With Roma sinking down the table this season and Paulo Fonseca officially leaving the club at the of the campaign, the Giallorossi shocked everyone yesterday by appointing José Mourinho as the new manager—the ninth managerial hire of an American era that now spans two separate ownerships since 2011. While constant turnover was a hallmark of the Pallotta era, this is really nothing new for Roma.
In the 21st century alone, Roma has chewed up and spit out 13 different managers (and 15 managerial changes if you count the Spalletti and Ranieri hire and re-hires), but if exacting specificity is more your thing, try this figure on for size. Since the club's inception in 1927, Roma has made...are you ready for this...68 MANAGERIAL CHANGES. Sixty-Eight! That's six tens and eight ones, five dozen plus eight remainders, two radical 17, or an average of one manager every 1.4 years.
That's a staggering figure but we're not really concerned with the brief tenures of Guido Baccani (1929-1930), Lajos Kovacs (1933-1934), Adolfo Baloncieri (1950), Naim Kryeziu (1963), or Ezio Sella (1996). Instead of dwelling on the names from the pre-internet age, we're going to focus on the eight managerial hires made during the American era and see what patterns or lessons emerge, all of which will hopefully help us answer one pressing question: What kind of club does Roma want to be?
Roma fans have been misled by the club's parade of talking heads and duped by promises of ambitious projects nearly every summer since Thomas Di Benedetto took control of the club in 2011. Given the sheer rate and scale of that turnover—Roma has also ripped through multiple directors of sport, medical staffers, and too many anonymous executives with fancy acronyms attached to their names to count—it seems almost impossible (or at the very least, impractical) to slap a label on this club. Is Roma provincial? Middle class? A sleeping giant?
After all, if the people running the club can't answer those questions (or at least point us in a direction—any direction), how can we as fans expect to fare any better?
Since they've only just arrived in the capital, Dan and Ryan Friedkin receive a bit of a pass in this discussion, but their “newness” is precisely what makes the Mourinho decision so critical. Will they pick and commit to one manager, one vision, and one comprehensive approach, or will they fall prey to the whims that ultimately made Pallotta's project(s) unsustainable?
In their first year on the job, the Friedkins haven't been afraid to break from recent tradition, eschewing the Italian insider route when they hired Portuguese executive Tiago Pinto from Benfica to serve as Roma's General Manager. But GMs, by the very nature of the position, are passive participants; spreadsheets, databases, airport lobbies, and hotel bars are their domain.
It’s still too early to tell what exactly Friedkin and Pinto have in store for Roma, but their first major decision, hiring Paulo Fonseca's replacement, could give us an indication of where they see Roma on the European spectrum: are the Giallorossi an up and comer or an also-ran?
It's an important question to ask because, to date, Roma's reach has exceeded its grasp. For all the talk about Roma becoming a power player in Europe, the decisions made by Pallotta, Franco Baldini, Walter Sabatini, Monchi, and Gianluca Petrachi have run counter to that goal—even if they were well-intended.
So, as we wait to see how Friedkin's selection of José Mourinho pans out, let's take a trip through the past decade and see what, if any, themes and patterns emerge; trends that might give us a clue what this next managerial hire means for Roma's next project.
First up, our dear old Luis Enrique.
Record (W-D-L): 17-9-16
Key Additions: Miralem Pjanic, Erik Lamela, Bojan Krkic, Fabio Borini, Pablo Osvaldo, Simon Kjaer, Jose Angel, Maarten Stekelenburg, Gabriel Heinze, Fernando Gago
Key Departures: Mirko Vucinic, Jeremy Menez, Matteo Brighi, Philippe Mexes
Notable Achievements: None
Why Was He Hired?
After years of being second-best and seeing the primes of Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi squandered thanks to the massive debts incurred during the latter days of the Sensi regime, Roma's new owners (Di Benedetto and eventually Pallotta) decided to chart an entirely different path. Looking to capitalize on the Spanish school of football that was dominating international and club football, Roma tabbed the then 41-year-old Spaniard as the architect for their new project.
Tiki-taka tamed the Champions League, the European Championships, and the World Cup, so why couldn't Serie A fall under its spell? Ground-based possession football was nothing new, but few nations had mastered it quite like the Spanish in the late aughts and early teens, and few clubs turned practice into profit quite like Barcelona.
While Di Benedetto and Pallotta had big ambitions, they were under no delusions with regards to Roma's finances, so, while they wanted to emulate the Spanish style of football, they needed to implement that model in a cost-effective way. Which meant one thing: obtaining and developing young talent.
By focusing on players in their late teens and/or early twenties, Roma would ensure that these kids grew into men together, blossoming from tiki-taka neophytes into grand champions. And what better man to lead that charge than Luis Enrique, the wizard of La Masia, Barcelona's famed youth academy, who helped Barca's B squad gain promotion to the Segunda for the first time in more than a decade.
In Enrique, Roma found the perfect marriage of tenacity, temperament, tutelage, and technique. If he couldn't turn young talents like Miralem Pjanic, Erik Lamela, Ivan Piris, and Bojan Krkic into a well-drilled tiki-taka machine, then no one could.
The plan was simple: let Enrique grow in tandem with players like Lamela and Pjanic, then sit back and reap the rewards.
What Went Right?
Well, not much, to be quite honest. Roma crashed out of the Europa League in the playoff stage to Bratislava and bowed out of the Coppa Italia in the quarterfinals before finishing the league season in 7th place with 56 points. Despite that, Enrique coaxed solid seasons out of Fabio Borini (nine league goals), Daniel Osvaldo (11 league goals), Pjanic (eight assists), and even Bojan (seven goals).
Roma may have seen a dramatic drop in goals scored, goals conceded, and points accrued but Enrique still felt like the right man to develop young talents like Pjanc and Lamela. The future looked bright but Roma had to back that promise up with patience.
What Went Wrong?
Enrique resigned. Simple as. Roma's hiring of Luis Enrique was no passing fancy. This was supposed to be a top-down remake of Roma, one that required a shift in thinking, planning, and practice. And Enrique was at the center of it all...until he quit.
Among all the “what ifs” we've tackled over the past few years, none loom quite as large as this. It's a subject we've covered before, but we really can't gloss over this point: Enrique was hired specifically to install and develop a very specific brand of football.
It was almost as if Roma hired a very avant-garde architect to design a one-of-a-kind, cutting edge building only to see him quit after six months. When the entire project depends on the vision and skill of one specific craftsman, you simply can't carry on without them.
And that's precisely what happened to the first re-imagining of AS Roma. The plan was sound, the front office was committed and the players were young and talented enough to see it through but Enrique leaving effectively reset Di Benedetto and Pallotta's entire plan for Roma.
Well, you can't really predict how long any given hire will remain with your organization, so the Enrique experiment is a little light on lessons. One thing is for sure, though. Tiki-taka taking over the capital would have required an inordinate amount of patience. Roma would have had to stomach multiple years of midtable results while they waited for the players to inculcate Enrique's philosophies—would they have had the temerity to see this through, to truly give it time to develop and take over the league?
We can't say for certain how much patience Pallotta could have afforded to Enrique, but there's no doubting this next fact: he failed miserably when it came to Roma's two most important players, Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, neither of whom enjoyed much success under Enrique's tutelage.
So, if there is a lesson here, it's this: make sure your manager has a plan for your current crop of talent. It's one thing to plot and scheme what you'll do with new players, but you can't ignore your incumbents. Roma can't swap out two dozen players to accommodate any manager, let alone one with such a unique vision, so shared ideals and a common approach is critical.
Ultimately, whatever lessons we may have taken from this hire disappeared the minute Enrique quit.
Two Sentence Summary
The Luis Enrique hire was an earnest and well-designed approach to remaking Roma in the image of the most successful footballing philosophy of its time. Despite its good intentions, the project proved unsustainable when Enrique resigned after one season.
Record (W-D-L): 13-4-9
Key Additions: Mattia Destro, Leandro Castan, Marquinhos, Federico Balzaretti, Michael Bradley, Alessandro Florenzi, Dodo, Mauro Goicoechea
Key Departures: Fabio Borini, Marco Cassetti, Gabriel Heinze, David Pizarro
Notable Achievements: None
Why Was He Hired?
With almost a decade in the rearview mirror, I'm no closer to answer to this than I was in 2012. This was an ill-advised nostalgia trip made by a club scrambling to find a new manager after Enrique’s resignation. Prior to bringing ZZ back into the fold, Roma explored Andre Villas-Boa, Marco Bielsa, and Vincenzo Montella, among other candidates.
With those options exhausted or never plausible, Roma opted for a return to Zemanlandia; a brand of all-attacking, all-the-time football that was sure to overwhelm unsuspecting opponents while delighting fans with goal-scoring binges that would have made Caligula blush.
In the more practical sense, Zeman, much like Enrique, had a proven track record with young talent, using the likes of Marco Verratti, Lorenzo Insigne, and Ciro Immobile to steer Pescara back to Serie A in 2012.
And what's more, unlike Enrique, Zeman's philosophies, while extreme, didn't require extensive teaching and preparation. Thanks to Zeman's spartan training and diet regimes, his players were fully charged and ready to go in relatively short order. Zeman's football had more in common with a war of attrition than some complex, nuanced battle plan.
By attacking in waves and running his opponents ragged, Zeman's tactics were beautiful in their simplicity. And for a team jilted by their dream hire a few months earlier, Zeman offered an easy and exciting fix for Roma. A quick and dirty way to win back a suddenly beleaguered fan base.
What Went Right?
Well, with 49 goals through 23 matches, Zeman's attack was Serie A's most prolific. Thanks to his attack-oriented philosophies, Zeman got the best out of Erik Lamela, Pablo Daniel Osvaldo and helped Totti post a double-double that season. Zeman also gave debuts to Alessandro Florenzi, Marquinhos, and Alessio Romagnoli during his 23 matches at the helm. He also gave us the first glimpses of Mattia Destro, who bagged six goals in part-time duty this season.
Zemanlandia 2.0 featured some of the fittest players to ever step foot in the capital, which allowed Roma to produce some of the most entertaining football on the peninsula. With Lamela, Totti, and PDO leading the charge, Roma was capable of hanging multiple goals on nearly any opponent.
The defense wasn't much to write home about, but Zeman introduced Roma fans to two of the most beloved defenders to ever set foot in Trigoria: Leandro Castan and Marquinhos, who had no easy job covering nearly half the pitch in defense.
What Went Wrong?
Well, along with those 49 goals scored came 42 goals conceded. Now, a +7 goal differential is passable, but Zeman's extreme tactics weren't exactly the picture of stability. And that's really the long and short of it, but Zeman repeated one of Enrique's greatest mistakes: he ran afoul of a fan favorite.
Quite frankly, it sounds absurd now that any manager on the planet would prefer Panagiotis Tachtsidis over Daniele De Rossi, but that's precisely what happened during Zeman's ill-fated return to the capital.
On the subject, Zeman didn't offer much insight either, saying simply “I’ve never had anything against De Rossi; I always looked at the choices that would only benefit him in both training and competition.”
Throw in his puzzling preference for Goicoechea in goal and his rift with Osvaldo, and all the good work he did with Roma's young attacking talent was nearly rendered moot.
In the end, one can't help but escape the feeling that Zeman was nothing more than a panic hire; one whose aesthetically pleasing football would at least satiate the masses' desire for entertaining afternoons at the Olimpico.
Zeman, of course, had a different take on his departure from Rome:
Sometimes I wonder myself why I was appointed. My philosophy proved different from that of [Roma’s] executives. Certainly my bank account has been richly rewarded thanks to my salary,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport.
“I asked the club to give me more time. Was it a shock [that they sacked me]? Without discipline there cannot be a football team.
“The way my experience in the capital ended left me so much bitterness. My biggest mistake was thinking that everyone at Roma had my enthusiasm and heart.”
Zeman loved Roma, on that there can be no doubt. But sometimes that just isn't enough.
While there aren't many obvious parallels between Zeman and Enrique, one might say they were (at the time of their respective appointments) one-trick ponies. Enrique wanted to pass opponents to death while Zeman preferred to run them into submission. Neither approach was adaptable enough to survive over the long run, but at least Enrique's wasn't a zero-sum game like Zeman's.
Zeman's return to Roma offered a nice quick hit of dopamine but ultimately he proved that some things are better left in the past.
Two Sentence Summary
Faced with the resignation of their first choice, Luis Enrique, Roma tried to capture the next “next big thing” in coaching, Andrea Villas-Boas. When that route failed, Roma was short on options and chose a feel-good candidate capable of exciting the fans but lacking in long-term vision.
Record (W-D-L): 61-34-23
Key Additions: Kevin Strootman, Mehdi Benatia, Adem Ljajic, Gervinho, Tin Jedvaj, Radja Nainggolan, Maicon, Morgan De Sanctis, Juan Iturbe, Salih Ucan, Kostas Manolas, Seydou Doumbia, Victor Ibarbo, Davide Astori, Seydou Keita, Ashley Cole, Leandro Paredes, Mohamed Salah, Edin Dzeko, Antonio Rüdiger, Lucas Digne, Stephan El Shaarawy, Diego Perotti, Iago Falque, Emerson Palmieri
Key Departures: Marquinhos, Erik Lamela, Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, Michael Bradley, Panagiotis Tachtsidis, Maarten Stekelenburg, Mehdi Benatia, Miralem Pjanic, Alessio Romagnoli
Notable Achievements: 10-0 start to the ‘13-’14 season, two Champions League appearances
Why Was He Hired?
Well, much like Roma's recent appointment of José Mourinho, the club was a bit cloak and dagger when hiring Zeman's permanent replacement. You may remember the stories of the players discovering who Rudi Garcia was via a video of him playing classical guitar. Garcia wasn't an unknown, of course, he won Ligue 1 with Lille, but he was nevertheless a surprise hire.
After the panicked selection of Zeman, Garcia's appointment was a breath of fresh air. Garcia was a young manager like Enrique before him, but his resumé carried added weight thanks to the Ligue 1 and Coupe de France titles. Garcia had a proven track record of success in Lille and was ready to make the leap to a bigger club and tougher league. This hire, while seemingly out of left field, made tremendous sense.
What Went Right?
Well, if we view Roma's barometer of success as consistently playing in the Champions League, then Garcia, with two straight CL seasons, was a smashing success. And with 10 straight wins to start his career, a stretch in which Roma conceded only one goal, he made an immediate impression.
And just take a look at all the talent acquired during Garcia's first two years with the club. From the big(ish)-money signings of Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan, and Mehdi Benatia to the gambles on El Shaarawy, Perotti, Digne, Emerson, and a few others, for the first time in many years, Roma went the extra mile to acquire talent rather than just hoping Totti and De Rossi would keep their heads above water.
Garcia's wing-oriented attack brought the best out of Gervinho and Adem Ljajic, while Totti enjoyed a late-career surge under the Frenchman. Alessandro Florenzi, Miralem Pjanic, and Kevin Strootman also put up solid scoring and creating figures. While Garcia isn't heralded as a defensive genius, Benatia enjoyed the best season of his career under Garcia in 2013-2014 while Kostas Manolas’ career began to blossom during this period as well.
What Went Wrong?
Garcia's tactics got stale, the league seemed to figure him out and he was out the door in January of 2016. He also had the misfortune of seeing an awful lot of talent leave Trigoria, including Benatia after only one season, while Marquinhos, Lamela, and Osvaldo were all sold just prior to his arrival in Roma.
Garcia's tenure reached its nadir in late 2015 and early 2016, a spell in which Roma won only one out of 10 matches and crashed out of the Coppa Italia to Spezia. This was also the period in which the Garcia Special—a patented term to describe Garcia's penchant for 1-1 draws, particularly with late equalizers—entered our lexicon.
Certainly, Garcia would have had greater success if the club didn't sell Lamela or Marquinhos immediately before signing him as manager, but ultimately Garcia's tactics just weren't responsive enough to survive in Serie A.
For the second time in three seasons, Roma tabbed a young, up-and-coming manager to lead their project. And while Garcia fared better and lasted longer than Enrique, given how quickly it all came apart in 2015-2016, it's fair to question whether or not Garcia was astute enough tactically to succeed long-term in Serie A.
But, in all fairness, the club didn’t do him many favors. Losing talents like Lamela, Marquinhos, Romagnoli, Digne, and even Pablo Daniel Osvaldo stripped the club of some young and prodigious talent. To make matters worse, the players they tabbed to replace some of these names (Juan Iturbe, Seydou Doumbia, Salih Ucan) were, to put it nicely, disappointing.
So, if there is a lesson to Garcia's two and a half years in Roma, it's this: you can't expect a five-star meal when you give the chef three-star groceries, nor should you expect creativity and imagination when your chef can only make two or three dishes to begin with.
Two Sentence Summary
Rudi Garcia's honeymoon period—10 straight wins, 2nd place finish, Champions League qualification—was glorious but once the sheen wore off, Garcia's tactics were exposed and exploited with alarming regularity. Off the pitch, Roma began a vicious cycle of selling top-shelf talent and replacing them with inadequate replacements and/or panic purchases.
Tenure (second stint): 2016-2017
Record (W-D-L): 50-11-14
Key Additions: Stephan El Shaarawy, Diego Perotti, Alisson Becker, Mario Rui, Gerson, Bruno Peres, Juan Jesus, Thomas Vermaelen, Federico Fazio
Key Departures: Adem Ljajic, Iago Falque, Seydou Keita
Notable Achievements: Two top-three finishes, club record for points and goals in ‘16-’17
Why Was He Hired?
Similar to the Enrique/Zeman dynamic, Roma had to scramble to replace Garcia in January of 2016 and once again looked to the past, bringing Spalletti back to the capital after an almost seven-year absence. Given his track record in Rome and his flexible tactics, Spalletti was perhaps the ideal man to rescue Roma's ‘15-’16 season.
After guiding Roma back into the Champions League qualifiers in the summer of 2016—which ended disastrously thanks to a red card from Vermaelen against Porto, among other embarrassments—Spalletti embarked on perhaps the greatest non-title winning season in club history the following season.
Taking over a club in the middle of the season is never an easy feat, but in Spalletti, Roma found a manager familiar with the Roman environment and flexible enough to make use of the current squad.
What Went Right?
The club record points and goals are the obvious shout-outs, but Spaletti's 4-2-3-1 provided a sorely needed shot in the arm for a club that had grown tired of Garcia's 4-3-3 or bust approach. During Spalletti's only full season in his second stint in Rome, his tactics produced a capocannoniere season from Edin Dzeko, a 15 goal-11 assist campaign from Salah, a combined 24 goals and 21 assists from Perotti, Strootman, El Shaarawy, and De Rossi, while he turned Radja Nainggolan into a bruising trequartista who racked up 11 goals and five assists during this spectacular season.
Spalletti also worked his magic with Emerson Palmieri, Wojciech Szczesny, and even Federico Fazio, who resurrected his career after disastrous spells with Sevilla and Spurs.
It was an enthralling 18 months at the helm for Spalletti fans, who brought Roma back to the Champions League and finished his only full season in charge (this time around) in second place with a pair of club records in his back pocket.
What Went Wrong?
Does the name Francesco Totti ring a bell? Spalletti had the misfortune of managing Totti during the twilight of his career but his handling of the Roma legend didn't win him any fans in the stands. Throw in a few bristling press conferences, rows with the fans and media, and Spalletti may have always been destined to burn out rather than fade away.
It's tough to really point out too many flaws because his tenure was so brief, but one can't help but wonder how things would have turned out differently without the constant melodrama between him and Totti.
Off the pitch, Spalletti never seemed to walk hand in hand with the Roma brass, who weren't able to give him his desired transfer targets, namely Papu Gomez and Borja Valero. At the end of the day, Spalletti was denied his place in Roma history by a mere four points—the gap between Roma and eventual champs Juventus at the end of the ‘16-’17 season, so any complaints are really just splitting hairs. This was never meant to be a long marriage, but it was passionate while it lasted.
If you're going to push out a club legend, just make sure the manager, the owner, and the player are on the same page. All kidding aside, this may have been an unexpected reunion, but it looked like a blockbuster in the making after his first full season back in charge.
However, you could never really escape the feeling that Spalletti and the Roma brass weren't on the same page in terms of the scope of Roma's project. This was also the first time that we truly came to understand and appreciate the financial tightrope Roma has to walk each and every year, which underscored the point that the manager and administration need to be living in the same reality.
Two Sentence Summary
Luciano Spalletti's return to Roma was a pleasant surprise to many Roma fans, doubly so once he rescued the club's spiraling 2015-2016 season. Spalletti set records and made stars out of several players but his hubris may have been his undoing.
Eusebio Di Francesco
Record (W-D-L): 46-18-23
Key Additions: Rick Karsdorp, Justin Kluivert, Cengiz Ünder, Javier Pastore, Robin Olsen, Steven Nzonzi, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Maxime Gonalons, Hector Moreno, Patrick Schick, Gregoire Defrel, Davide Santon, Nicolo Zaniolo, Bryan Cristante, Ivan Marcano, Antonio Mirante, Aleksandar Kolarov
Key Departures: Mohamed Salah, Antonio Rüdiger, Leandro Paredes, Alisson Becker, Emerson Palmieri, Francesco Totti, Radja Nainggolan, Kevin Strootman
Notable Achievements: 2017-2018 Champions League Semifinalist
Why Was He Hired?
For this hire, Roma decided to mix their two prior approaches, simultaneously dipping into the nostalgia and up-and-coming buckets. Fresh off a successful multi-year run with Sassuolo, Di Francesco was not only one of Italy's hottest young managers, but he was also a former Roma midfielder to boot, spending five seasons patrolling the midfield at the Stadio Olimpico, including the club's most recent Scudetto triumph in 2001.
During his time with Sassuolo, Di Francesco proved that he could achieve results with a meager budget and got the best out of young players like Lorenzo Pellegrini, Domenico Berardi, and Matteo Politano.
Or, to put it in Pallotta's own words:
When we sat down to discuss the ideal candidate for the role of Roma coach, we wanted someone who could come in and get the very best out of our first team players and also help bring through some of the great young talent coming out of our academy
Our new sporting director Monchi singled out Eusebio Di Francesco and, with his style of play, we believe he’s the right fit for Roma.
EDF's Roma ties were simply an added bonus because, as you can see, Roma viewed Di Francesco through the same lens as Enrique: a young manager who could excel with young and inexpensive talents.
What Went Right?
Romantada, Romantada, Romantada. No matter where he goes or what he does from here on out, Eusebio Di Francesco will be best remembered for orchestrating Roma's epic comeback against Barcelona in the 2017-2018 Champions League Quarterfinals. Some of his decisions in the ensuing round against Liverpool are up for debate, but rather than packing it in while facing a three-goal deficit in the second leg, Di Francesco hit Barcelona right in the mouth, stunning Messi and company with one of the sport's greatest comebacks.
Domestically speaking, EDF kept Roma in the Champions League by virtue of finishing in third place with 77 points during the ‘17-’18 season, one that featured a mini breakout campaign from young Cengiz Ünder, who scored seven goals in his debut season. EDF's first year at the helm also featured perhaps the greatest goalkeeping season in the history of the club, with Alisson emerging as the highest-priced keeper in the world—for a few days at least. We also caught our first glimpse of Nicolo Zaniolo during EDF's second season in charge.
Off the pitch, EDF, Monchi, and Pallotta managed to get Roma's transfer balance back in the black after years of running a deficit, ending the transfer year with an over €60 million positive balance.
What Went Wrong?
Monchi, Monchi, Monchi, and Monchi. Oh, and did we mention Monchi? Despite getting the club back in the black during the ‘17-’18 transfer cycle, that positive momentum was quickly torn asunder the following summer. Thanks to his ill-advised purchases of Robin Olsen, Steven Nzonzi, Javier Pastore, Ante Coric...hang on, my fingers are tired...Gregoire Defrel, Davide Santon, Patrick Shick, and Justin Kluivert, Roma were quickly back in the red, with many of those contracts still dragging Roma down into the muck several years later.
If the latter days of Garcia and Spalletti served as FFP foreshadowing, EDF and Monchi's tenure in the capital bludgeoned us over the head with FFP lessons. And more than that, many of Monchi's purchases didn't exactly jive with Di Francesco's vision for the club, leaving Roma with several redundant, high-priced, and rapidly depreciating assets who were ill fits for the manager's preferred approach.
On the pitch, EDF had more tactical nous than many credited him with but while he was able to keep Roma in the Champions League during his first season, Roma slipped down the sixth place in ‘18-’19, a season in which Di Francesco was let go in March, replaced by Claudio Ranieri who was given the thankless task to turn Roma into a winner in less than three months.
More than any other name on this list, Di Francesco suffered from a greater disconnect with club officials. Look no further than the club's disastrous purchase of Patrick Schick, who cost the club a record €42 million despite not having an obvious place in EDF's tactics, ditto for Defrel and his approximate €20 million price tag.
EDF wasn't a green manager, so he was certainly capable of adapting to circumstances but when the man building the team and the man training it are on different pages, it's difficult for the club and its “project” to make any significant progress towards their lofty objectives.
In some ways, Monchi's reckless spending spree capped Di Francesco at the knees. The transfer fees paid and the salaries doled out are still hampering Roma a few years later, and it will likely be another 18 to 24 months before the last of Monchi's Misfits are truly a thing of the past. Roma showed no hesitation to spend big during this period but we can't exactly say they spent wisely.
EDF's post-Roma career has probably revealed who he really is—an average manager at best—but the dissonance between him and Monchi (and between Monchi and Pallotta as we've come to learn) was simply too much overcome.
Two Sentence Summary
“I believe Roma have already built a lot. All we have to do is add to that and I really believe that with good planning, the right personnel and infrastructure we can achieve great things”
Record (W-D-L): 50-21-26
Key Additions: Leonardo Spinazzola, Pau Lopez, Gonzalo Villar, Carles Pérez, Roger Ibañez, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Chris Smalling, Pedro, Marash Kumbulla, Amadou Diawara, Mert Cetin, Gianluca Mancini, Nikola Kalinic, Jordan Veretout, Davide Zappacosta, Stephan El Shaarawy, Borja Mayoral, Bryan Reynolds
Key Departures: Kostas Manolas, Luca Pellegrini, Stephan El Shaaarawy, Patrik Schick, Alessandro Florenzi, Daniele De Rossi, Aleksandar Kolarov
Notable Achievements: Europa League Semifinalist
Why Was He Hired?
After Claudio Ranieri graciously stepped away from his interim stint managing Roma in the spring of 2019, the club went on a hunting expedition, hoping to snare the big game of Italian managers, Antonio Conte. While we’ll never know the full extent of this pursuit, one that was rumored to include José Mourinho as a second option, the club ultimately settled on Paulo Fonseca.
With a successful stint at Shakhtar Donetsk, the then 46-year-old seemed prepared to make the leap to a top European league. On the decision to hire Fonseca, Pallotta spoke of his youth, ambition, and attacking style:
We are delighted to welcome Paulo Fonseca to the club. Paulo is a young and ambitious coach with international experience, a winning mentality, and a reputation for bold, attacking football that will excite our fans. From the very first conversations we had with him, he made it very clear he wanted to come to Roma and was excited about the challenge of working with our players and putting out a team that the fans can be proud of.
Fonseca was given a two-year deal with an option for a third, which, as we now know, was not picked up.
What Went Right?
When they write the tale of Fonseca Football® in Rome (which I guess we’re sort of doing now), his lasting legacy may be the work he did with players like Lorenzo Pellegrini, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and especially Chris Smalling, Leonardo Spinazzola, and Rick Karsdorp, each of whom was floundering and/or struggling to resurrect their careers before Fonseca got a hold of them.
Despite being a devotee of the 4-2-3-1, Fonseca shrewdly changed tactics midstream during his first season to a three-man backline, a change that produced some of the most successful stretches of his two-year run with Roma; this shift was also instrumental in the emergence of Spinazzola and Karsdorp.
Fonseca also proved to be a dutiful manager to some of the club's youngest players, giving debuts to Villar, Pérez, Kumbulla, and Mayoral, each of whom has shown tremendous promise under the auspices of the Man from Mozambique.
He was arguably the most dashing manager in Roma history, too—this dude could wear a suit and trenchcoat or khakis and docksiders with equal aplomb.
What Went Wrong?
The broad-stroke version saw Fonseca's Roma dominate lesser opponents, throwing up two or three-goal margins of victory at will, only to falter against Italy's biggest clubs. It wasn't exactly an encouraging trend but as long as he kept towering over lower clubs on the table, Roma's fight for the top four seemed viable. However, as we saw in 2021, Fonseca completely lost his touch against these minnows, dropping points and matches outright to clubs like Parma, Cagliari, and Spezia, while also still falling flat against bigger clubs like Napoli and Juventus.
The finer critiques of Fonseca Football® likely included an inability to make proper in-match adjustments, particularly in the defensive phase of the game, which contributed to the 132 goals Roma conceded during his 97 matches at the helm.
On the transfer market, Fonseca bore witness to two incredibly odd almost-transactions: Spinazzola's failed move to Inter Milan in exchange for Matteo Politano in 2020 and the Edin Dzeko/Arkadiusz Milik transfer fiasco last summer, one which saw Dzeko with one foot out the door heading for Juventus. He also had to spend half his time in Rome without a proper Director of Sport in place after Gianluca Petrachi was dismissed last year.
Outside of his spat with Edin Dzeko, Fonseca enjoyed a good rapport with his squad, but as we etch Fonseca's epitaph as Roma manager, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention two unprecedented phenomena that clouded his entire time in Rome: the change in ownership in between his first and second year with the club and, of course, the current pandemic.
With Roma swinging and missing on Conte and Mourinho, Fonseca was, at best, the club's third choice for manager, so the odds were already stacked against him. And the minute the ink on Dan Friedkin's signature dried on the contracts making him Roma's new owner, Fonseca's days in Rome were likely numbered. You can't expect someone to pay 500 some odd million for a football club and just be happy to inherit an already embattled manager.
Throw in the COVID pandemic and the litany of injuries that have plagued Roma over the past two years, and Paulo Fonseca never really received a fair shake during his time as manager, which is a shame because there were certainly moments when you could see where the club was heading under his guidance.
We may have to paint this entire section with an asterisk for the reasons we just stated. The circumstances in which Fonseca managed Roma were anything but ideal. In addition to all the usual maladies that plague Roma (injuries, the media, finances, etc.), Fonseca saw his bosses change, a pandemic ravage the sport and the world itself, the club declare record deficits of nearly a quarter of a billion euros, he lost the club's most talented player for almost his entire tenure, and he had to deal with a spat with Edin Dzeko, the club's former captain.
Given all that, the Fonseca chapter of the official AS Roma history may be a bit light on lessons. As far as we know, Roma shot for the moon when they attempted to woo Antonio Conte, so we can't fault them for trying, and Fonseca was a decent consolation prize under the circumstances. He was pretty well regarded in football circles and achieved great success in smaller leagues, so he was ready to make the leap.
And the continuing financial troubles, which predate Fonseca by nearly a decade (if not more), limited what type of players Roma could sign and have cast all the club's plans into doubt.
Bottom line: Fonseca got the rawest deal a Roma coach possibly could.
Two Sentence Summary
Paulo Fonseca came to Roma under almost impossible circumstances. He emerges bruised and battered but eminently respected.
What Does This All Mean for Mourinho?
The original title of this piece was “What Kind of Club Does Roma Want to Be?” and originally tried to find a common theme among all the managerial changes in the American regime, hopefully concluding with an idea of how Roma sees herself and how she can advance her position. And while the timing of the José Mourinho appointment may have ruined our narrative, it does give us an inkling of where the Friedkin Group wants to take Roma—to the top.
José Mourinho is not a young manager, nor was he a panic hire, and he certainly has no previous ties to Roma. So, in that light, the similarities between The Special One and his predecessors are a bit lacking but his hiring could finally see the chasm between Roman rhetoric and Roman reality shrink.
From Thomas Di Benedetto to James Pallotta to Dan Friedkin and to every Director of Sport, CEO, and COO we've seen in between, the men in charge of Roma have seldom been able to bridge the gap between football fact and football fiction. For all the talk of ambitious projects—of the new Roma, Roma 2.0, or Roma: Year Zero—the leaders of the club have lacked the finances, the foresight, the fortitude, or the finesse to capitalize on the enormous potential of the club, the brand, and the city itself.
The Friedkins selection of José Mourinho could be the first step in reversing Roma's fortunes and finally setting the club on the path toward fulfilling that potential. But make no mistake, José Mourinho's star has faded over the past half-decade. After less than impressive results at his last two stops, Manchester United and most recently Tottenham Hotspur, Mourinho is now actually the underdog, and Roma is his chance at redemption.
If he had his druthers, José Mourinho probably wouldn't stoop so low as to coach a side as perpetually frustrating as Roma, but his lack of options could be a blessing disguise for everyone involved. For Mourinho, if he can turn Roma into a winner—like, a real winner—he could cement his status as one of the best managers of the modern era, lifting the club to heights not seen in decades.
On the flip side, the risk for Roma is really minimal while the rewards are potentially astronomical. If this experiment fails, the club loses little more than time; no one will be longing for the days of seventh place anyway.
If, however, Roma can truly give Mourinho talent commensurate with his resumé and in keeping with the club's supposed ambitions, if they can truly weather the inevitable ups and downs, the controversies, the demands for better talent, then for the first time in the American era, Roma's enormous promise could wake from its eternal slumber.
José Mourinho is The Special One and if Roma's bite matches its bark, he could usher in an unprecedented era of success. Or it could implode on the launch pad.
This is Roma. There are no lessons. Only scars. The only question is how much pleasure will come along with that pain?