And finally, with the window now closed, it may begin.
AS Roma: 2010-11.
I have a confession to make: I don’t read much. I don’t read much at all, actually, and much of what I do read is in the most liberal, modern translation of the word. But if I were to read, more than symbols, numbers, tape and anything which might fall under the et cetera, this would be a glowing nod to the literary odysseys of the past; the malformation and metamorphoses of AS Roma into what I can only accept it to be: a team often dramatic, sometimes nonsensical, never easy, but always loved.
Therefore, I turn to the team, more to the point: the protagonist, Claudio Ranieri. And in this ode to the protagonist, it will start with structure, but at some point in the middle I’ll almost undoubtedly say ‘fuck it’ and blow the whole thing up to start from scratch.
Somewhere in these walls I like to call a computer I have a season review from last year. It’s roughly 90% done, which makes it 150% ready to roll onto the presses by my estimation, but it’s crap. Well, it’s probably not crap (I can say that), but it’s crap, because it’s forced. There were lovingly crafted tributes to Ranieri’s Roman moons, once again, pored over lists (1. JSB, 2a. Mirko Pizarro, 2b. David Vucinic, 3. Nicolas “Juan” Burdisso), some sonnets, and the occasional comma, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. Because in my eyes, there was no end to the season 2009-10, AS Roma. Because this is, in a word, a project. A monoscarfed project, I guess.
And I’d like to introduce you to the project manager, Claudio Ranieri. He’s a simple man of simple needs, basic fundamentals, solid base and the five euro haircus, but he is a great man. He did what no one thought could be done in a time frame which could be conceived as reasonable. And there’s that word again: reasonable.
Nothing which occurred last year was reasonable. Not so much the finished product, but the manner in which it was executed; the professional maturation of 20-odd men in the span of three months. Maybe it was mental, maybe it was tactical – whatever the case, it was dolloped with the genius of simplicity.
Which brings us to 2010-11; in other words: a full year. So rarely is ritiro a luxury and a summer’s free month of tactical pondering, done aboard a yacht while being fed grapes by nymphs, pure gluttony, but that’s what we have, what Ranieri had. Rescue Mission 2009-10 was aided by adrenaline and pure necessity, but the outcome was an outlier; even if Ranieri was the perfect man at the perfect moment, still he would benefit from a fresh start in a fresh year.
I am a firm believer that life's best routes are often found through the evolution of the status quo: To be continued is heavenly music.
The Setting (Geometry Pt. I)
Tactics (Geometry Pt. II)
Julio Sergio Bertagnoli
John Arne Riise
Daniele De Rossi
Stefano Okaka Chuka
Ah yes, the man, the myth…the myth?
Doubt lingers. A reluctant doubt, but doubt nonetheless. The narrative was too storybook and I have far too much faith in Luciano Spalletti’s abilities as a talent evaluator to believe that Julio Sergio Bertagnoli is that good, has always been that good. The mere notion that we’re considering the age 32 season (Nov. 8), this a sport which fills the first team with those still suckling their mother’s teat, a potential sophomore slump says quite enough.
I do not believe in miracles and I do not believe in fairy tales. Aesop was, as far as I’m concerned, full of shit. Luckily, I do believe in the aura of fairy tales, the power of belief, and their lingering effects on those around them, regardless of validity. Julio Sergio, whether last year was the most astonishing Cinderella story in recent Roman history or simply luck, is that belief. No, he doesn’t inspire it, but rather he is that belief himself. The solidified defense was a product of Ranieri’s complex overhaul by simplification and no less equal part the result of a safety net for the entire team. The defense was excellent partly because it could afford not to be.
They will not lose that, even if the magic falls back to earth somewhat, which makes this one of the strongest positions in all of calcio.
The rest is fortune favoring the crippling contract. There’s little shame in Doni as your second keeper, and less yet when watching Bogdan Lobont’s recent Roman contributions. This is a depth few in world football are lucky to have, even if it’s achieved by a less-than grand design.
The central defense is, in a word, special. Juan is beyond reproach, Philippe Mexes has shown every indication he’s ready to revert back to the world class defender of yore with glorious golden goldilocks in tow, and Nicolas Burdisso, teacher’s pet, is back in town too, mostly yelling at tourists. Ranieri is being afforded a number of luxuries, but the healthy and suspension-free trio on a number of gamedays may be his greatest. There’s little doubt that if Mexes has found his inner Philou all three will play and all three will form one of the best triangles in calico – and as we all know, triangles are wonderful, wonderful things.
The weakness in the side is without doubt the fullbacks, but that seems a similar sentiment across football for one very good reason: it’s the thinnest position, both sides, in the sport. John Arne Riise wears short sleeves, and while he may be tactically infuriating while doing so, he’s far more a necessity. Nearly indestructible, uncardable and to a degree, irreplaceable, leftbacks who can run for eight months on end and score the odd goal while leading the attacking line don’t exactly grow on trees.
The benefit is Burdisso’s versatility, even if Nico lumbering up the Olimpico touch throwing in crosses is about as visually pleasing as something formerly lunch. This means the weak link, right now rightback until Cassetti hits a good patch (he has them) or we find out Rosi’s true value, can be patched quite easily should the cosmoses align.
And Rosi is very much the wild card. He was impressive for Siena, and there’s no earthly reason to believe he could be as defensively poor as Marco Motta last year, but there’s something a bit more in playing for Roma, particularly when that Roma is his Roma, and that bit more is oft interpreted as that despicable word pressure.
As for the rest, Guillermo Burdisso’s the new Andreolli, Cicinho a name at the least and Castellini…well, anything’s a bonus. The quality on the defensive flanks – Cassetti’s perpetually teetering on losing his job these days – is a worry, but somehow, I gather Ranieri will find a way. He usually does.
Daniele De Rossi, David Pizarro, Simone Perrotta, Rodrigo Taddei, Matteo Brighi, Fabio Simplicio
I do declare midfield is going to be just fine, thus words, copious words anyway, are moot.
Going into the season they filled the one apparent gap (vice-Pizarro) and Ranieri has bountiful versatility and undeniable quality with which to work as he constantly toys with his monochromatic tactical Rubik’s cube.
There is a difference between prayer and faith, and on the road to that faith lies Marco Borriello, a man who’s changed the structure of this team the moment the official PDF hit Roma’s mom and pop website. The aura surrounding the team, more specifically the attack, was one of hope, that dastardly four-letter I rarely dare utter. Hope that Adriano would exorcise his demons; hope that Jeremy Menez would continue his steep progress; hope that Stefano Okaka, though only 20, would finally grow into his limitless ceiling; and hope that Francesco would reverse the trend and find a year full of health – this ever a fleeting hope.
The one constant was Mirko, who quietly carried Roma on his back at times during the unbeaten run and even more quietly nearly ushered this team to a scudetto. What, you dare question? He is a man of many faces, of equal parts euphoria and furor, but he is approaching those levels of importance typically reserved for You Know Who.
Now, hope has left and faith has arrived, trumpeted in pomp, heralded by circumstance and being sung in something vaguely discernible as la-la-la-Borriello. The savior who needn’t be a savior. His presence simply completes the tactical puzzle and allows Adriano to be the roll of fat dice he always should have been. It’s something glorious.
This team will score goals. However, wherever, from whomever, it will score goals.
This is a squad in completion.
As promised, and with explicit reservation, I will blow it up. It feels too formulaic, like I've been given a categorical rundown of the who, the what, the where, the when and the why as I struggle to meet an imposed deadline for the overlords. Not I, not neverish.
This feels good. Not the preview or the gentle breeze trickling through the window, but the current state of being. I look at that cast and I think of completeness from a tactical perspective. I think of the losing scoreline and Claudio Ranieri reaching into his pants, darting around the moons and inevitably pulling out two die, lovingly named Adriano and Okakachukamuthafucka. I can't really stress enough that Borriello himself isn't the answer, but rather the fact the he is an answer. One of many, and one who answers a number of subquestions. An answer to previously incomplete problems like who of the forwards can run in a straight line? Who can lift their body weight three inches off the ground? Who's going to lift the Mancini's and De Rossi's of the world out of their doldrums with a VIP night at the discotheque when their love lives are shattered?
I go back to one game against the old nemesis to formulate my questions. That nemesis is, of course, Livorno, and it's not the 1-1 in which Amelia burned his Roman bridge, Totti burned through most of his knee and Doni burned his remaining brain cells in positioning himself for Diamanti's free kick, yet still failed. To still more surprise, it's not the 3-3 in which Marco Motta burned his Roman bridge, which seems to be a running theme - against Livorno, someone's picking up a one-way tickeet. (This would be the time to check Stefano Guberti's game log from the first half of 2009.)
It's the 1-1 in horrid weather in Toscana during the days of the Tuscan curse, a game in which Livorno rolled out the team plane and stifled a frustrated Roma into despair and I underneath my covers to mutter unmentionable things, mostly directed at Spalletti's homerism. The reason I always go back to this game was because it was, for me, the most prime example of Roma's lack of options in recent years. The Grand Imperial Poobah - it's been awhile since that made a cameo - wasn't in favor of tactical variety, nor did Roma really have the personnel versatility to render it a plausible or useful notion. So they battered and battered and battered that ball into the shins of all 42 Tuscans in the box that day - given their difficulties, I gather all on the pitch were born in the region, simply because that's how Roma operates - and were left with nothing more than a point and supreme frustration.
That day, there was nothing. Simone Perrotta was making runs through to the space beyond the central defense...and finding himself face-to-face with Amelia, since they were stacked inside the six. The tallest person in the box was Giuly and the only times GOMR was able to meander into the box, he was quad-marked because his aerial prowess was well-scouted for - the rightback a primary offensive weapon. Ball on the floor, through the mud, around no one, and into the arms of Amelia for ninety-odd minutes.
Through all the financial issues, Spalletti's S&M training with no safety word and the gargantuan philosophical shift and subsequent assimilation period, I've seen this as Roma's Achilles throughout the years: an issue not of depth, but of versatility in depth.
And with one stroke of the pen...poof. All gone. There is a player type for every occasion, a skill set to match every requirement; a full boat with which to whet Ranieri's phantasmagorical tactical desires. The attack is a cornucopia, one which boasts not only a vibrant array, but one which is varied and takes into account injuries, form or simple bad luck, allowing the queue to shuffle and someone else to fill the assembly line void. It won't always be perfect and this isn't to say every game will be won with a wave of the magical substitution wand, but there's too much ability, too many tactical possibilities not to hit on talent or on matchup. The ability to allow the players to express themselves and their talents to the fullest can't really be overstated.
For years the difference between the big wallets and the Roman purse has been glaring, and though it's not quite the depth of the teams from Milan or Torino, it's a purposeful depth. They're not names with a degree of quality attached, they all have roles and are here, in the majority, with a grand design in mind. All placed at the feet of a man who's eschewed the tactical chalkboard for an Etch-A-Sketch.
What's not to love?
And with that, I'm a broken record; six variations on the same thing for the last week. But I can't really help myself: it feels good, it feels right, it feels complete. Marco Borriello completes me, something I never thought I'd utter but will be sure to hear repeated from every female who passes by a Roma game this season.
This team, this club, is so much more than one man, one move, one anything, but it's the ebullient joy as that last illusive piece is excavated from the fields on yonder and slowly dropped into place in front of tearful, gracious villagers. The finished product, though never a finished product, with final authority to move forward without abandon.
At this point, words have been exhausted; so with every passing, half-hearted mention of retirement, we simply watch, marvel and appreciate. It's all that's left to do.
Last year a made a mantra of saying September was ritiro and October the friendly season, what with the massive shift in team philosophy, requiring extensive adjustments across the board, from Spalletti to Ranieri. Banking on this, I did some maths and came to the following conclusions:
Over the 38 game season, their form in its entirety accounted for 80 points.
Over a 38 game season, their October to May form would have accounted for 87 points.
Over a 38 game season, their November to May form would have accounted for 94 points.
Over a 38 game season, their form over the second half of the season would have accounted for 96 points.
The beginning of another season with promise and, dare I say, hope, yet it's really anything but; it's AS Roma's evolution under Claudio Ranieri as he continues painting his masterpiece.
And this time, we're ready.