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The Year-in-Review, Part III: Summer 2013

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Finally, some good news. Summer saw new kits, new faces, and a nearly flawless start to the season.

Giuseppe Bellini

The start of the third fiscal quarter is an anxious one in the football world, the transfer window is completely agape, yet, rather than hitting with full force, the news amounts to little more than a slight breeze, gently billowing the drapes. So, forgive us if this recap is lacking in substance.

July

This particular rumor mill started off with a glamorous name adorned atop an even more glamorous face, Mario Gomez. While he ultimately opted for Fiorentina, Gomez was the first of many names to which we were exposed over the summer. We nearly saw Nani and his dancing feet work their way to Roma, we fretted over Miralem Pjanic leaving for more moneyed pastures, dreamt of the day that, at long last, Osvaldo would be no more, and asked the question what is a Lukasz Skorupski?

But then, things got real.

We celebrated Bastille Day not by extolling the virtues of the Third Estate, but rather by celebrating Roma's newest millionaire, Mehdi Benatia.

Prior to his arrival in Roma, Benatia's career trajectory was already trending upwards, but what we've seen through the tail end of 2013 has been the anointment of Serie A's best defender, and, I'd dare say, the world's. (As I type that, for some reason I picture Dr. Evil).

However, if his four goals hadn't clued you in already, Benatia isn't your grandfather's centerback. Take a look back at our now ironic short-sale of Benatia's skills on the finer side of the ball:

If you're relying on your centerback to be an integral part of your offense, you're probably in for a long season, but Benatia's size, stamina and relative pace does give Rudi Garcia an interesting toy to play with. Looking at the black and white of it, Benatia banged home two goals and dished out one assist, while completing 82% of his passes, managing 2.3 long balls per match and creating two scoring opportunities.

While Rudi Garcia hasn't necessarily relied upon Benatia's offensive contributions, they were a previously overlooked aspect to the Roma attack. Benatia is massive and mobile, making him an asset of the highest order in set pieces. €13.5m well spent and surely the highlight of July, if not Roma's entire summer.

Roma may have missed out on Christian Eriksen, but July saw the landing of Maicon, Morgan De Sanctis and, most importantly, Kevin Strootman. Although the column space we dedicated to this move was woefully insufficient, Strootman has been a wonder, instantly altering the form and function of Roma's midfield.

Julius Caesar's favorite month wasn't without its sad moments, however. Roma, faced with an offer they couldn't refuse, bid Au Revoir to Marquinhos, a player's whose rise in Roman lore was nearly unparalleled, transforming himself from Leandro Castan's metal mouthed tag along to budding club legend. Marten summed it up rather succinctly, saying "Someday this might be a club which can scoff at bids for its best players, no matter their value. Today is not that day. Thanks for the memories. Come back anytime"

While we were tantalized with a reunion of a grander and gingerer sort, a Cottager John Arne Riise remained. Rather than dwelling on the past, we took an exhaustive look at the correlation between Federico Balzaretti's performances in 2012 and Roma's win-loss record:

It's definitely not a causal relationship, and the correlation might be tenuous at best, but anyway you slice it, the consistency of Federico Balzaretti is crucial to Roma's chances of success this season.

I think we overshot the moon on this one, Roma has succeed without any real contribution from Balzaretti, but I'm partial to this piece not just because I wrote it, but because it features what is perhaps my favorite photo in our database. There's something very Neo emerging from The Matrix about that photo.

Roma also began her summer friendlies in earnest in July, facing both Greek side Aris and America's MLS All-Stars. Thanks to those friendlies, we actually caught a glimpse of Erik Lamela in Roma's finest gift to footballing fashion, which, in turn, provided us an opportunity to analyze and opine on what Lamela might become:

So, while in terms of actual position and number of touches, Lamela isn't Totti's direct heir (that distinction is probably best saved for Pjanic), he is the next Totti in terms of his prominence within the Roman offense, being just as much the finisher as he is the facilitator of the Roman attack. If any Giallorossi player is given the freedom to roam as he wants, to demand the ball anywhere and at any time, to have the sovereignty to create and to kill as he sees fit, it's Erik Lamela.

Count me among the crowd drinking the Nutella laced Kool-Aid that is Adem Ljajic, but it's hard not to lament what might have been as we watch Lamela languish in London.

We'll close the book on July and move onto another Imperial inspired month...

August

We may have closed out July examining what we thought was the future of Roma, but we started August with a wistful look at the past. It is perhaps one of the game's greatest What Ifs, certainly one of the most regrettable tales in Roma history, but (for some reason) Chris deemed it necessary to remind us how telepathically linked Francesco Totti and Antonio Cassano once were.

Speaking of Francesco Totti, if you ever wondered how or why someone would compare him to Tom Brady, Derek Jeter or even Sidney Crosby, step behind the veil, won't you? It's something I found myself doing from time-to-time, partly out of curiosity, sometimes as a mental reprieve from insomnia, but I decided to put it to paper, as it were. Ultimately, any comparison falls short, for reasons athletic, economic and emotive:

As I try to wrap this up, I'm faced with the nearly impossible task of describing what makes Totti so special, what his career, his legacy and his mere existence means to the people and city of Rome. Words will never do this relationship justice, because it's not about words, it's about a bond between a man and a city; a city that, for all intents and purposes, should be the center of power, of finance, and of football in Italy.

But it's not, nor has it ever been, but they've had this one thing. One thing that they could hold in the face of the northern elite; one thing that was truly theirs, one thing that represented the struggles and successes of the city, one thing that could intrinsically understand why a city that's existed since time immemorial would feel inferior to anyone. This one thing knows why Roma is special, why she's persisted for millennia and why she can't be measured my material gains.

This one thing is the embodiment of that city, of that identity crisis and of that indomitable sense of pride.

This one thing is Francesco Totti, and for that, there is no comparison.

This piece was also one of my favorites because of the conversation that followed; we found cricket's Totti in Sachin Tendulkar, a much larger and meaner Totti in Brian Urlacher, and we even managed to squeeze in some good ole fashion Kobe bashing. A good job, one and all.

August was also highlighted by what will presumably become an annual rite, Roma's trip to the New World, with 2013's iteration focusing on friendlies with Chelsea and Toronto FC. We focused on the business side of The Project, slicing open (to the extent we can) Roma's various revenue streams, and, in the process, learned how far off the English mark they truly fell.

The month rolled along, largely highlighted by further Erik Lamela rumors and friendlies both near and far, but, as far as this here church is concerned, the big news was the addition of two new clergyman, both of whom we hope you'll hear plenty from in 2014.

Sam's introductionto the parish was an evocative look back at his own Roman Holiday--whether that makes him Gregory Peck or Audrey Hepburn, I'll let you decide--summing up what it means to follow this club thusly:

This is not a team where you can buy their shirt the year they win a title and forget about it two years later. You also can't randomly see these guys on TV every second Saturday night at the pub and develop a sub conscious familiarity.

To follow this team is to obsess about them. It is to sift through football websites searching for a single rumour that may shed some light on how this team will step on the rich clubs from the north and stop losing to f***ing Cagliari and Catania.

But it is also to have that very Roman chip on your shoulder. A chip that comes from knowing that if there was even a skerrick of justice in this world, Roma would dominate the world as a bastion of light against the petro-dollared defensive boors of Europe. Indeed, the suffering and outrage of the fans is one of the prime tenets of Roma that keeps band-wagon supporters at arms length while swallowing the romantic non-conformists hook, line and sinker

If you're keeping score at home, in the span of one sentence, Sam dropped a "skerrick" and "bastion" on us, and you wonder why we want him more involved.

Next in line for new beginnings was Vahakn, and he did not disappoint:

You're a fool. You might consider yourself a romantic, or something of the sort, but if there's one thing a fool loves, it's to rationalize his actions. You're a fool and so am I. We all are, here together, because if there's one thing a fool loves it's company. Validation. And if there's one thing a fool loves it's inconsistency. Since "Consistent Roma" could be the example on your "Oxymoron" vocabulary flashcard, you're the moth, Roma's the blue light. The Champions League is the thing that goes zzzap.

Right from the jump, Vahakn put a whole new insect-themed twist on what we've been doing to ourselves lo these many years.

We made a concerted effort to take a different tact with the season previews this summer, hoping to provide a glimpse of how each of us reached our respective depths of depravity.

But, hey, wouldn't you know it, the season actually started! Roma ran roughshod over Livorno, bid farewell to Lamela and welcomed Adem Ljajic to the fold. We certainly didn't know it at the time, but August was merely the tip of a much more glorious iceberg.

September

Summer's final month got off to a flying start, as Roma trounced Hellas Verona 3-0, thanks to an own goal and a twin killing from the Balkan Boys, we gave our final assessment of the summer mercato, welcomed back Marco Borriello, Totti Tuesday's briefly became Wilhelmsson Wednesday's, and we even examined the aesthetic leanings of Roma as a whole.

We also continued our protracted season previews with a thought experiment/round table prognostication, during which, if only to toot my own horn, I said this when questioned about Serie A's best transfer:

Mehdi Benatia, seriously. I expect him to emerge as the league's best center back... simply because, though what he does won't appear in stat sheets, his role is massive and he does it better than nearly anyone in the league

Well, I definitely undersold Mr. Benatia, didn't I? Fuck, four goals!? Who saw that coming?

There isn't really much else to say, you were there, you remember, Roma breezed through September defeating her opponents by a collective15-1...seriously, 15-1!

We'll end the recap with what is sure to be the enduring image of this season, Federico Balzaretti, scoring his first Roman goal on the grandest of stages, pushed to the brink of exhaustion and overcome with emotion, weeping into the arms of his teammates. (pretty solid volley now that I look back on it, too)

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So that was summer. It was fast, it was furious, and it was fantastic.