It seems he hasn’t aged a bit. Still the same grey hair, glasses, wrinkled eyes, corners of his mouth a little downwards. Ranieri at Trigoria, observing Roma players during a training. Well that was a sight for sore eyes. It has been 9 1⁄2 years since Claudio took over from Spalletti in 2009 (the Sensi era, feel nostalgic if you want) and more than 8 years since he left for caretaker Montella.
Irony no 1) now Ranieri himself is seen as a caretaker and steps into the Roma hot seat until the end of the season.
Irony no 2) Ranieri left in 2011 after a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Genoa. Roma were up 3-1 after 68 minutes but still lost the game after they concede 3 Genoa goals in the space of 20 minutes. Hmm, does that sound familiar? Yes, some things never change. I guess we still have to be afraid when Roma goes 2 goals up in a game. I swear to you, this club...
Anyway, back to 2009.
Even then, Ranieri was already considered a veteran, having coached five different teams in Serie A, two teams in Spain and one in England. Ranieri inherited a squad that didn’t start out brightly. They qualified for Europe, beating minnows Gent and Kosice, but started with a 0/6 in Serie A. Genoa (again) and Juve beat the Giallorossi, Spal packed his bags and Claudio finally got the chance to train his old love, AS Roma.
Claudio has been a Giallorosso since he was a child (a born and bred Roman) and never denied this. Even in his latest interview he said the Leicester title from 2016 can’t be compared to the emotions of guiding Roma to an almost Scudetto in 2010, only 30 minutes separated from a fourth Scudetto. Alas, Inter grabbed at in the final stages of the season. I don’t know about you but that’s a huge and daring statement from Claudio.
So, how exactly did Ranieri turn the Roman ship around? In one word: 2009-2010 was extraordinary. A season many fans will never forget, like the CL semifinal run of last year. Roma’s team was a bizarre mix.
You had the superpowers like Totti, De Rossi and Vucinic. You had the less sexy but very efficient players like Taddei, Perrotta and Tonetto. There was the resurgence of a certain Julio Sergio Bertagnoli (the derby save). And also the ‘wow, I totally forgot that dude played for Roma’ guys: Faty, Andreolli, Arthur and Pettinari.
A weird bunch but somehow it clicked. It worked. Riise was a beast with five goals, De Rossi had probably his best ever season in Serie A with 7 goals and the Totti-Vucinic combo was as deadly as ever. Roma won both derbies. And what do you know, the management actually did a smart piece of business in the winter mercato! Luca Toni joined Roma for half a season from Bayern and scored 5 goals in 15 games, including THAT goal against Mourinho’s Inter and THAT De Rossi celebration.
It was extraordinary, it was magical, it was almost a fairytale. I said almost. Sadly, Ranieri and Roma ended the season in typical Roma fashion: empty-handed. A Pazzini double at the Olimpico dealt a huge blow to Roma as Inter overtook the Giallorossi in the standings and stayed there until May.
Not only in Serie A did Ranieri performed miracles, he also guided Roma to the Coppa Italia final that year against, ugh, Inter. The fourth Roma-Inter final in five editions of the Coppa. And surprise, surprise, Roma lost in a dramatic way, a Diego Milito winner just before half-time. Gone Coppa Italia, not only two weeks after the painful Sampdoria defeat. So close to a unique Italian double. Suddenly: nothing left. Psychiatrists in Rome were working overtime that month. Ranieri would remain the ‘loser’, as Mourinho once famously said in the English press.
That’s why I was so glad Ranieri finally got the recognition he deserved after the Leicester miracle. Winning the Premier League and rubbing it in the face of the big rich clubs like Chelsea, City and Man U. He had to wait a long time but it was worth it.
Even after all those years, I still don’t know what to think of that damn season 2009-2010. There are so many good memories, but also so much heartache. Surely one cup was within our reach. It was a perfect timing, almost all our players were at their peak those days. But I guess all the drama and emotions also give it that touch of brilliance. It was a very ‘Roman’ season. The perfect mix of all things good and bad about this club. Put everything we love and hate in a blender and the result would be that damn season.
So, color me excited now that Ranieri returns to Roma. Suddenly we have the oldest trainer in the Peninsula, 18 years older than EDF. Things are a bit different, though. He has a lot less time than in 2009 and no Totti to rely on. And our DS just resigned. But if he can somehow safely park this mess called Roma in a CL place (perhaps even surpass Milan in third place), then it would be the second miracle he will perform for this club.
Let’s hope Dzeko releases his inner Toni, De Rossi relives his 2010 form, Florenzi finally grows into the Perrotta role we all thought was suited for him and that Juan Jesus magically turns his namesake of 9 years ago. Let’s make a sequel of 2009-2010.
C’mon, we all want to hear Claudio say ‘Dilly Ding, Dilly Dong’ in the Italian press come May, no?