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Totti Today: Fonseca Finds No Support in Rome, Elena Linari Making Enemies For Her Dominant Performances

Fonseca’s decision to attack VAR falls on dear ears in Rome, but his DAZN Q&A with Balzaretti was not to be missed. Meanwhile, Elena Linari is setting the standard on the Roma women’s team.

Cagliari Calcio v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Matteo Bottanelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Fonseca’s Referee Claims Fall on Deaf Ears Around Rome

If you could find the time and energy to pull yourself up a VPN this week (I couldn’t), then you’d see DAZN Italia’s website flush full of Federico Balzaretti’s feature interview with Roma coach Paulo Fonseca, appropriately titled ‘Balza incontra Fonseca’. There was a segment where Fonseca un-ironically claimed the rules in football are the same for everyone, though he was referring to his squad management style rather than matters outside of Trigoria. Yet Fonseca changed his tune on that philosophy—after being soundly beaten 2-0 away to Parma this past weekend—by claiming Serie A referees work by double-standards.

These were his words to Roma TV when asked about why he approached referee Marco Piccinini at full-time in the Ennio Tardini:

“It’s not because of the referees that we conceeded goals today, I have to be clear on that, but the second penalty isn’t one. What’s difficult for me to understand is why they never go to check VAR in Roma games. It’s a situation where there’s cause for doubt, like the incident on Pellegrini where I can accept they don’t call a penalty but you have to check it. Just like the penalty that was given, which isn’t a penalty but VAR didn’t help.”

“I can accept that referees make mistakes but, with VAR, you can’t make a mistake on an incident like this. Starting down two to nothing at the beginning of the second half means we’re almost out of the match. What I see with other teams is that whenever there’s a doubt, they always go to check the VAR. But at the end of the season, this will be five, six or seven points less for us and more for the others. I want the same treatment that the other big teams get, which isn’t there right now.”

“I’ve always stayed silent. I respect the referees’ job. Italy is the country with the best referees but so many mistakes are made. I see ridiculous penalties here that are always given to the same team, and Roma isn’t treated in that [same] way. We can go see how many penalties are given here in Italy, compared to how many are given in other countries at this same stage of the season. And they’re almost always given for the same teams.”

Now I’ve got to be real: In the heat of the moment, I agreed with Fonseca in the fist-pumping “yeah, you let em know what time it is, Paulo!” kind of way. And I still see where he is coming from today, but the fact is Fonseca is showing signs of the pressure getting to him and took the easy way out by playing the referee card. Worse yet is that his decision to do this has been universally condemned around Rome, this week. It’s the first week where I’ve read such a wave of criticism crashing Fonseca’s way in the papers, on the radio, everywhere.

Parma Calcio v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

That’s unusual because Roma is a club that often loves a good “Why Always Us?” cry, and being at the heart of a martyr story. So you’d think the Roma media would lap up a conspiracy theory as a chaser to that Parma loss, but apparently we’re just not in the mood right now, with pretty much every single opinion around Roma (seriously, I couldn’t find one dissenting voice in support of Fonseca) claiming that the Roma coach would do better to focus on why his team was clearly second-best against Parma.

So that leaves us going back to Fonseca’s glory days, before the kick-off on Sunday. Let’s take a look at what may be Fonseca’s last feature interview before he’s fired (and takes over at Juventus to win several titles).

Federico Balzaretti Is Paulo Fonseca’s Only Friend

As I mentioned earlier, I couldn’t find it in me to get a VPN and watch the entire feature of Balza incontra Fonseca, but here are the best segments from DAZN Italia’s interview, of which I found the very best to be Fonseca’s insight on just how ineffective possession football can be against Italian-trained players on a self-esteem level.

Italian academies are historically focused on winning your 1-on-1 duels...punto e basta. That’s where your reputation lives or dies in calcio terms. Modern Italian football has expanded on that belief to bring about a Serie A that’s focused on taking the ball off of your opponent all over the pitch. Whether you defend high or defend low, the emphasis is still on good defense all the same. And with all that self-esteem invested into the non-possession phase, that’s exactly the problem for coaches like Fonseca in the mental warfare stakes. It’s the fact that Italian-trained players don’t feel like it’s a problem to go long spells without the ball, since that’s exactly what they’re used to from academy days.

Anyway, enough of my paraphrasing and more of the words from the Man from Mozambique himself:

Fonseca on What Inspired Him to Get Into Coaching

Portuguese player Rui Costa (L) and Cri Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images

“I started at 28 or 29 years old, and I had coaches who opened my eyes. I started to see how games were prepared, and saw training sessions in a different light. I had Jean Paul, who went on to be a part of Cristiano Ronaldo’s formation as a youth player, and who’s a person I’ve spoken with a lot and who nurtured my passion for training, for knowing everything and for paying attention to detail. From when I started till today, my main point of reference is Guardiola. I also grew [as a coach] thanks to Mourinho, who changed the way training is done and changed the meaning of leadership in football. Here at Roma, we have to always play to win. We always have to have this ambition. Leadership is a very important thing for me. I’m very direct with my players. Sometimes it’s not easy for a player to accept the truth... my truth. But I think it’s best to accept [straight talk]. You need passion to be a coach, to wake up in the morning and always want to go to training and get better. A coach must never lose that passion. The adrenaline you get before a game is like a drug.”

Fonseca on Man Management

“The rules are the same for everyone, even if there are obviously different personalities and different ways to act. For example, I know if I shout with Mancini that’s the best way to give him a push. But I have to do things differently with Spinazzola. And then I have some players where I don’t have to tell them anything, where [the only] positive feedback [that counts] for them is when I play them, and [that way] I show I have faith in them.”

Fonseca on Hitting Opponents From the Weak Flank

AS Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk - UEFA Europa League Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

“Now we can talk about [that Milan game], because we don’t play Milan again this season. We saw that Fazio and Mancini were always isolated [on the ball], because when the ball was on one side of the pitch, it’s the opposite fullback who was meant to close the gap for us to be able to then switch play to the other flank. We made that mistake several times in that phase of play during that game. We didn’t understand that Milan’s pressure on the ball wasn’t very strong. On the left we always had the choice of either Fazio or Spinazzola, on the right the choice of either Kardorp or Mancini all with the chance to carry the ball forward without any great pressure. The intention to switch flanks wasn’t always there in the right way. That’s important, we want to find that space. Whenever the other team is set in their fixed shape, we have to attract them to one side to then go and play the ball from the other flank. I think we had chances to do it [against Milan].”

Fonseca on Handling Pressure

“The message I want to get across [to the players] is to always have fun. I think the team is more balanced today, even on an emotional level. I’m not the kind of person to think about football twenty-four hours a day. At the beginning of my time here at Roma, I was always worried about what the team was doing. I remember one time where my wife went back to Ukraine, and I stayed here indoors for fifteen days, studying the team and trying to find a solution. Now when I’m at home sometimes, I think: No. I don’t want to watch a match, I want to watch a film.”

Fonseca on Possession Football and the Italian Psyche

“I like it when the team always takes initiative, which should mean they have the ball. When I first arrived here, I was obsessed with possession football. But now, at least for us, transition play is much more important. For me, that’s the best way to defend games. I like feeling like my team has control, that we can create stress in the other team by virtue of them not having the ball. But here in Italy that isn’t as easy as in other leagues. Teams here feel in their element even without the ball. For example, Inter is a team that has no problem sitting deep, and they’re actually very strong at doing that. I can’t say the same thing about my team. My team isn’t comfortable whenever we don’t have the ball.”

Fonseca on Final-Third Decisions

ACF Fiorentina v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

“There has to be a balance between looking for space to make vertical runs [behind the opponent’s backline] and space to make supporting runs. And even for us that’s hard. It’s also hard to do because I don’t codify that [into our game], it’s down to the players to intuit where that space is. We’ve learnt how to build up to that final metre of play, to the very moment where it’s time to finish off the sequence. Making supporting runs is very important when it comes to finding space, especially against an opponent with a backline of 5 players. Jordan Veretout, for example, understands very well when to make those runs.”

Fonseca on Player Recruitment

“[Roma] have never chosen to sign a player without me giving my opinion. I look for the player who can be of use to this team. It’s important for me to clarify one thing: I’ve never said that Under isn’t a great player. He is a very, very good player. But for how I see football being played, it’s difficult [to play him]. There’s no doubt that he would be the perfect player for a team that plays differently.”

Fonseca on Being His Own Critic

“I’m very hard on myself, more than I am on others. I’m always very anxious when it’s up to others to manage decisions, and I have to improve in that respect.”

Elena Linari Upsets Juve Fans With Her Roma Dominance

Elena Linari of AS Roma in action during the Women Serie A... Photo by Andrea Staccioli/Insidefoto/LightRocket via Getty Images

One team that’s finally cracked how to beat big opponents on the peninsula is Betty Bavagnoli’s Roma team. When it boils down to it, we might be writing the Roma women’s history in two very distinct phases: Roma B.L. (Before Linari) and Roma A.L. (After Linari). But it’s the manner in which Elena Linari just helped Roma beat Juventus that has the Bianconere fans, and in particular Cristiana Girelli fans, out of sorts this week.

We could probably be accused of over-hyping expectations around the Roma women’s team, given that the results have sometimes fallen flat on the pitch in the aftermath. But singing Elena Linari is turning out to be every bit worth the hype it generated, as the Italian defender is—by rights—someone who could choose to play in any league in the world, yet somehow chose her prime years to come back to Italy and play for Roma.

Ever since Linari has gotten up to speed with this season, Roma have turned around their results and looked more solid as a team (the lone 1-0 defeat to Verona notwithstanding). We don’t know where Roma would be in the table had Linari been signed back in the summer of 2020, but we know this is a Roma side that now carries a 2-1 lead into the second leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final against current holders Juventus. That second leg will now be played with the aftermath of Linari having unintentionally put the league’s topscorer Girelli out of action.

Italy Portraits - FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 Photo by Simon Hofmann - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

It was Linari’s knee that collided into Girelli’s back during Roma’s victory over Juventus this past weekend, leaving Italy’s leading striker on the ground in agony and stretchered off the pitch. Linari simply walked away and got on with the game at the time, but an interview with the CEO of Assist Women has since revealed that Linari has sought out fellow Italy national teammate Girelli after the game and apologized, despite Linari having to receive constant abuse on social media from Juventus fanatics.

We’re personally looking forward to more Linari, and Roma finishing the job in the second leg away to Juventus in well over a month’s time. It won’t be easy and the odds may even be against Roma (even with an aggregate lead), but the winner of that semi-final will go on to face the winner of the Milan derby in the other semi, for what may be Betty Bavagnoli’s first solid chance of lifting silverware with Roma.