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Assessing the Damage After the Monchi and Di Francesco Departures

In times like these, you have to assemble the empire.

FC Porto v AS Roma - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images

By now you're probably sick of hearing it, but it bears repeating: The past 48 hours are unlike anything we've seen in the Romaverse in ages and perhaps ever. In one fell swoop Roma's beleaguered manager and increasingly embattled director of sport flew the coop. And whether they were fired or quit is immaterial—this was a level of chaos you seldom see in the sport, especially at this point in the season.

Roma are unique, let us never doubt that. So, in keeping with tradition, I assembled the crew to assess the damage from Roma's double exit.

1. As brief as you possibly can, give us your instant reaction to yesterday’s news.

Bren: Flabbergasted. Even though I knew it was a possibility both men would get the chop and/or resign, I DEFINITELY wasn’t expecting it in such quick succession.

ssciavillo: Definitely a bit surprised. With how many times EDF has been rumored to be on the chopping block, I wasn’t sure it would actually happen this time. I definitely didn’t see Monchi happening so soon though.

Dallagente: I am very saddened.

Sam: Disgusted, firing EDF just doesn’t make sense to me after the summer debacle.

Jimmy: Not surprised, because Champions League success was the last lifeline EDF had, fairly or not, and Monchi had tied himself to EDF.

JonAS: Finally.

2. Let’s start with EDF: What was the main cause of his downfall? Was there a single moment that you knew he was doomed?

Bren: Hmm. I was always a bit conflicted about his appointment, so I can’t say there is one single moment I thought he was doomed, but certainly the struggles against the likes of Benevento and Bologna didn’t help. I never understood how he could do so well in Europe and fail so spectacularly against tiny clubs like that.

ssciavillo: I don’t think there was a single moment where I knew he was doomed. I think it was more of an accumulation of the baffling performances by his team against the minnows of Serie A. Those dropped points this season are the reason we aren’t in third. The success in Europe definitely helped him survive some of those pitiful results a little longer. I guess once Roma was eliminated yesterday he couldn’t dangle that carrot in front of management any longer.

Sam: Yeah, that away game to Liverpool! I’ll never understand how you can stand still while everyone is watching our high line get torched over and over again. But once I got over that, I feel he was a decent tactician that was let down by a combination of injuries and the recruitment of an extremely unbalanced team. I’m extremely surprised he was fired after this game considering he could still achieve fourth place. Was he the guy that would take Roma to the summit, nah no way, but I honestly don’t think that is what he was hired to do and he certainly wasn’t given the tools to achieve it.

Dallagente: The injuries were the biggest thing, I don’t think either Monchi nor EDF were prepared for that this season, and EDF’s training regime has to take responsibility there. He made changes to training and players ended up even worse for muscle injuries. Then there were the individual errors. EDF’s teams were very determined, but determination and governing emotions are not the same discipline. Emotionally, Roma have very few players who can govern themselves, but they had SOME players who could, at least, and the difference between those players and the rest of the squad was obvious. You need to have a bulletproof source of self-esteem to play long term in Rome, let alone to stay injury-free from the nerves. One of EDF’s credibility problems was that both him and Monchi preached an ideal of “22 equal players”. That ideal was far enough away from the reality of the squad’s makeup, that it ran the risk of looking either pretentious, hypocritical or outright delusional in practice.

Jimmy: EDF’s continual failures against the minnows were definitely a signal to me that he would most likely not last forever with Roma (but then again, who does last that long as Roma’s manager at this point?). As others have said, injuries definitely did Di Francesco no favors, but a great manager should be able to work with what he has and tweak his tactics to fit an injured squad. Perhaps all the injuries combined with the sales of important players doomed him more than anything.

JonAS: Losing a derby and approximately €15 million in the CL in the space of five days isn’t something to be happy about. Well, that and Roma’s position in Serie A. EDF’s sacking/resignation is a sum of its parts. Zaniolo and (at times) Pellegrini were the bright spots. But there were far too few. Plus, last season’s CL semifinal has made the Roman fans even more demanding. Expectations were sky high for this season. To be honest, EDF was already doomed after Liverpool. And Monchi didn’t help either as he didn’t do a single thing in January to reinforce the team.

3. If you could change anything about his tenure with Roma, what would it be and why?

Bren: This is where I really, really wish I knew the inner workings of the club--who had the final say on player selections? Budgets? Salaries etc. because it seemed like EDF never really had what he needed or wanted at Roma, yet the club spent at nearly a record clip on guys who didn’t really fit what EDF was trying to achieve. So in that sense, I sort of feel for him; managing Roma is always an untenable situation and he walked into a sticky wicket.

ssciavillo: I’m going to be a bit unorthodox here and say I’d like have seen him get a do-over for the first leg against Liverpool. He got that match so utterly wrong after his master stroke against Barca. I’d love to have seen Roma with a legitimate shot at ‘Pool with the Olimpico rocking. If he had gotten that first leg right or at least less wrong maybe Roma would’ve been in the final against Real Madrid.

Dallagente: In a perfect world, the player transfers would have been different. But that’s on Monchi and the club. If there’s one thing I’d say EDF should have done differently, it would be not doing that post-match conference after Atalanta 3-3 this January. That was a mistake. He was coming out with all sorts of stuff like “you tell me what I should do” in answers to questions post-match. He was just reactionary. Everyone who was in his corner felt he had to fix up the next day, and not let himself down like that. Generally not going into “backpack coach” mode in post-match interviews would do EDF a world of good. I like coaches who spend less time nagging, less time going through the laundry list of mistakes in a match, and use what little time they have to reaffirm what players did well. He was already improving on that front.

Sam: Maybe don’t drastically weaken the team after you appoint him? I honestly think he is the sort of coach that needs the two or three key locker room veterans that can hold a young team together. I think Nzonzi and Marcano were meant to fulfil those roles but it just didn’t work out. I often wonder how things would have been if we landed Mahrez.

Jimmy: I think Di Francesco had to have known what kind of financial situation he was walking into when he signed on the dotted line. I think the reason why Pallotta didn’t fire him sooner was that he was trying to take the long-term view, sacrificing short term gains for future success. If the idea was that EDF could ride out the years of sales, put together a good enough squad to continually qualify for the Champions League, and prep Roma for glory in the Stadio Della Roma, it would explain the longer leash. The situation just became untenable, because of injuries, sales, and raised expectations after that run to the semi-finals last year.

JonAS: Fewer injuries. A star CB next to Manolas. Perhaps a bit more DDR in the centre of defence…It could have helped EDF in the long run. But don’t forget the numerous wasted chances, clusterfucks, shots on the post etc. Sometimes, it was just plain bad luck and not EDF’s fault. He has his flaws but he’s far from an amateur.

4. Roma’s roster was a bit of an odd mix over the past two years, who shoulders the blame there? Is it EDF’s fault for miscasting some players or did Monchi set him up for failure?

Bren: There obviously has to be some measure of communication between the DS and the manager when it comes to personnel, but the spur of the moment transfers (Nzonzi, Olsen, Silva) always sort of made me wonder what was going on behind closed doors. But at the end of the day, Monchi is the one negotiating the deals and the one with his finger in Pallotta’s pocket book, so I think he takes the lion’s share of blame, particularly with his inability to properly build a defense for Eusebio.

ssciavillo: I mean you’d have to think EDF shoulders a small part of the blame. I’d imagine a few of those players were asked for by him. However, I think Monchi has to take the majority of the blame. He’s the DS who makes the final call on personnel and many of the signings were definitely his doing. Not getting a top notch centre back could end up being the main reason for EDF and consequently Monchi’s downfalls.

Dallagente: They both worked together on transfers, Monchi gets the bigger share of responsibility and blame. He chose to sign Nzonzi and leave the midfield unbalanced. It left EDF with only De Rossi’s instincts to protect the defence. None of the defenders were calm or composed enough to play EDF’s football without midfield protection in front of them, and EDF wouldn’t have expected them to. His whole idea of “blocca squadra” is based on this. Still, I see both men working together at a more stable club in the future elsewhere, at the top of the game. There’s not much there for me to says they were on different pages. The players that some fans are angry at Monchi for getting rid of are the very same players that weren’t suited for EDF’s football - the huge exceptions being Alisson, Salah, Rudiger all sold in the name of ambitions elsewhere and FFP. In the end, Monchi tried to back EDF as much as possible but Monchi got the balance wrong.

Sam: The Director of Sport determines the strategic direction of the team. Monchi messed that up badly and left Roma very unbalanced. EDF wasn’t faultless but I just don’t see how his brand of football is meant to work when he was given four attacking mids and no defensive coverage.

Jimmy: Roma was unbalanced in the defense from the moment Di Francesco signed. Although he should have pushed for better, well-established defenders (I mean, William Bianda is obviously not what Roma needed), some players Monchi signed or retained, including Rick Karsdorp and Ivan Marcano, just haven’t been able to see much playing time. EDF came into a bad situation, Monchi didn’t do too much to ameliorate it, but I have to believe Di Francesco had a decent amount of say, at least in this past summer mercato.

JonAS: In the end Monchi still was the DS of Roma so it’s up to him to find the missing pieces to EDF’s puzzle. Mahrez or Mancini (from Atalanta) would have been welcome sooner. Then again, we don’t know if he was on a leash by Pallotta and the board. Budget and all. Either way, the management now reaps what it sowed.

5. Speaking of Monchi—What gives? How did a man so lauded manage to be so mediocre for Roma?

ssciavillo: This one is a bit of a head scratcher. I mean the guy came with such a reputation from Sevilla that I had high expectations for him. It’s definitely a different environment and a somewhat bigger club. Maybe he just misread the room with some of his signings. Less than two years to build a team in his image is probably not enough time. Would more time have made things better or worse, is the question we’ll all be wondering.

bren: Yeah, two years is far from sufficient to judge him, which makes his resignation all the tougher to swallow. If, however, we view it as a principled stance in support of EDF and/or his own autonomy as DS, then I can certainly respect that. In the end, I just don’t think his big purchases worked out as quickly as he needed them to, which looked worse in the face of the Salah and Alisson sales. And then there’s the wrinkle we’ll never know: how much independence did he actually have and to what extent was he limited by Roma’s financial health.

Dallagente: I agree with you guys, two years is not enough time. Despite the reputation Monchi carries around and whether that’s warranted or not, all that aside, he’s shown balls and owned his decisions. Him leaving with EDF shows why he’s trusted inside football.

Sam: The club’s strategic direction comes from the top. I place his failures more on Pallotta’s philosophy of flipping players rather than building a winning team. What I am curious about is whether he was angling his way out prior to the last few weeks. Of course with EDF fired his position was untenable and he had no choice but to resign. I’m disappointed with the decisions he made but surely this Roma side needed at least another year or two before it would reach its peak and represent Monchi’s vision?

Jimmy: I’m with Bren on this one; there are a lot of factors at play here that we can’t identify from the outside in, but his big buys didn’t work out (at least in the short term). I agree with everyone that he has owned decisions more often than not, and his decision to ride or die with EDF as manager is rare in today’s game. Things could change, and we could be singing Monchi’s praises for signings the likes of Ante Coric, Justin Kluivert, and Patrik Schick when Claudio Ranieri comes in. It’s not “exciting” to say this, but we have to wait and see.

JonAS: Expectations. Pressure. Yeah, it can totally wear down a grown man. Roma fans already saw their team winning three Europa Leagues on the trot, like Sevilla. Or a new Rakitic or Dani Alves. But you have to be realistic, Rome’s not Sevilla. Monchi probably felt that his mission was almost impossible. The fans and suits were impatient and wanted results ASAP. I think we all misjudged his arrival. In a weird sort of way, we’re all guilty for Roma’s mess.

6. What was his biggest success?

ssciavillo: I’d have to say his biggest success was bringing in Zaniolo and bringing back Lorenzo Pellegrini to begin building a young Italian core.

Bren: Well, I think it will be a few years before we can say for certain, but landing Ünder and Zaniolo stand out for me.

Dallagente: As far as players go, the Zaniolo deal. It’s what Milan used to do to ‘Pazza Inter’ back in the late 90s, early 00s. Monchi did things the fast way, the ski mask way.

Sam: Cengiz Under was a great signing and I’m hopeful we will say the same about Cristante next season. Zaniolo was a remarkable find, kudos.

Jimmy: Zaniolo, Pellegrini, and Bryan Cristante can be the core of the Azzurri midfield for a very long time. If they stay with the Giallorossi, we have to thank Monchi for that.

JonAS: Zaniolo is the popular answer around here and it truly was a masterpiece from Monchi. But I think Justin Kluivert can truly turn into something special in a year or two. Whether it’s at Roma or another club, that’s the question. Pallotta and co better keep him in Rome as long as possible.

7. What was his biggest failure?

Bren: The manner in which he short shrifted the defense. His right backs had about two healthy ligaments between them while his left backs were either living on borrowed time (Kolarov) or were too handsome to be good footballers (Santon). The less said about Moreno and Marcano the better. Roma’s defense was a disaster waiting to happen, and as we saw this season, it, uh, happened.

ssciavillo: I have to agree with Bren here. His failure to build a strong defense, especially this winter when it was clear that Fazio and Kolarov weren’t the same players as last season, is a problem Ranieri will have to deal with for the stretch run.

Dallagente: Signing Steven Nzonzi. It’s no diss to Nzonzi himself, who is a quality player, it was just not needed now, if ever. Monchi needed a defensive midfielder in January if not last summer, not just buying deep-lying midfielders and hoping they re-learn the instincts to defend. He left his own hands tied with spending all the money.

Sam: Selling experience and replacing them with youth and expecting the same performance. The Alisson money was spent poorly but the most unforgivable sin was not improving the defence in January. Is Pastore even worth mentioning?

Jimmy: Sometimes it felt as if Monchi would spend big on a name just to have spent big on a name. Pastore and NZonzi spring to mind immediately. Perhaps there were brand concerns at play (I remember there being significant rumors that Qatar Airways funded the Pastore purchase), but he didn’t seem to have a handle on the type of player who could succeed at Roma who was already in their late 20s.

JonAS: Doing nothing in January. Everyone saw Fazio was on the decline. Marcano wasn’t good enough. And Juan Jesus isn’t as holy as his namesake. Roma needed a CB really bad in January, but Monchi didn’t deliver the goods. It came back to bite him in the Spanish ass.

8. Uhh, so now what? How do Roma recover from such a dramatic jolt?

ssciavillo: Hopefully this will jolt some of the players out of their malaise and get things straightened out quickly. If the players respond well to Ranieri, who is already familiar with the cauldron that is Rome, then I still favor this team to finish top 4 over an Icardi-less Inter side. If that happens then the recovery process should be a bit smoother. Champions League football could be key to getting the manager they want in place.

Dallagente: Nothing. You know you guys can usually rely on my bullshit optimism, but the club is just treading water. Someone like Ranieri coming in is good, just for seeing Ranieri back. But from now till the end of the season, the club only has one game a week left to play. They can now afford to play six men back, and 4 men isolated up front grinding out results from set plays or individual moments. You didn’t need a change of coach to do that. And in the long-term, there’s really nothing but waiting for a stadium to be built. And then what? The club is still left in the hands of weak leadership all that time.

Sam: Maybe if we finish below the Europa League spots the club will learn its lesson and also have the benefit of only focusing on one game a week like Rudi’s first season.

Bren: I can certainly see the merit in that, Sam. But I worry what would happen to young and valuable assets like Zaniolo and the Pellegrini’s if they miss the Champions League. I actually think Ranieri is the perfect appointment for this time and place; he’s malleable enough to make this thing work for 12 weeks. The problem, as we’ve seen in the past, is that they’re resetting the whole system with relatively little time before the transfer market: if Pallotta ultimately pulled rank on someone like Monchi, what would he do to a new hire? And furthermore, if it takes several weeks or months to get his full-time replacement, than that new DS will be thrown into the fire come July 1st. Not good.

Jimmy: Cross our fingers, hope Ranieri can right the ship a little, and hope that this summer doesn’t see an exodus of the Roma players who are actually quite good. I want Zaniolo, Pellegrini, El Shaarawy, Cristante, and more of the exciting young core to stick around, and it’s obvious to me that if we miss European competition quite a lot of them won’t.

JonAS: I’ve seen worse. We’ll survive. After all, we survived Del Neri and Luis Enrique so...

9. Speculation time: Come August who are the new Monchi and EDF?

ssciavillo: I think this could depend on how the rest of this season plays out. Unless Ranieri finds a way to virtually win out then I don’t think the club sticks with him. I think he understands that he’s here to bail out his hometown club. I’m going to go with Gasperini as coach. I know his name has been floated along with Conte and Sarri. I don’t think Roma have the financial clout to attract Conte and I’m not sure Sarri would be right to develop the young talent. I think Gasperini would relish a chance to work with some of Roma’s young guys and those coming through a talented Primavera set up. As for DS I’m not sure. I’d be hesitant for a return of Sabatini and his obsession with unknown South Americans. I want someone who can continue to attract young Italian talent while working in the right foreigners to add quality to the squad.

Dallagente: Whoever needs the job badly enough to want to stick around. I’ve been here before with Newcastle United. Hell, anyone has been here before if you’ve worked for a weak boss. Roma isn’t anywhere near as bad as Newcastle, but the core problem is the same. The owner is writing cheques he can’t cash. Pallotta deserves credit for little tweaks made to the club’s history and structure off the pitch, but that has very little to do with enjoying the football every weekend. Once the few competent football people he hired to work for the club realised they were signed under false pretenses, they all left sooner or later. Then you’re left with three groups. Club servants who can put their ego aside to take care of the club short term , desperate journeymen, and non-football guys who don’t know any better. Meanwhile everyone else in football is warned not to touch the club, or not play for the club. Anyone who has serious ambitions on the pitch is already swimming against the tide of ownership. As a club, if anyone in world football even cares to mention you at all, they talk about you as a place where careers go to die.

Sam: I don’t know and I’m not sure it matters while the suits at the top carry out this merry-go round strategy that doesn’t allow the team to reach their potential. Gasperini would probably be my prefered coach from here. But Roma really needs a proven winning coach if things are going to seriously change.

Bren: I’m not an expert on the available DSs of the footballing world, but I cannot imagine Sabatini would come back, not after such an acrimonious split from Pallotta, so maybe this Campos guy from Lille? As far as the manager is concerned, I wouldn’t be shocked if they kept Ranieri on in some sort of “prove it” one year deal, but I do think there is smoke to this Sarri fire.

Jimmy: Walter Sabatini and Gasperini, final answer. Bring back the youth movement, version five thousand.

JonAS: Sarri and Massara. Just pure guesses though, you never know with this damn club.

10. Will Roma ever cure themselves of this sick disease? Will they ever be a stable and successful club?

ssciavillo: I’m going to drink the Pallotta kool-aid a bit here and say that the stadium will help alleviate this situation a bit. Until then it may just be battling for fourth and pocketing as much CL money as possible. Greater revenue should help build a team that won’t have to sell off his most valuable assets yearly and attract a top notch manager.

Dallagente: Not anytime soon. It looks like more transfer articles written to spike your cortisol levels as you read your daily football fix. Roma player sales, will they leave, won’t they leave, it’s not healthy. Just imagine how long the Zaniolo transfer saga is going to last, until he leaves too.

Sam: Not under this leadership.

Jimmy: The combination of having an incredibly volatile fanbase, an owner who is rich enough but under the pressure of Financial Fair Play, and a hot seat that seems to only grow hotter each season should mean no. I’m optimistic, though; there’s a lot to like about being a Roma fan, and although silverware hasn’t happened with the American ownership just yet, these teams have often been fun to watch before the wheels fall off. We just need to get to the point where it takes longer than a year and a half for the wheels to fall off.

Bren: I’d like to say yes, but we’re already 10+ years without a trophy and nearly 20 without a league title, so I’m not sure when it will happen. Certainly the stadium will help, but they seem to be putting an awful lot of eggs in that basket, and that’s still not a reality; I won’t believe it until I see shovels in the ground. So for the interim, they’ll just be treading the same water we’ve seen for the past eight years, and while they’ve made some progress, well, things like yesterday keep happening.

JonAS: Hahahahahahahahaha. No. And that’s the way uh-huh, uh-huh I like it.

Leave it to Jonas to quote KC and the Sunshine Band...I can't top that. So, what do you think, are Roma damaged beyond repair after this or was this just the jolt they needed?