For the last decade, AS Roma have been criticized as a side with a weak mentality. And why not? With a rotating door of managers and six runner’s up finishes in Serie A, the giallorossi haven’t claimed any silverware since their Coppa Italia win in the 2007/08 season. Moreover, they have, in the last ten years, shown a remarkable ability to lose leads, make fundamental mistakes, or catastrophically implode at the absolute worst moment. Their relatively recent European showings haven’t helped change the minds of pundits and fans alike. In 2007’s Champion’s League quarter-final, Roma were utterly embarrassed by Manchester United, taking a 7-1 drubbing. The next year they were shut out at the same stage by the same team. In the following years, they couldn’t manage surpassing the round of sixteen, and to make matters worse, notorious defeats to Bayern Munich and Barcelona, 7-1 and 6-1 respectively, only further tarnished their reputation. The aforementioned manager roulette and the club’s financial woes would plummet the team’s stock further into the abyss. Simply, AS Roma slowly became a mediocre European side, one that could make appearances in the world’s grandest tournament, but never really shine in one. It is for this reason that no one expected Roma to reach their first Champion’s League semi-final since 1984. And if not for what feels like a million alternate possibilities, Roma could be on the road to the final in Kiev right now.
Yet, they aren’t. But this isn’t an article about what could have been, nor is it an attack on referee decisions, missed opportunities, or costly mistakes. What has occurred to me, and hopefully many of you, is that this Roma team has evolved. And no, not just since the miracle comeback against Barcelona. If you look deeper into this year’s Champion’s League run you’ll notice several illuminating truths. While the giallorossi haven’t been the most glamorous side in the UCL this year, they managed to win when it counted and lose with away goals in their back pocket. The fans made the Stadio Olimpico a fortress and EDF made ingenious tactical changes that, believe this, actually worked! Sure, one could argue that his strategy in leg one against Liverpool bombed; however, he has shown he is capable of learning from his mistakes and revitalizing his squad. In the past, how many times have you watched this team throw away leads or simply give up in big games? Several things changed this year, but among all of them, the most crucial was the strengthening of Roma’s mentality.
Admittedly, I shunned EDF’s appointment, and even went as far as to write him off during the early stretches of the season. During Roma’s mid-season free-fall, I beamed with the filthy pride of someone who withholds, “I told you so’s.” But even early on, as Roma progressed through the group stages, I began to notice a change in the players’ attitudes, both at the individual level and as a team. Unlike his predecessor, EDF has shown trust in his whole squad, rotating players around and even playing the inexperienced and young members of the squad. While not always dominating games in UCL, or even playing beautiful football, one thing has been clear—the players play for their manager. How else could you explain Roma’s grit against Shakhtar Donetsk, their comeback against Barcelona, or even their near-leveling with Liverpool? Somewhere along the way this team found its heart. They began to see their worth and the inherent skill they’ve always had. Perhaps EDF is responsible for this, or maybe simply winning and progressing was enough; either way, Roma now wears her heart on her sleeve. And despite failing to reach the final, there is a silver-lining. The team has mended a once frail mentality, proving strength and resilience among the world’s biggest stage.
Now, where Roma will go from here is impossible to predict. Will this run prove the foundation for glorious years ahead? And how tenacious is their newfound mentality? Will it last? One thing is certain: claiming 3rd or 4th place is a must for the healthy continuity of this team. After that, Monchi and EDF have a lot of work on their hands this summer. While this year has shown that Roma have a bright future of young stars with Schick and Under leading the way, there is also the glaring immobility and lack of creativity in the midfield that will surely need to be addressed. However, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, EDF at the helm with the team behind him looks promising, and there is hope that this year’s glorious UCL run is only the springboard for what lies ahead.