In the wake of yesterday’s disconcerting loss to Atalanta, made worse by all the Scudetto talk that preceded it, something dawned on me. For as much as we grouse about Juventus—their ugly kits, their detestable players, their “relationship” with the officials, and their sheer dominance of the league—we never really talk about how Roma might actually catch up to them, either in esteem or actual results.
Prior to yesterday’s match, Luciano Spalletti claimed that Roma must think and win like Juventus, when the truth (as we assailed him on Twitter) is more like talk like Juventus play like Bologna, but hey, Bologna actually won this weekend, so maybe that was shooting the moon. Point being, in order to truly talk the talk and walk the walk, this club needs a massive paradigm shift, one in which progress is prioritized over profits, one where results and consistency are valued more than bluster and empty promises.
So with that in mind, here is our three point plan for Roma to think and win like Juventus. Is it possible? Absolutely. Will it happen? God only knows.
#1 Invest in Youth
Now, this point comes with a caveat: Roma has shown little hesitation in purchasing youth players—Gerson, Juan Iturbe, Alisson etc—and in many instances, going toe to toe with larger clubs for their signatures, the problem has simply been the lack of follow through. Prospects either rot on the bench with no developmental plan (Salih Uçan, Gerson (thus far)) or they suffer an unending cycle of loans never to appear with Roma (Federico Viviani, Federico Ricci, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Gianluca Caprari etc).
Given Roma’s relatively restrained budget (compared to larger clubs), they absolutely need more hits than misses on these prospects. Getting cheap, cost controlled production will go a long way towards helping Roma close this gap, but as it stands, the club has no depth and has to seek help (both for starters and reserves) on the transfer market.
For example, yesterday’s starting XI, of which only one (De Rossi) was locally developed, while only three (Manolas, Salah and Strootman) were purchased prior to their 24th birthday. All teams have to dip into the transfer market of course, but the lack of homegrown talent on this club is staggering. Roma simply cannot afford to outfit their entire squad on the transfer market; it’s not sustainable and leads to constant turnover.
Don’t get me wrong, occasionally Roma gets the youth formula just right (Antonio Sanabria, Alessandro Florenzi) but more often than not their investment in youth goes for naught. Now, compare that to Juventus, who actually cultivates and develops young talent, turning them into stars and getting several seasons of cheaper production, and you can start to see the problem. Roma can’t afford to spend millions to cover up their developmental flaws, Juventus can, but because of their commitment to youth and shrewd purchases, they don’t even have to!
#2 Keep Your Players!
Now, this entire section will smack of revisionist history, so fare thee warned, but just take a look at some of the young names Roma has recycled over the past several seasons—Erik Lamela, Marquinhos, Tin Jedvaj, Alessio Romagnoli, Andrea Bertolacci, Matteo Politano, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Antonio Sanabria, Lukasz Skorupski. You’re telling me this Roma couldn’t use a few of those names?
Granted, it’s an unending chain of causality—if they never sold Marquinhos, they never would have had Mehdi Benatia, whom they sold and replaced with Kostas Manolas, and if they didn’t sell Pjanic, they probably couldn’t afford Peres—but setting all that aside, Roma could be standing on a nearly unrivaled spine, with a defensive core of Marquinhos, Romagnoli, Leandro Castan, Florenzi, Bruno Peres and Lucas Digne bridging towards a midfield of Miralem Pjanic, Daniele De Rossi, Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan, Andrea Bertolacci and Leandro Paredes, all with Francesco Totti, Mohamed Salah, Stephan El Shaarawy (or Adem Ljajic), Diego Perotti and Edin Dzeko waiting up top; that’s championship level depth there, folks.
Even if we remove the chain of causality, if Roma retained and developed their youth and avoided sunken costs like Iturbe, Seydou Doumbia and Victor Ibarbo, there’s no reason to think they couldn’t have kept Digne and Pjanic while still purchasing Peres.
Point being, when you have productive assets, barring some absurd Pobga-esque type offer, it behooves you to keep them. Sure, they’ve done this with Totti and De Rossi for years, but those two are special cases, but by and large, when money talks, this administration listens. Where would Juventus be had they parted with Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Claudio Marchisio or Leonardo Bonucci? Would they be this dominant had they sold any one of those players once they started to shine?
Keep Marquinhos, keep Erik Lamela and don’t set such a ridiculously low buyout clause for Pjanic, and there’s no telling where this club would be right now. Revisionist history? Sure, but there is a definitive pattern at play here.
#3 Win When You’re Supposed To
We’ll save the least quantifiable one for last, beat the teams you’re supposed to beat. While Juve has experienced some early season sputters the past couple of seasons, by and large once they put their foot on the gas, they don’t relent. Case in point, last season. After falling to Udinese and Roma (holy shit!) and drawing with Frosinone and Chievo last season, the Old Lady won 27 OF THEIR NEXT 31 MATCHES!, including ten one-goal victories, beating all comers large and small.
Now, contrast that with Roma’s performance last season. The Giallorossi actually had fewer losses than Juventus last year, but drew 11 matches to Juve’s four and Napoli’s seven. If they managed to even pull out two or three of those draws, they grab second place easily and we might not be staring at another summer sell off.
That’s it, it’s that simple. Don’t. Drop. Points. It’s the foundation on which everything else is built. Win matches, get money, get acclaim. Lather, rinse, repeat; it's practically a perpetual motion machine.
And through 13 weeks of play, it seems like Roma have yet to learn that lesson, as they’ve already dropped three matches and drawn two more. If they could have managed one measly goal against Empoli or not coughed up a two goal lead to Cagliari back in August, we’d be looking at a three point between Roma and Juventus rather than the current seven points, which is bound to increase with Roma’s tough schedule ahead.
Without access to the locker room, we can’t really give you the precise reasons why Roma so consistently falters against supposedly inferior opponents, but year after year, it comes back to haunt them, costing them millions of dollars in the process.
So that’s my brief, three point plan for becoming the Old Lady, what’s yours?