For a club that dances so closely with chaos, Roma seldom finds itself embroiled in public spats between players and coaches. Fans pelting busses with rocks and other convenient projectiles after a defeat? Sure, Roma can do that. The team owner calling a player poisonous after selling him? Mhmm, we've been there. Chucking out a club legend for no good reason? Yup, Roma has ticked that box—twice.
But despite all that controversy, we seldom bear witness to public feuds between players and coaches. Outside of the rift between Francesco Totti and Luciano Spalletti during Totti's final season, the 21st century has been a veritable Pax Romana between Giallorossi coaches and players.
Not anymore. While we can debate the extent to which it has become “public,” with numerous reports of a rift between Roma manager Paulo Fonseca and the club's third all-time leading goal scorer and current captain Edin Dzeko making waves over the past several days, this impasse could potentially derail Roma's entire season.
We're nothing if not problem solvers, so here are four solutions to Roma's Dzeko dilemma. However, before we offer a path to reconciliation, let's go back to the beginning.
Dzeko vs Fonseca: Sowing the Seeds of Discontent
As with most two-party arguments, it's tough to truly tell when and where it started, but by some accounts, Dzeko's beef with Fonseca dates back to last summer when the Bosnian forward was reportedly upset with Fonseca’s gameplan against Sevilla in the Europa League Round of 16—a fixture months in the making thanks to pandemic delays. There was a lot of hype heading into that match (Roma vs. Monchi), but the Giallorossi were soundly beaten by Sevilla 2-0 last August. It was a quick and dispiriting defeat for Roma, who had genuine Europa League aspirations prior to that loss.
Throw in the fact that Roma very nearly replaced Dzeko shortly thereafter—who was a hair's breadth away from Juventus—with former Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik, and that tactical disagreement suddenly became personal.
Dzeko was also reportedly upset with the club's decision to dismiss team manager Gianluca Gomber following Roma's loss to Spezia in the Coppa Italia last week. Gomber was one of two Roma employees dismissed following that controversial match in which Fonseca made six substitutions, one more than the new rules allow. As a result, the fixture was officially registered as a 3-0 defeat, and Gomber, who was close with several players, became the sacrificial lamb.
If you're one to read between the lines, this beef, which had been simmering underneath the surface for god knows how long, is about to boil over. Following his exclusion from Saturday's league match against Spezia—Dzeko was left off the squad list due to an “injury", which may have been nothing more than a bruise—word broke this morning that Roma's captain is now training alone.
Now, this could genuinely just be an injury precaution, but when you consider the circumstances, it's bound to raise a few eyebrows. Public disputes between players and coaches may be a rarity in Roma, but, if left unchecked, this conflict could tear the club apart.
With that in mind, here are four ways out of this nightmare
Option #1: Sell Him
We'll start with the most obvious (and perhaps most difficult) solution: just sell him. From Chelsea to Inter Milan to Juventus, Dzeko has been connected with a move away from the capital nearly every summer, so why not finally see that through?
Given his age (35 in March), his salary (€7.5M), his contract (June 2022), and the fact that there's only a week left in the winter transfer window, this is far easier said than done. But with rumors of a Christian Eriksen swap proposed with Inter, it seems like Roma is already exploring this option, though this trade was quickly nixed for a variety of reasons including Inter's financial uncertainty and Roma's glut of attacking midfielders.
Outside of Inter, who have been the team most consistently connected with Dzeko over the years, Juventus remain an option, though an unlikely one given that they just signed Alvaro Morata over the summer and have over €40 million invested in Morata, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Paulo Dybala in attack already.
According to Il Romanista, Roma and Dzeko's agent have been in contact with clubs as varied as Barcelona, West Ham, and Southampton, though the latter two may not satisfy Dzeko's ambitions.
If the conflict between Fonseca and Dzeko is intense as these rumors suggest, a transfer may be the only way out of this mess. But with time ticking and clubs reluctant to take on his salary, Dzeko and Fonseca may be stuck with each other.
And if that's the case, Fonseca will have to take a page out of my mother's book when I refused to eat Brussel sprouts—make me sit and stew.
Option #2: Sit & Sulk
Considering this salary and the timing of this dispute, selling Edin Dzeko may not be possible this season. While we wouldn't exactly call this the “nuclear option", Fonseca could flex his muscles here and just keep Dzeko on the bench. Borja Mayoral has looked good in his stints in the starting lineup, so Fonseca has a ready-made excuse handy.
It could get ugly and it could polarize portions of the locker room, but if Fonseca wants to send a message to Dzeko and to the Friedkins, keeping the €7.5 million man on the bench is one hell of a way to make his point.
Unlikely, but an option nonetheless, but what about some good old fashion couples counseling?
Option #3: Sort it Out
Lock them in a room, giving them a feelings pillow, a talking stick, some chamomile tea, and force them to work their shit out. As far as disputes go, this entire thing seems pretty benign. It's not like my favorite coach vs. player dispute of all time—Buffalo Sabres goalkeeper Dominik Hasek vs coach Ted Nolan in the late 1990s—where the player was openly advocating for the coach to be dismissed, not to mention rumors of a decidedly more salacious nature.
I mean, what's really the issue here? Dzeko was upset that Fonseca got schooled by Sevilla in the Europa League? Really? That's it? Join the fucking queue, Edin. And with his name in the transfer papers practically every summer, was he really that upset that Roma had a replacement lined up? You can't dance with Juve and expect Roma to sit on their hands.
And even if we flip it around and place the blame at Fonseca's feet, this thing looks no less ridiculous. If Fonseca can't get the best of Dzeko, if he can't motivate him, if he can't place him in a position to succeed, then that's on Fonseca. Roma doesn't have the luxury of tailor-making their squad to an individual manager's desires, and he knew that going in, so if he can't make do with what he has, then he wasn't the right choice to begin with.
Without direct knowledge of what has or hasn't been said between these two, we can't really mediate this dispute, and things are likely more complicated than we just made them seem, but they're both millionaires paid to play a game. Suck it up and sort this out.
But, if all of that fails, there is the real nuclear option...
Option #4: Show Them Both the Door
Edin Dzeko is unhappy, highly paid, and no longer producing at an elite level. In any objective sense, Roma should part ways with him if given the opportunity. Meanwhile, Paulo Fonseca hasn't been able to beat big clubs, his in-match adjustments are frequently and routinely scrutinized, he only has five months remaining on his deal and he wasn't even hired by Roma's new owners in the first place.
So, what are we really holding onto here? An overpaid, aging, and sulking striker and a manager who was, at best, the third choice of the previous management? This is definitely the nuclear option, but perhaps Roma would be best served without either of them?
Make no mistake, this would be a drastic move and might torpedo their chances at the top four this season, but the short-term pain could produce long-term gains.
So, what do we think? How should Roma handle this feud between star player and coach?