Pragmatic and prudent Rudi Garcia helps AS Roma's new revolution
AS Roma have, for long, attempted to achieve that ultimate footballing ideal – to earn the right results, but also do so in style. This has proved easier said than done in the recent past, as the club have endured incessant changes that have seemingly put the club in transition continually.
However, in their latest appointment, French manager Rudi Garcia, they might just have found the man to finally strike the right balance.
Ever since the Sensi family handed over the ownership of the club to the Thomas Di Benedetto-led consortium, with James Pallotta as owner, two years ago, there has been a constant cycle of change, both managerially and structurally, at the club, with four coaches, each attempting to impose their own styles on the club, seeing little to no success before getting the boot.
After the failures of Luis Enrique and Zdenek Zeman, Aurelio Andreazzoli was elevated from assistant to caretaker manager to bring structure from the chaos that had befallen the side in the previous regimes. However, Andreazzoli was never expected to earn a full-time promotion, his departure becoming a surety after Roma’s home loss to rivals Lazio in the Coppa Italia and their sixth place Serie A finish.
Indecision in their transfer dealings meant that players were bought and then sold soon afterwards in great frequency. It was a shambles, until Garcia helped them regain some sense of stability. Inherently attacking in his ways on the field, yet pragmatic in his approach off it, the French manager was the right mix of his predecessors, and had achieved success with Lille only a couple of seasons ago.
“My objectives and football philosophy are without doubt offensive, but I am well aware that in order to win a game you also need an excellent defensive base,” he said. Nine games in, and he has backed up that claim, as Roma have conceded just one goal all season, that too without their best defender from last season, Marquinhos, while keeping more possession than all but one team in Serie A.
Garcia has revived Roma legend Francesco Totti by playing him in a more-central false nine role instead of pushing him onto the left flank, where he was stationed last term. Moving into pockets of space behind the backline while dropping deep at times, Totti has helped move defenders out of position and open up spaces for his teammates.
On the wing, attacking fullbacks Maicon and Federico Balzaretti have revelled in the freedom that they have been provided, spending a lot of their time higher up the field, putting an end ball to the side’s attacking movements. They have also helped the team maintain their width while the likes of Gervinho, Adem Ljajic and Alessandro Florenzi have made diagonal runs as inside forwards.
In midfield, Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman have formed a strong holding midfield partnership, while Miralem Pjanic has been in top form as the side’s creator, linking well with the defensive midfielders as well as the trio upfront in Roma’s 4-3-3 formation.
Strootman in specific has been a revelation after moving to the Serie A side over the summer, and has helped the team’s transition from defence to offence, while also providing his backline good protection. Many were expecting the Dutchman to pick a challenge that was grander in scale, given that numerous Premier League and La Liga teams were said to be chasing the 23-year-old this summer.
And while many sceptics in his native Netherlands saw his move to Roma as one that did not do complete justice to his abilities, the player has, by the looks of it, picked a project perfectly fitting for his development for the next few years.
The balance and protection that he has added to the side has helped out De Rossi immensely as well, as both midfielders have formed partnerships with either full-back, providing cover on the wings when one of them bomb forward. De Rossi, placed on the right side of the central midfield, has helped out Maicon, while Strootman has tended to the left flank in the absence of Balzaretti.
A great example was Strootman’s shift against Udinese last weekend, when he spent more time covering for the overlapping Balzaretti than through the centre of midfield.
Unfortunately, however, despite all the positives, this Roma side runs the risk of being dismantled in a few years’ time, just like Lille were after they had emerged as Ligue 1 champions and one of the continent’s brightest, young teams. In Rudi Garcia’s previous project, Adil Rami moved to Valencia, while Yohan Cabaye and Gervinho took their skills to the Premier League. Eden Hazard followed the pair to England after a power struggle for his services, while Moussa Sow left for Turkey.
Bigger teams, brighter futures and better paychecks will always tempt players to not settle for what they already have, reason why the likes of Strootman, Pjanic and Ljajic probably see their stint at Roma as merely a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
For football’s romantics, this harsh reality would be tough to digest. However, Rudi Garcia has proven that positivity can go hand in hand with pragmatism, the cause of Roma’s turnaround in fortunes, and a faultless start to the season.