A lot has been made of Roma's much-ballyhooed project over the years, a term that once inspired confidence but has (of late) produced little more than haughty derision from sizeable portions of the Roma fan base. What started as an ambitious and sensible plan to drag Roma into the 21st century has been waylaid by poor decisions on the pitch and in the boardroom, and with a seeming disconnect between those two departments, Roma's grand project has suffered a series of fits and starts over the past several years.
Case in point: in the most recent iteration of Project Roma, the club sought out the most prized sporting director in the game, Monchi, and then let him hand-select his manager, Eusebio Di Francesco. Given that symmetry, one would presume it would be smooth sailing. With James Pallotta's blessing, Monchi was allowed to shape and mold Roma as he saw fit, providing EDF with a fresh set of recruits custom built to make his attacking 4-3-3 the envy of the peninsula.
However, in testament to how misguided Roma's project has become, those men, the very same ones tabbed by Pallotta himself, couldn't make sense of this mess, and in some ways aided in its creation. Some of Monchi's purchases, while exciting on the surface, were always odd fits for EDF's football: Nzonzi was always too slow for a 4-3-3 while Patrik Schick was always a man without a country in this Roma. Neither Monchi nor EDF was necessarily derelict in their duties, but those subtle signs of disconnect ultimately torpedoed their respective Roma careers.
So when Roma's project once again ran aground in March, they were forced to find a temporary savior, someone who would willingly—let me say that again, willingly—get behind the wheel of this doomed vessel, attempting to guide it to port, never mind the fact that the sails had holes in them and half the crew had scurvy.
Given that grim outlook, Roma really had to get lucky, they had to stumble upon someone whose love for the club exceeds their common sense. That someone, as it turned out, was Claudio Ranieri, Trigoria's favorite grandpa-in-residence.
Upon taking the job, Ranieri didn't shrink from the moment but instead offered the perfect Roman response, one that let us know, no matter how it all played out, Roma were once again safe in loving hands. I’m delighted to be coming back home. When Roma call you, it’s impossible to say no.
It may have been impossible to decline, but Ranieri's mission—soothing the club's fractured psyche and leading them back to fourth place, and all in 11 weeks no less—was also, you guessed it, impossible.
While there were some rough patches, the loss to Napoli and frustrating draws to Genoa, Fiorentina, and Sassuolo, Ranieri has (thus far) managed a 5-4-2 record; not great, and likely not enough to finish in fourth place, but when considering the circumstances into which he entered, it was better than many of us could have expected given how deflated (and injured) they looked in the waning days of Eusebio Di Francesco.
When we look back on this season, it will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most arduous in recent memory; you didn't enjoy this season, you endured it.
Claudio Ranieri may not have reached the objectives laid out before him, but the mere fact he took this job, that he risked his reputation on an uncertain future to give the only club he truly loves a shot at winning says all you need to know about the man.
In 2010, Ranieri came closer to winning a Scudetto than any Roma manager has since Fabio Capello did the deed in 2001, but I'll remember him more for this three-month stretch, one in which he treated the club for what it truly was: a family member who had fallen on hard times and needed some help regaining their confidence.
And is so often the case in those scenarios, you can't really rescue them, you can only shoulder part of the burden until they're willing or able to help themselves.
Thank you, Claudio. You did all anyone could.