it. Real Madrid lost to Espanyol, Almeria, Real Betis and Getafe, while they drew with Murcia, Valladolid and Zaragoza. That sounds about the same as draws with Livorno (twice - they're the bogey team), Empoli, Torino, Catania and Cagliari while losing to Siena. Actually, sounds awfully similar.

The difference is I don't think Roma has the versatility in tactics or squad to break down lower-end table teams who park themselves in the back with a goalkeeper having a good day. When a team like Real can throw different looks at you, Roma is stuck in the 4-2-3-1. That, for me, was the most frustrating aspect going into the season, and is the most frustrating aspect going out. System is great, fabulous, wonderful, but it needs to be rotated every now and again.

That old boxing adage can still apply to so many sports: "Styles make fights". Sometimes it's just not about talent. Sometimes the counter methods just work. This is what needs to be changed; more than the level of talent, more than the salary cap, more than the ownership. Versatility within the system is nice, as evidenced by Giuly v Taddei or Cicinho v Panucci, but at the end of the day you need to be able to counter your downfalls. Roma could not do that. My greatest hope for this summer, even more so than any transfer target, is that Spal adopts a tactical alternative which can operate and change gears fluidly. I honestly believe that is a major key to a scudetto.

Two games kill me to this day from that list, however. One is Empoli. Roma beat them up and down the pitch like it was public slaughtering for most of the game, before Vannucchi got too much space and struck a wondergoal, and before Giovinco scored the luckiest goal of his career - now and through the end of his days it will stay the luckiest goal of his career. Roma had so many chances to close that game out, yet they were brutally inefficient in front of the net. Still can't believe that was the same Mirko Vucinic who now could have a golden statue erected at Trigoria. The guy scores bullshit goals regularly these days, and back then he was missing bunnies against Empoli.

They had that game won; it was an easy 3 points in the bag. How Empoli managed a draw I'll never understand. Never.

The second is the home game against Livorno. Mostly because of Doni's absolutely criminal positioning on that free kick, giving one of the premier free kick takers these days in calcio the side of a barn to aim at. It's the number one reasoning I can't feel comfortable with Alex in net. For all his obvious feline talents, it's the basic mental aspects of the game which fail him when needed most.

Worst of all, that game needed to be about Totti. When Francesco fell down taking that shot and Brozzi walked over to him on the ground, looking down before motioning immediately for a sub my stomach turned. Can't say it was an obvious 6 month injury, but when a player goes down in that manner and is carted off the field immediately, you didn't need to be a doctor to know the outlook was grim. That game should've held more, for Francesco and the news that was about to follow.

All in all it was a very good year. Milan. Madrid. Madrid. Udinese. Four games which I could watch over and over and over. Four glorious occasions. But what's more is that all of this is something to really build on; and make no mistake about it, this is a building process which will continue to grow and progress. Spal:

“I must compliment my team on the way they worked this season. We have grown a great deal, have a project to continue and everyone did their duty.”

I don't doubt for a second Spal has had one eye towards this year and another towards next at times during this campaign. This was certainly a project, more in the urban, undesired housing sense, when he rode in on his horse, saving the day a few years back, but now it is a great project and so much more. There will be better results to come and a brighter future for the Giallorossi. I'm prepared to say I hold absolutely no doubt in my mind or heart in saying that in the next two years, Roma will lift the scudetto deservedly. This club has always held something special off the pitch and in the stands; well now it's on the pitch and giving notice to the world. As a team, as a system, they are still young. Their day will come.

For now, they have every right to be proud. If all was fair in love and calcio, we'd be still drenched in tears of joy, singing Grazie Roma to the hilltops and peppering the globe with an unforeseen slew of newborns named "Daniele, Francesco, Philippe, Alberto, Vucigol and The Grand Imperial Poobah". Alas, not all is fair. Yet we can still sing Grazie Roma, because they deserve every bit of it, but perhaps saving our loudest voices for Mai Sola Mai.

I can honestly say no season in recent time has made me prouder to be a Roma fan. I can also say the same for next season, and the season after that, and the season after that.

As Roma goes, so do we. With an undying passion, bleeding yellow along with red, and the knowledge that we love the greatest club in the world. So Grazie Roma, for the good times we were lucky enough to experience and for the giallorosso dawn on the horizon. But also for the bad times, allowing us to realize that great sorrow comes only from great love. Grazie a thousand times over, for a club that is so much more. The whole is more than the sum of its trophies.

But for now...

...there's still a game left to win. Time to show everyone who the best team in Italia really is.