I held out as long as I could, kept telling myself that he had the pedigree, that he was a man on the rise and that eventually he'd figure it all out. The ‘he' in that sentence is, of course, the recently departed Rudi Garcia, Roma's manager for the past 123 competitive matches. Unless you were a devout fan of Ligue 1, Garcia was a bit of an unknown upon his arrival to the Eternal City, but then it happened.
Whether it was due to his player-first attitude, his relaxed style or simply his fresh blood, Garcia's wide open 4-3-3 took the league by storm. Led by a rejuvenated Francesco Totti, the reformed Gervinho and the bulwark defense led by Mehdi Benatia and Leandro Castan, Garcia made perhaps the greatest impression ever, opening the season with ten resounding victories in a row.
Suddenly, the ghosts of May 26th were erased and ‘it' finally seemed plausible. Could this mild mannered man from Gaul possibly loosen the Old Lady's stranglehold on the league? Roma's first taste of Garcia was downright euphoric--the team played fast and loose while the defense was impregnable. The only thing that stood in between Garcia and history was Juve's own record breaking season, one in which they lapped the field, topping 100 points on their way to a third consecutive Scudetto.
In any other year and in any other universe, Garcia's storybook ending would have been published without issue. A stranger in a strange land, completely ignorant to the ways of Italian football, and completely unfazed by turbulence surrounding him, taking his club to new heights--winning the Scudetto and completely upsetting the entire power structure of Italian football; the perfect foil for James Pallotta's paradigm shifting plans
And although it didn't happen, we found solace in the fact that Garcia was robbed only by the unyielding and mysterious hand of fate. We resigned ourselves to the fact that it just wasn't our year, but Roma, replete with talent, financial backing, and with depth at nearly every position, was primed for big things in Garcia's second year.
From there, the story becomes more convoluted and confusing. Garcia nearly repeated the feat in the fall of 2014, winning 11 of the first 15 matches, bowling over the competition in the process. However, as fall gave way to winter and the calendar flipped over to 2015, something went awry.
No longer fast and not nearly as furious, Roma began to sputter, drawing eight out of ten matches to start the New Year; blowing leads and dropping points was the order of the day. And yes, there were injuries and Walter Sabatini did him few favors in that winter's transfer market, but no matter what he tried, Roma simply couldn't buck the trend. Victories were replaced with excuses, enthusiasm with animosity.
With the title within reach, every dropped point was like an unreturned text--all your hopes and dreams just sitting idly in the ether, desperately awaiting validation before ultimately evaporating and falling unexpectedly into someone else's palm.
Metaphors aside, as the 2014-2015 season slowed to a crawl, a unique inverse relationship reared its ugly head. Slowly but surely, it became clear that the league had figured out Garcia, yet Roma seldom (if ever) fell below second on the table. They figured him out, yet they couldn't truly stop him. Sure, Garcia was good, but was he really good enough?
While it appears as though that answer has been answered in rather convincing fashion, I'm here to tell you, as one of his harshest critics, that it belies the true measure of the man.
Rudi Garcia's legacy isn't one of wins and losses, but of transformations. The fact that Garcia leaves Rome in nearly the same shape in which he found it is misleading. Garcia's obituary isn't a tale of beginnings and endings, but rather the spaces in between--the dash on the proverbial epitaph.
In that blank space, Garcia restored our faith--in the club, in its unmistakable aura, and in the dream. No longer was Roma relegated to second best, she could stand toe-to-toe with any despot the north could throw at her.
He may not have ultimately vanquished those foes, but he made us believe it was possible. And for that, I'm eternally grateful.