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The Almosts

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On killer instincts, scapegoats, and the greatest trick La Maggica ever pulled.

AS Roma v Bologna FC - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. A phrase that gets thrown around a lot whenever and wherever conversation turns to Roma, whether that’s in the media, on Internet comment boards or at family dinner tables. The idea that Roma doesn’t have the fortitude to add to its trophy cabinet is now as ingrained into Giallorossi culture as a love of Francesco Totti and a hatred of sky-blue shirts.

It’s certainly easy to see why the idea of a glass ceiling preventing the Capitoline club from reaching oft-promised glory has taken hold: the last time Roma’s senior team won a title was on May 24th, 2008, when Philippe Mexès and Simone Perrotta shot the club to its ninth Coppa Italia. Eight years later, Simone Perrotta is long retired, Philippe Mexès is without a club, we’re all ashamed of how popular we let The Black Eyed Peas become (among other things), and Roma hasn’t lifted another trophy. Granted, this isn’t for lack of trying; since 2008, i Lupi have placed second in the league three times and reached the Coppa Italia final twice, but still, almost is only good in horseshoes and hand grenades. So why is there no killer instinct? Why, even when the Giallorossi have a hot streak of form, is the entire world (including the club itself) generally convinced that they will eventually crash down to earth, like eleven Icarian imitators?

Perhaps this deep-seated disbelief in future Roman glory stems from he extended success of the club’s greatest contemporary rival, Juventus. Five titles in a row is nothing to sneeze at, and the intelligent growth of the Turin-based club through smart youth buys, maintenance of a consistent defensive back-line and proactive stadium development should be treated as a model for all Serie A contenders. When all those positives attributes are considered in tandem with the poor record the Giallorossi have against the Old Lady, it’s not surprising that Roma’s failures are often considered simply the result of Juventus’ successes. Yet despite all that, it’s impossible to blame Roma’s failures solely on Juventus – they only play each other a couple times a season, and the results of a season are decided not by two matches but the accumulation of each weekly result.

If Juventus isn’t the author of all of Roma’s pain, perhaps it is Roma’s financial situation that dooms it to perpetual second place showings? Financial Fair Play, the greatest oxymoron in sports, is perpetually breathing down Roma’s neck, reportedly making it harder and harder for the club to offer players the contracts they deserve. But wait – Roma’s wage bill has ranked in the top 3 in Serie A for years, and Daniele De Rossi was the highest-paid player on the peninsula for quite some time. Roma has the money, and they can spend quite a bit of it without major repercussions from Financial Fair Play – it’s just that the management hasn’t always spent that money in the wisest ways (Ashley Cole and Juan Iturbe, please report to the training ground). There’s always more money to be made, and it will certainly help things to have a privately-owned stadium and a real sponsorship deal (sorry, Philipp Plein doesn’t count), but for Roma to blame shallow pockets for their shallow trophy cabinet is a bit off-base.

The other scapegoat for Roma’s drought is the fans and the media circus that surrounds the club. Former players and managers consistently speak of the high standards of the Romanisti fan base, and the sheer number of news sources pumping out story after story, day in and day out on the club never ceases to amaze. This line of thinking says that Roma’s environment is so toxic that if a player sneezes the wrong way on the pitch, a sign is sure to show up on the training ground the next morning denigrating the man for not using a handkerchief. That’s all well and good until you remember that Roma isn’t the only club with a rabid and demanding fan-base; other clubs have just as high standards for their management, players, and coaches, yet those clubs can turn pressure into incentive to succeed.

At the end of the day, it’s a rather pointless exercise to pinpoint why Roma is always a contender and never the winner – there isn’t one particular reason why they’re not winning titles, and there is not a panacea that will bring about the second coming of the Roman Empire (Unless you’re investing in a Francesco Totti cloning program. Then we can talk.). Winning breeds winning, and Roma must find a way to win something this year, whether it be the Europa League or the Coppa Italia, if only to demonstrate to itself that it can be something more than an Almost.

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. The greatest trick la Maggica ever pulled was convincing itself that it was doomed to forever be the bridesmaid, to forever be an Almost, to forever have a small trophy cabinet.