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Udinese 1 - Roma 1: Don't Define Me

Paolo Bruno

Full confession? This Roma is as boring to write about as it is to watch. The results are wonderful, yes. (Ten points out of twelve. Stop complaining. You don't go from dating The Chick From 7-11 to Jennifer Lawrence only to complain that she's not Bar Rafaeli, do you? Didn't think so. Insert [Dude], [some guy girls think is hot], [some guy girls think is even hotter] if you're of the other gender or if you really understand where Nathan Lane's coming from - the closet, namely - in The Birdcage.) The pragmatism is, in a sense, a breath of fresh air by its staleness, sure. The future does seem promising, if it often does in the honeymoon stage. But good Francesco, I have zoned out more in the last four weeks of watching Roma than in the last four years combined. It's not even the world's most boring football, it's just, well, it just is. There is nothing defining this Roma. It holds no identity but the one which is necessary to achieve the end. That's fine, and I quite like Aurelio and will be the first to say he's done a fine job, whether or not one considers expectations, but it's boring as all hell.

Perhaps we've just been spoiled. Zeman was always exciting, if that pounding in your chest was the same one felt when the serial killer is shuttling the meat cleaver to your jugular, often a very appropriate metaphor. There was always the possibility of, well, possibility. And though we watched Miralem Pjanic and Gaby Heinze play one-two, one-two, etc. for a good chunk of time, there always existed this metronomic passing movement which could, at times, captivate, while we were on the edge of our seats wondering, "Is someone actually going to make a run into the box today?!?!" The Ranieri method had its tiresome moments, of course, but at some point the grand picture consumed the mundane minutiae.

There was an allure to those versions of Roma; an allure being precisely what this Roma is lacking. Kind of like that job you get to put yourself through university: it gets the job done, but you don't go bragging about it, you filthy whore, you. This is, in effect, a perpetual exercise in finding the means to the end until the next one comes along - ever the unknown. Though perhaps that's just it; perhaps it needs be defined by its adaptability. They do say, after all, that is the root of true intelligence. (And by "they" I mean Stephen Hawking's voice-a-tron, implying Spalletti, Enrique and Zeman are @#$%ing buffoons.) This Roma? Defined in that it cannot be.

So, these are the indisputable truths we currently hold: Roma's netted ten points of a possible twelve over the last weeks; Roma's still very much entrenched in the honeymoon period, which means it all means nothin'; the method used it the one which will achieve it on any given day. If you know more, I'd like tomorrow's lotto and the score of the derby so I know whether or not to watch. I believe there is statistical evidence to support the whole coaching-change-equates-to-improved-results-in-the-very-short-term theory (Palermo would've won the Champions League were that the case, though), but there is undoubtedly a little bit of the unknown when opposing coaches scheme for this Roma. For Zeman, they had a step-by-step instructional brochure which hadn't changed in 30 years. It's the honeymoon period - that's all this currently is. (It's a good one, mind.)

But they could do a lot worse than ninety minutes at a time, even if I'm napping for fifty of them.


  • One, because it's damn important:

    The most noticeable thing on the pitch for Roma wasn't the presence of any single player or some existential unknown, but the absence of Miralem Pjanic. For some time, I've been far less concerned by what was happening to Daniele De Rossi - kind of like letting yourself go in year 10 of the marriage; the other one's likely not going anywhere at this point - and more in angst over the state of Pjanic's stay in Rome. In fact, some part of me believes the best coach for Roma might be the one who can best utilize Miralem - that's how good he is. He did earn his spot back long before the end of Zeman's dismissal, but he held no single role, no position in the club which he could state is his, when he is one of those players who does have a best role: conductor. As a stand-in for Lamela, he was critically underutilized, a waste for the system and his talents, while the midfield movement demanded was more of a chaotic rumbling than the elegant dance one might find at the Bolshoi. Miralem's a ballerina; don't ask him to run a mud marathon. While I refuse to state the club should be built around someone like Pjanic, he should be a high priority - he wasn't Roma's best player under Enrique by accident. The dude has some serious game and he's less than one year older than Florenzi. He is your future if he'll allow it.

    Against Udinese we saw what a good midfield runner like Florenzi can do. While Alessandro was busy hanging out at midfield...and left wing...and advanced midfield...and right wing...and striker...and Danny Osvaldo 2.0...and with that chick in the stands...his runs were often going unfed. (Totti can't do it all.) The vision of Miralem, the ability to manipulate the defense into giving Alessandro the lane to find his pass, is the closer. Despite Erik Lamela's entrance as a playmaker extraordinaire, he's sort of found a role in that inside-central-striker role which is also a bit more difficult to define - and he has shown to be better the closer he gets to center. Miralem has proven to be best wherever the ball is, so long as it's at his feet. They need Miralem's vision and organizational skills in the midfield to construct the best Roma possible, in both the short and long term.

    This single consideration adds a measured degree of importance to Roma continuing to get its @#$% together. He is, from this perspective, the one name on the roster closest to jumping ship for a much improved club, no matter his PR speak in the press. Clubs which will be much better than Roma over the coming years want him, and will likely pay him more money. Most athletes will call a cab for the airport before the pitch is finished. His ability to intelligently conduct the game from the center of the pitch, particularly in the 20-30 meter-from-goal range, is something which this club should be built around for the next five years, but could lose if they don't net at least the Europa League - perhaps even the Champions League is necessary. The lack of cohesion in the attack at times was largely a result of his absence, and it's much more difficult to replace than simply making another call to France and hoping someone undervalues a prized phenom a second time around. (A call to Ajax might suffice, however. There is one out there...)

    In order to keep Miralem, they might need Miralem. The worst thing possible just might be finding out where this team would be without him.