When Eusebio Di Francesco was appointed as manager last summer, he was met with a typical Roma response—extremism. Those in favor of the selection pointed to his record with Sassuolo, particularly his ability to nurture young talent, not to mention his Roma roots, as cause for celebration, while those who were skeptical quickly pointed to his tactical rigidity and limited experience on the big stage.
Well, after a third place finish and run to the semi-finals of the Champions League, it’s safe to say the controversy has subsided. That’s not to say EDF is perfect, no manager is, but keeping his cool through the winter doldrums and the manner in which he managed to get the best out of his players in the biggest moments was more than enough to earn him considerable leeway running Roma’s ship.
That’s not to say that this is a cut and dry affair. If we harken back to the days of Rudi Garcia—who was also given a new deal after his first season in charge—we might see cause for concern. Garcia won ten matches out of the gate that year and, were it not for Juventus’ absurd 102 points, Roma’s 85 may have been good enough for the Scudetto. Roma were riding high and had Rudi to thank. And, well, we know what happened after that—the bloom fell off that rose rather quickly and Rudi was out on his French butt some 18 months later, his tactics being exposed and his message falling on deaf ears.
I’m not suggesting the same fate will befall EDF, but the pillars upon which this new deal were built—finishing third and advancing to the semi-finals of the Champions League—aren’t above reproach. Roma’s 77 points were 10 fewer than last season, and while their run in the CL was intoxicating, it was built on the back of two away-goal gifts. Believe me, I’m not denigrating the accomplishments, but it’s not as if Roma was bowling people over, so you would be right to be weary of assuming they’ve got it all figured out.
All of which is to say, the 2018-2019 season is a pivotal one for Di Francesco and Roma. 2017-2018 was always meant to be a transition year, one in which he was forced to make due with what he was given—dramatically overachieving in Europe in the process—but that excuse won’t hold water if the team slips up this fall. The expectations have been raised, the cupboards are being stripped bare and refinished in his image, and he now has full support of management.
If EDF truly is the man to satiate Roma’s hunger for glory, this is the year. The prepwork is being done to ensure last year wasn’t a fluke and now Di Francesco must deliver on that promise, otherwise he may find himself in football purgatory...I mean, Ligue 1.