At least one week spent locked within the walls of Trigoria together is the modus operandi for Roma’s pre-season program. For the second summer in a row, the club have decided to make the most of their revamped training centre by calling up 27 players to bunk together with Paulo Fonseca’s coaching staff, around the clock, on Rome’s city limits.
We look at some of those names in further detail here. What’s at stake? Who has a point to prove? Who can convince Roma’s head coach to make them a part of his first team plans for the coming Serie A campaign?
Only Lorenzo Pellegrini, Nicolò Zaniolo and Alessio Riccardi won’t be called up to the Trigoria ritiro. The former two having just finished their U-21 summer campaign with Italy, while the latter Riccardi only just begins his international duty with the Italy U-19s. For his part, Amadou Diawara only just begins a holiday break as his African Cup duty comes to an end this past weekend.
HOW TO WATCH: Roma’s Pre-Season Ritiro
Unfortunately, no one knows why the club’s RomaTV+ web service disappeared around the middle of last season.
We can only suggest you follow the club’s Twitter feed and/or Facebook page where live segments are regularly posted throughout pre-season. Though the first day was meant to be a largely closed-door session.
Fonseca’s Coaching Clan
It’ll be none other than the five names Paulo Fonseca brought with him who’ll want to make the biggest impression on opening day.
Vitaliy Khlivnyuk - Team Manager
Khlivnyuk is the most recent addition to Fonseca’s entourage from the latter days at Shakhtar. He’ll be taking over Morgan De Sanctis’ role as team manager while De Sanctis moves up to working as Gianluca Petrachi’s understudy from now on.
For most of us, knowing who the team manager is just means we know who’ll be standing alongside Roma’s substitutes on matchdays. Khlivnyuk will be the guy on the touchline giving them that final pep-talk onto the field, as he clutches his clipboard. But we covered Morgan De Sanctis speaking at length, earlier this year, on the conflicts on interest that team managers wrestle within any club.
Vitaliy Khlivnyuk himself is very versatile, having studied and worked in the United States, Emirates and Ukraine before joining Fonseca on his Italy adventure.
Nuno Campos - Assistant Coach
Where Fonseca has gone in his post-playing career, Nuno Campos follows. From the days coaching Estrela Amadora’s U-17 team, to Dezembro, Odivelas, Pinhalnovense, Desportivo Aves, Pacos de Ferreira, Porto, Braga, Shakhtar and now Roma.
“To impose our game, we have to always organise our players amongst the space so that we’re always ready to break at the right moment.”
That was Nuno Campos’ summary of how both men believe their team should play.
Nuno Romano and Pedro Moreira - Fitness Coaches
The ‘young and younger’ combo of 44-year old Moreira paired with 29-year old Romano follows the kind of trend we saw in our feature on Napoli’s training methods earlier this year.
Nuno Romano seems to be very much part of the new school of fitness coaches talking about designing a fitness regime tailored specifically to the player and not the group. “I don’t just take care of strength training,” Romano told Ukrainian TV last season, “but the analytics of each training session too. All of this to understand the workload we have to ask of each player in their next match.”
Romano first joined forces with Fonseca back at Braga, and was left there to earn his stripes in his mid-twenties before belatedly joining up with the team at Shakhtar again. “Me and Paulo are not just colleagues but good friends, and that’s how we’ve managed a lot of success together.”
The elder Pedro Moreira is another Mozambique-born coach who’s just two years younger than Fonseca himself. Both men share the same background in their personal and professional lives, virtually every step of the way.
Tiago Leal - Match Analyst
Of what we learnt from Fonseca’s press conference yesterday on the footballing side of things, the Portuguese tactician made it known he plans to continue his heavy emphasis on scouting the opposition as key to success. 34-year-old Tiago Leal has been a cornerstone of Fonseca’s strategy in this area since Leal was fired hired at Pacos de Ferreira some years back.
Leal’s story reads like a Football-Manager-rags-to-real-life-riches come true, and he’ll probably inspire an explosion of tactics enthusiasts doubling up on their Youtube efforts as they try to mimic Leal’s path into top-flight football.
In the summer of 2013, Leal was spending time on his usual hobby analysis videos on Youtube until the Pacos de Ferreira president actually called Leal’s bluff and sent a job offer by email. Leal proved serious about his passion, taking up the opportunity to get on Fonseca’s staff and never leaving the man’s side since. Leal has followed Fonseca all the way to Ukraine and back to Europe again.
Speaking yesterday, Fonseca emphasized that Serie A is full of sides who commit themselves to one or two strategies throught the season, but very few clubs have the kind of squad Roma hold to adapt to all comers. Fonseca wants to learn the habits of his opposition so that he can exploit them on a week by week basis. Leal will be key to that opposition scouting, and both men will want to know which of Roma’s attacking players have the on-pitch acumen to carry out Fonseca’s positional play orders as they come.
Current staff aside, Fonseca had to part ways with former goalkeeping coach Antonio Ferreira as Roma’s current GK coach Marco Savorani is considered the best in the business.
The Portuguese maestro also waves goodbye to translator Max Nagorski back in Ukraine, meaning Roma’s resident polyglot Claudio Bisceglia has more than enough work on his plate acting as the middle-man between coach and this season’s players.
The Returning Loanees
Mirko Antonucci looks like ready to come out with fighting words, as he bids to make Roma’s first team squad for the coming league campaign. The Italian has so far turned down suggestions he’ll go back on loan, and made his intentions clear with an Instagram post yesterday recalling his Champions League debut at the Olimpico: “Wanting to relieve these feelings, let’s get started again.”
In Fonseca’s 4-2-3-1, pretty much all forwards in that “3” attacking line are interchangeable with little difference between what they’re all expected to do from the outset: get in between the opponent’s lines and work with the nearest teammate to cause confusion among the nearest marker. From then on, individual qualities of each player come into Roma’s build-up play.
With El Shaarawy gone, Roma now have only have two players - Justin Kluivert and Diego Perotti - who can dribble past their opponents at ease. Both are right-footed and Perotti’s own injury problems are well-documented.
Meanwhile, there are lefties like Zaniolo who prefers to invite a physical battle onto him as a way to beat his man. Sharpshoopter Cengiz Ünder avoids physical contact with opponents as if he were giving a double-decker bus a wide berth, and largely relies on pace at the byline and lethal shooting from inside to earn his bread.
Then there’s Patrik Schick, who’s just lost at sea at his favoured position behind the striker, let alone as a lone striker up front.
That leaves Roma reviving their interest in left-footed dribbling specialist Leon Bailey on the transfer market, but double-footed Antonucci (or the double-footed Ante Coric!) may just be the smarter option to solve a problem that represents a luxury and not a necessity for Roma. This all depends on Italian youngster Antonucci putting his indifferent loan spell at Pescara behind him and kicking on this pre-season.
Meanwhile, who can count out double-footed centre half Elio Capradossi from making a bid to sit on Roma’s bench come August? Spots in Roma’s backline are up for grabs, even if a deal for Atalanta’s Gianluca Mancini looks like it’ll be over the line any day now.
Capradossi is said to be in demand for a return to Spezia and, while his actual covering and anticipation left room for improvement on the pitch, you could do worse than a player like Capradossi who’s just as comfortable receiving and playing out the ball from the back on his left foot as he is on his right.
Other returning loanees Maxime Gonalons (missing from training with a muscle problem today), Gerson and Gregoire Defrel look unlikely to stay in the capital beyond this month.
The Academy Graduate
There was a lot of speculation about which of the Primavera lads would mix it with the senior squad this pre-season, but only full-back Devid Bouah has been called to the Trigoria mattresses this July.
We’ve said it before: Roman all-action youngster Bouah is a precocious talent and plenty value for money to watch on a football field.
He’s still on the road to recovery from his ACL tear this past winter, but it’s the second summer in a row where Bouah rubs shoulders with the first team, after his appearance in a senior friendly against Chapocoense last September.
Legendary GK coach Savorani needs no further introduction and if the club post any live coverage of pre-season training, you may just see him shouting at the club’s group of goalkeepers in his bid to push them all to the next level.
Joining senior keepers Pau Lopez (who won’t be seen in pre-season training until his transfer is officially announced), Antonio Mirante, Robin Olsen and Daniel Fuzato will be the last season’s Primavera starter Stefano Greco. Though Greco will be looking for a new club shortly if he cannot take up one of the over-age slots for the Primavera this season.
The Transfer Listers
While we don’t expect Edin Dzeko to outright turn up with black-and-blue training kit as above, it surely won’t be long before he gets the green light to pack his bags and join Inter Milan with just a year left on his Roma contract.
In the meantime, Edin turned up for his medicals yesterday and will get on with his job at Trigoria. Similar story for Steven Nzonzi who finally showed up for his medical in an all-black hoodie during the middle of a Rome summer - prompting fans at the Villa Stuart medical centre to ask: “Aren’t you hot?”
Just what exactly Nzonzi’s next move is remains unclear, but Javier Pastore has come out in defiance against the notion that his Roma time is up. As we mentioned earlier, in Fonseca’s 4-2-3-1 there is little difference in the initial tasks of all three supporting attackers behind the striker. That may open the door even wider for an unlikely Pastore comeback in Rome next season; only his athletic ability and injury history stand in the way of his intelligence, experience and invention on the ball.
Meanwhile, Rick Karsdorp is in last-chance saloon, reportedly having been offered to Fiorentina over the summer.
Then there’s Ante Coric, who could figure from the bench in a number of positions from deep-lying midfield to one of the three supporting attackers behind the striker. Or he could just get shipped out on the transfer market.
Either way, Coric was eager to show off his new beefcake lower body to Kluivert in training today:
The Drama-Free First Team
A head-nod and tip of the hat to outfield players Alessandro Florenzi, Bryan Cristante, Federico Fazio, Juan Jesus, Justin Kluivert, Aleksandar Kolarov, Diego Perotti, Davide Santon, Patrik Schick, Leonardo Spinazzola and Cengiz Ünder.
All 11 men have just gotten on with their close season and summer without getting dragged into any melodramatics whatsoever. Though there’s still time!
Just about the most controversy around this group is Sky Italia’s report that Serbian and Roma legend Aleksandar Kolarov is now asked to shift to a ball-playing centre-back role by Paulo Fonseca. We’ll see how that goes.
The Florenzi Era of Roma begins in earnest today; Roma are to get looking to get comfortable on the ball in a week’s worth of intense getting-to-know-you sessions. But it won’t be long before the surviving squad of players narrows down in numbers, quick and fast.