A Roma manager’s job is never really safe in the strictest sense of the word. Failing an unlikely treble, no matter what peak the man on the sidelines might climb, he’s always one rough patch away from the unemployment line. With only four points from his first three matches this season, Roma’s worst start since Zeman 2.0, Eusebio Di Francesco is suddenly the subject of sacking rumors.
Four or five months ago this would have been unthinkable. Sure, EDF’s first season at the helm wasn’t as smooth or as successful as many envisioned, but he somehow willed his men to the semi-finals of the Champions League, orchestrating a comeback for the ages against Barcelona in the quarter finals. With the plaudits flowing after that victory, EDF’s credibility crescendoed so high that he was being tipped for the Chelsea vacancy that ultimately went to Maurizio Sarri.
After all, if you could take Roma’s rag tag bunch and erase a 3-0 deficit to mighty Barcelona in the Champions League, you must be doing something correct, right?
Well, yes and no. To his detractors, EDF was simply the beneficiary of some prodigious luck along the way to that semi-final. Taking nothing away from his master stroke against Barcelona, Roma advanced as far as they did on the back of the away goals rule (twice) and, were it not for Bruno Peres’ toe, wouldn’t even have had the chance to erase that Barcelona deficit to begin with. And once Roma did reach the semifinals, EDF’s tactics against Liverpool were, to put it nicely, laughably wrong.
Couple that with the club’s dip in points and goals from the prior season, and the anti-EDF crowd had some valid points. However, outside of peak Palermo or maybe the Yankees in the 80s, there was simply no owner on earth who would can his manager after his club reached the semifinals of the Champions League, reaping €100 million in the process.
Di Francesco’s debut season with Roma was a lesson in extremes, with the club’s rampant success in the Champions League being weighed down by their disappointing domestic campaign. Still, for his first season at a large club, it was a successful rookie season: Roma finished in the top 4, earned oodles of money and made the semifinals in Europe for the first time in over 30 years.
In order to take the next step, Roma jettisoned key veterans deemed surplus to requirements or simply not quite fit for EDF’s tactics, replacing them with a mixture of veterans and intriguing prospects. For the first time in the American regime, it seemed like they were fully outfitting the squad to the managers needs. With the administration, the sporting director and the manager on the same page there were and are no excuses for falling backwards, which is precisely what Roma have done thus far.
With his club sputtering out the gate, looking completely overwhelmed on defense and utterly punchless in attack, the Italian press is starting to connect the dots to several high profile Italian managers looking for work, namely Antonio Conte and Vincenzo Montella.
We’ll save the debate between those two, and whoever else might pop up, for a later day, but this much is clear: the heat is on EDF. Monchi completely remade the team in his image—bringing in 12 new players a year after James Pallotta decried that very practice—so he really has no excuses; anything short of the top four and he should be out on his ass.
Roma’s roster isn’t short on talent—there are still several players who would look good in Liverpool red next season—but given all we just discussed, and the clueless nature with which the team has played thus far, it is fair to question whether or not Di Francesco is the right man to lead this team.
For my money, I was always uneasy about his appointment, but if we learned anything from the fall of Rudi Garcia it’s simply this: do it now or don’t do it at all. Dragging this out for months, waiting to see if he turns it around, will only damn the team in the long run. Imagine if they’d sacked Garcia just two weeks earlier, that could have been the difference between automatic qualification for the Champions League the following season or falling into the playoff round, and we all remember how that worked out.
In a calmer, more serene environment Di Francesco would have the benefit of patience, of having 24 months to really impress his vision on his players, but football, particularly Italian football, doesn’t exist in that realm.
It’s now or never: Roma has Chievo, Real Madrid, Bologna, Frosinone and Lazio in September. Those are nine eminently winnable domestic points (the derby could go either way) and one huge chance to grab an advantage in the Champions League.
If he can’t do that, he needs to be shown the door.