There will be no decade reviews. There will never be any decade reviews. There should never be any decade reviews on one team. Sports are fluid. They do not adhere to the Gregorian calendar as we know it. They run in eras, not decades. It's impossible to begin comparing a career with a club which began in 1993 to one which began in 2007. Or to compare someone who played seven years with someone who played two. Years are okay (as you can see by the smattering of loosely collected thoughts - and it is just that - down the page), the timeline is short enough, but decades? Nay.
So would you like an era review? Sure, here goes.
Best player in the Capello era: Francesco Totti.
Best player in the non-Prandelli era: Francesco Totti.
Best player in the Rudi era: Francesco Totti.
Best player in the Gigi Del Neri era: Francesco Totti.
Best player in the Bruno Conti era: Francesco Totti.
Best player in the Franco Sensi era: Francesco Totti.
Best player in the Spalletti era: Francesco Totti.
Best player in the Roma era: Francesco Totti.
There we go. 'Decade' solved.
And with that said, we'll do a quick wrap of the Spalletti era:
Best player: Totti.
Best midfielder: De Rossi.
Best defender: Mexes.
Best goalkeeper: Doni
Best formation: 4-2-3-1
Best signing: Juan.
Worst sale: Ludovic Giuly.
Best game: 6-2 v Inter
Worst game: Duh.
Best goal: Totti v Samp.
Best moment: The Derby.
The all-Spalletti XI.
Panucci, Mexes, Juan, Tonetto
Taddei, Perrotta, Mancini
How easy was that? Too easy.
When Spalletti exited stage Rome, I called his football artistry. It was and still stands as such. But Ranieri’s football is too. It’s an acquired taste, the connoisseur’s glass, if you will, but it is, without a doubt, art. It’s the art of defending, the art of stability and the art of will. It is not now nor will it even be as flashy, as provocative or near erotic to the naked eye as Spalletti football, but there’s still a hint of genius roaming the empire. Still there is an in-house artist.
And this is my art. This is, blasphemous though it may be, the football that I crave. The flowing, swooping, bending football of yesteryear was, without a doubt, magnificent; but to watch Juan and Burdisso rise time and time again above foe, to watch a defensive shape move unwavering into an interception created not on the pitch, but on the chalkboard, is, for me, no less the aesthetic beauty of a five-headed one-touch tour de force of technical wonderment. Perhaps it’s the striking beauty of industry versus the bold, popping beauty of swirled bristles. A different taste, but beauty nonetheless.
I genuinely hate that I wanted Spalletti gone, such a likeable man who brought such joy to a city desperately in need, but I did and was rarely subtle about it. Polite, maybe, but rarely could reading between the lines conjure up anything less. To take the first half of the season, the real 2009/10 season, and block it into dissected fragments would seem to give this a bit of vindication. There were early stumbles, as would always be the case, but the consistent progression – in play, in results, in mentality - with such a vast change in philosophy cannot be ignored. The Roma of October was better than the Roma of September; the Roma of November was better than that of October; and the Roma of December has been the best yet. Not perfect, nowhere near, and very much still a work in progress (a project, as a certain someone may say), but Roma is back where it belongs: among the Big Four, tickling the nape of three’s neck and making sure two can hear both the footsteps and their increasingly audible echoes.
The reasons why these things have happened are three-fold:
i. Tactical philosophy. Though the neutral may have loved it, you’ll never again see two points dropped in a home 4-4 with Napoli. It’s so clichéd it deserves its own wing in the Hall, but defense wins championships. Period. End of.
ii. Mentality. It’s near impossible to quantify ‘mentality’. Near.
Goals conceded in that 45-60 ‘blackout window’ since Oct. 1: two, both at the San Siro, one on a non-existent penalty. Leads lost since Oct. 1: two, the same two San Siro games.
And then there’s that much ballyhooed air of je ne sais quoi about this team. Maybe it’s the half-time speeches. Maybe it’s the Roman accent. Maybe it’s never fearing they might concede twelve today. But it’s different. A sense of confidence which emanates all the way to the farthest reaches of the fandom.
iii. The opposite of sick is _____. I will not risk the wrath of the gods.
Goals conceded per game by month under Ranieri:
Player of the year:
Player of the year, of the decade, of the century and of all-time: Francesco Totti. He ages, sure, but Francesco is constantly reinventing himself, constantly evolving with the sands of time. Twenty goals is a great sum for any striker over the course of twelve months. Francesco has that in 09/10 thus far.
It'd be Juan hands down if he could've stayed on the pitch for more than six consecutive minutes until recently, but he's gone. The defense was worse than suspect throughout the tail end of the Spalletti era and Mexes even, unthinkably, lost his spot for a bit with Ranieri, too. Mirko went through an awful patch of form; the Brazilians were missing, rubbish or otherwise largely useless; Burdisso and Bertagnoli have only been here half the year - one in person, the other in spirit. That leaves only one, right?
Most improved player:
Is there even a question? Even a shadow of a doubt? There is but one: John Arne Riise*.
What a difference from the first six months. It’s almost like they’re two different players: one who’d spent five years in England and one who’d been afforded six months of gelling with Serie A. Probably because they are. It was always going to be difficult, such a wildly different game requiring sharper mental characteristics, and it certainly was for the opening stretch. But now he’s on the team sheet every week with nary a cringe, even if he may forget he’s not a left forward from time to time, and a hugely valuable cog in the defensive machine. He even put in one of the performances of the year at…gasp…centerback against Arsenal. And this is the part where I’d mention his medical records but won’t for fear of jinxing things.
A good, solid player and bought at a helluva value these days. He’s said he wants to stay in Rome another four years, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t. If only to send us to the edge of our seats every time he stands a few yards back of a dead ball.
Also worth noting John led Roma in scoring at the San Siro in 2009. Two absolute bullets.
* - It's impossible to call JSB 'most improved' when he hadn't played, well, ever.
Easily the 1-0 loss to Livorno. It would've meshed so nicely had they begun this undefeated run after the cataclysmic disappointment to Livorno, for me the worst game in years and years, including that OT debacle. The immediate bounce back from rock bottom to respectability and then back to the top four. But no. They had to go and blow one to Udinese first before not sucking again.
Ah well. All's well that is pretty well midway through the season.
The team movement v Genoa.
Most apt 'Roma moment':
Immediately following that goal Cicinho fell in a crumpled Brazilian heap on the pitch, grabbing his knee and screaming in pain without being touched. It wasn't nearly as serious as it looked - no, that one came a few weeks later - but given the state of Roman affairs last season, it was oh so typical.
Greatest moment of hope:
Let's not mix words: the spring was lean. Very, very lean. And there were some times when it was tough to watch this team. One of those was the game against Juventus which ended...unfortunately. But at the end there was a glimpse, a shooting star from out of the starless night, in the form of Marco D'Alessandro.
It was simply a little burst and a forced save, but it meant much, much more. It meant, if for a fleeting moment, the fandom could escape into something which wasn't dejection. The next week wasn't spent in the past, but the future. That in itself was a gift.
Without a doubt Adrian (Pronounced 'Piz') Pit. We can laugh about it now, right? Right? Right...
Best moment that didn't make the list below:
The, predictably, nine moments of oh, nine. Not necessarily the nine best, but most striking, most moving and most important.
ix. Balotelli dives.
What momentum meant for Inter in the scope of the game. What a win would’ve meant for the side in the scope of the season. What two points would’ve meant in the table.
That dive changed the game. Changed the scoreboard, changed the momentum, changed Marco Motta and, ultimately, it changed the result. A result which would've, and could've, done Roma a great deal of good: they wouldn't win in Serie A for another month.
viii. Totti v Bari.
He wasn't supposed to play. Not for weeks. And yet there he was, not in the stands, not on the bench, primed for a fitness-charged twenty minute run, but in the starting lineup, armband at the ready.
He has scored better goals and he has score more difficult goals. But moments are so often about the circumstances, the environment and the lasting aura which they create. Francesco, as he'd done so many times before, pushed his body to its limit to be there for his club, his city and his fans. And make no mistake about it - that is his club, his city. A hat trick against a promoted side is nice, but the circumstances in which it was done, the time, or lack thereof, needed was simply something special from the most special player the city has ever seen. It wasn't just three goals: it was an encapsulation of all that Totti has meant and done for this club over the years.
vii. Christian Panucci throws a princess.
Pride can be wonderful. It can be the type of thing which sees you help run a plucky little promoted side up to European spots come the new year. It can also get you run out of town.
What he did left a far greater handprint than he ever could’ve imagined. When they so desperately needed bodies, he forced himself into exile. He forced a rushed mercato and Simone Loria into staying on the roster. And he, quite inexcusably, forced Simone Loria into the lineup at the Emirates. He, perhaps above all, may be the reason why the European campaign ended prematurely. What would a solid back and sense of confidence have done for the side? An away goal? A bit more money in the coffers?
The ultras may love him, and his good over the years may outweigh the bad, but when he was needed most, when they were down on their knees, he lashed out a boot.
And for this, maybe we should be thankful. Thankful in the form of Marco Motta; and perhaps even thankful in the form of Nicolas Burdisso.
vi. Genoa, Genoa, Genoa.
Not even Hollywood could script goals which ascended to such heights, three in a row. Nor could they script Marco Motta, the panic purchase, running onto the pitch to take the place of an injured Cicinho and performing magnificently. You probably could’ve scripted Philippe Mexes slapping handcuffs and a gag ball on Diego Milito, but you wouldn’t. From one to ninety, arguably Roma’s best game of the year; Spalletti's savage swashbucklers at their finest.
v. The Andreolli.
At the end of careers, at the end of lifetimes, sport is more often about moments, rather than a collection of them. You will remember an ’01 Totti streaking into the box and the Olimpico invasion far more than the mundane away wins which define a championship. You will tell your grandchildren about the day Totti ran from the half and chipped Marco Materazzi and Francesco Toldo; you won’t tell them of the day they won 3-2 at the San Siro.
You will not remember the day that Roma earned a solitary point in a Europa League away match. But you will remember Marco Andreolli at the far post, frozen in time.
iv. The Save.
No being comprised entirely of human DNA should’ve gotten to that ball. Women and children should’ve been asked to leave the stadium before an attempt so daring, so undeniably audacious. And no derby should be so lucky as to feature such a stunning display of athletic superiority. Not from a man who three months previous held the lofty goal of becoming third in line to the crown.
Would this save have meant nearly as much if Doni had performed the miracle that day? Hardly - the beauty is in the emotion. For Julio, we feel tremendous emotion.
That day I felt none, as my heart was still scrambling desperately for a beat.
iii. Liverpool makes them an offer they can’t refuse.
Would any rational being turn down that offer? No. But that doesn’t mean it stings any less. There’s a difference between Pepe, Galloppa, D’Agostino, Amelia, etc. They weren’t ready. Alberto stood for much more, a brilliant player of exquisite genius on the pitch beating a Roman heart…when healthy. Never healthy.
In times of hardship, you sell the family heirloom collecting dust in the closet to pay the rent - and you bring a box of tissue for the ride home.
ii. Spalletti resigns/Ranieri signs.
Who saw it coming? Everybody? Sounds about right. He’d been figured out, he’d lost the team, his desire was no longer there and a great thing had simply run its course. It happens. And just as his appointment altered the course of Roman history as quite easily one of the club’s greatest ever coaches, his resignation opened the door for yet a second rapture. A second chance for Roma to rise from the dead.
And away they came, in the arms of a Roman. Performances do not lie. Spalletti gave so much by riding into town to save the day, but he also gave a second chance by walking away.
i. The fallen.
There was no greater display, none the continet over, of sheer human desire than the one at the Olimpico in February. Desire translating to a win, but a win never enough. Bodies lay scattered across the field, those lucky enough to stand were limping, eyes lusting after a crutch. They were never supposed to win, never supposed to put up a fight, but they did, and did so valiantly. No player's effort stood above the rest, but David lying prostrate on the field, cramping, hurting, begging will forever remain the image which so aptly paints the day.
Another also stands out, simply for the sacrifice he made for his club, his city. A certain golden child who’d yet to play in the new calendar, but for 45 minutes gave his body for the greater good, knowing full well this could end his season. It did, and he has yet to play for Roma again, leaving that, for now, his lasting image in giallorosso.
It was all so magnificent, so valorous and so heroic. It was one of the greatest performances these young eyes had ever seen in sport. A loss, but never a loss. And yet, eleven months later, I still cannot find the words. It was everything that makes them la magica.