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Future Roma Ex-Manager Power Poll: Middle Earth Edition

Can Tolkien help us find Roma's next manager?

Massimiliano Allegri, head coach of Juventus FC, smiles... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Future Ex-Manager Power Poll, along with our yearly U-23 countdown, is one of the tentpoles of our digital church. We don't necessarily want to offer a slightly sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek rundown of the candidates most likely to be sacked by Roma next, but we are talking about a club that has ripped through 16 managers since the year 2000, half of which came under James Pallotta's watch alone. We'll likely never see another Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger-like career where one manager remains on the same bench for 10-15 years, but even by the sport’s already fickle managerial standards, Roma has experienced an absurdly high rate of turnover.

So, while this series may seem sarcastic in tone, it's just the nature of the beast: even under ideal circumstances, football managers seldom last more than three years with any club. And your typical Roma managerial gig usually expires in half that time, which may or may not have influenced Roma's hiring of Paulo Fonseca in the first place—he was only given a two-year deal with an option for a third.

And that option, which is triggered by Champions League qualification, now looks flimsy at best after a run of bad results and some bad luck elsewhere on the table. With Roma's inability to defeat their direct rivals for Italy's final Champions League places, Fonseca's best chance at a third year with Roma may rest on winning the Europa League.

Winning Europe's secondary club tournament isn't necessarily impossible, but it's far from assured. And when you include the fact that Fonseca was hired by Roma's previous ownership group, for whom he was likely the third choice, his grasp on the job has always been a bit tenuous, so pinning his employment hopes on winning the Europa League is a flimsy proposition, to say the least.

All of which leads us to this: our second Ex-Manager Power Poll of 2021. Back in January, when Fonseca was reeling from successive defeats to Lazio and Spezia, we ran through a trio of candidates: Maurizio Sarri, Max Allegri, and Luciano Spalletti. And since things seem a bit bleaker for Fonseca this time around, the names on this list now carry added significance.

We've been dabbling in this exercise since 2013, so I thought we'd get a bit creative with this latest attempt. And since I've reached the point in the pandemic where I'm ripping through the entire Tolkien literary/film universe, we're going to turn to Middle Earth for guidance, casting Roma's future ex-managers as characters from The Hobbit and/or The Lord of the Rings series.

Luciano Spalletti as Tom Bombadil

Harper Collins Publishers

Tom Bombadil, who appears in a couple of different Tolkien works but most notably in The Fellowship of The Ring, is a bit of a magical, demigod-like figure. No one is exactly sure about the extent of his powers but he can commune with beasts, he's immune to the temptations and power of the ring and he typically speaks in rhyming couplets. And, much like Luciano Spalletti pulled Roma's feet from the fire in 2016, he saves Frodo's ass multiple times in the space of a few short chapters.

Bombadil critics and detractors may say that the character did little to advance the plot of Lord of the Rings, which is why he was left out of the film versions, and I suppose Spalletti's haters would issue a similar edict against Roma's two-time manager: he may be a savior during a time of need but he never really helped Roma fulfill their Scudetto prophecy.

Spalletti has no history with Roma's new ownership group so that might play in his favor, but much like Bombadil fell on Peter Jackson's cutting room floor, I don't think Spalletti will see the light of day under the Friedkin Group's watchful eye.

But, in terms of Roma's post-Scudetto days, he's the most successful manager to ever set foot in Trigoria, so we can't completely count him out.

Max Allegri as Frodo, The Ring Bearer

New Line Cinema’s “Lord Of The Rings” Gets 13 Oscar Nominations Photo by New Line/WireImage

I'm not sure that Allegri is as heroic or as tortured as Frodo, but he carries around those Scudetto medals like Frodo toting the ring, so it serves this analogy. For Allegri, managing Roma might be like Frodo's stop in Rivendell: a fun layover in an enchanting place but not really his final destination.

Actually, let's revise that. Allegri coming to Roma is more like Frodo's return to the Shire after destroying the one ring. After surviving his perilous quest to return the ring to Mount Doom, Frodo returns to the Shire only to find that life in his quaint corner of Middle Earth isn't quite as fulfilling as it once was. His trips to the local pub with Sam, Merry, and Pippin weren't quite as joyous as they were before his quest, his home in Bag End wasn't quite as welcoming and even his beloved second breakfasts left him unsatisfied.

The only way for Frodo to escape this existential nightmare was to sail to the Undying Lands alongside Gandalf, Elrond, and Bilbo, who he joined as one of the first two mortal beings allowed into that mystical realm.

So, while Allegri might be temporarily swayed by the Eternal City's charms, how long could he reasonably be expected to resist the siren song of the Undying Lands, aka Real Madrid?

Frodo returning to the Shire and Allegri moving to Roma both sound like satisfying conclusions to epic tales, but they'd leave both their respective protagonists with an inescapable feeling of ennui.

Maurizio Sarri as Gandalf the Grey

The Lord Of The Rings Photo by United Artists/Getty Images

He's a bit older, he has a smoking habit and his brand of football is somewhat magical when given time to develop, so Maurizio Sarri is actually a pretty decent stand-in for Middle Earth's most famous wizard. And just like Gandalf conspires with Thorin Oakenshield to build the perfect company of 14 to retake Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug, rumor has it that Sarri is already working with the Friedkin Group on a sort of pre-contract to manage Roma, one that reportedly includes a shopping list of new players including Cagliari keeper Alessio Cragno, who, as a shorter keeper, is nothing if not a hobbit himself.

And much like Gandalf, Sarri may rub some people the wrong way but there's no denying his effectiveness, as he's claimed titles with both Juventus and Chelsea, earning the biggest honors of his career later in life, again much like Gandalf.

There's still the matter of his contract with Juventus to contend with, but if he can arrange a buyout with the Old Lady, his attacking football will soon delight Roma fans much like Gandalf's fireworks enraptured the Shirefolk on Midsummer's Day.

Daniele De Rossi as Bilbo Baggins

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” New York Premiere - Inside Arrivals Photo by Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic

De Rossi, who is a mountain of a man compared to a hobbit, may not seem like a proper Bilbo comparison, but hear me out. When you think of the Lord of the Rings universe, the first name that springs to mind is probably Frodo—he was the main protagonist in the trilogy after all and chances are you've met a cat or dog bearing his name. But the real hero behind the entire quest, the character without whom we may have never heard of Middle Earth, was actually his cousin and pseudo-uncle, Bilbo.

If Bilbo never discovered the ring, who knows what fate would have fallen on Middle Earth; perhaps Sauron's forces steal Gollum's “precious” and use it to bring all of Middle Earth under his dominion. Similarly, if Bilbo didn't have the wisdom to spare Gollum's life—or “true courage” as Gandalf calls it—and everything else in the trilogy plays out as Tolkien described (Gollum attacking Frodo inside Mount Doom and falling into the lava with the ring), rather than casting the ring back into the fires of Mount Doom, Frodo succumbs to its temptations and likely becomes a hideous Gollum-like creature.

When most people think of AS Roma, Francesco Totti is likely the first name that springs to mind—which is completely understandable—but you can make a case that De Rossi was the more worthy 21st-century Roman protagonist. Totti had the limelight (much like Frodo), the goals, and the legendary Pepsi commercials, but how much of Roma's actual success on the pitch could be attributed to De Rossi's tireless work in midfield, where he was slaying opposing players like Bilbo did to so many giant spiders, orcs, and even the occasional goblin.

And just like the company of Thorin Oakenshield doubted Biblo's capabilities as a burglar, many people are already doubting De Rossi's managerial abilities. Thorin son of Thrain famously quipped that Bilbo was more a grocer than a burglar, but despite his lack of “criminal” experience, Bilbo proved up to the task, outwitting a trio of goblins to free the company's ponies and even besting Smaug to reclaim the Arkenstone.

So, while it may feel too soon to hand the managerial reins to De Rossi, given his pedigree, his work rate, and his love of Roma, should we really doubt that he'd rise to the occasion if given the chance?

For the non-Tolkien fans out there, thank you for indulging me, but this decision will be no trivial matter. For all the good James Pallotta achieved during his days as Roma's owner, the constant managerial upheaval effectively reset his “project” nearly every season, which made it practically impossible to achieve any measurable, long-term progress.

If the Friedkin Group wants to avoid that same fate, they need to make their first managerial hire a no-doubter. They need to find their own Gandalf; a manager with an almost mythical level of intelligence and patience, not to mention the temerity to survive life in Roma; they need someone who can live up to this prophetic verse:

One Roma to rule them all, One Roma to find them, One Roma to bring them all, and in Trigoria bind them