As a new-era begins at AS Roma, Adam Summerton suggests new head-coach Eusebio Di Francesco has been dealt a very good hand
It was one of the worst kept secrets in Italian football, but when Eusebio Di Francesco’s appointment as Roma head coach was finally confirmed, my first thought was ‘what a great opportunity’. He inherits a talented and reasonably well-balanced squad that, under Luciano Spalletti, has just set a club-record Serie A points tally and achieved automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League. He joins a club with a very ambitious owner who continues to pursue, with great vigour, a new stadium project that could make a huge difference to Roma’s chances of long-term success. I’d also highlight the presence of Monchi as someone many in football would be keen to work with.
Yes, there’s much work to do to close the gap on Juventus, but Roma appear in safe hands and with much to be excited and optimistic about in what will be viewed by many as the ‘post-Totti’ era. It’s also arguable that Il Capitano’s recent departure provides an opportunity in itself. A truly magnificent footballer who has deserved all the plaudits he’s received, but while, simply because of age, his on-pitch significance has decreased significantly over the last few seasons, the political challenges brought by his presence only seemed to increase.
A player so revered and iconic – managing the winding down of his career must’ve been very difficult for all concerned – and there’s no doubt at all in my mind that it was a continual distraction and frustration for Luciano Spalletti in particular. You only had to look at how weary he became of questions on Totti’s playing time and future in press conferences. Some will say Spalletti could’ve managed the situation better, or more sensitively, others will feel he was put in a no-win situation, but whatever your view is, it is surely hard to argue that the whole situation wasn’t, at best, a distraction, and, at worst, de-stabilising. Many in Di Francesco’s position, while rightly respectful of the immeasurable contribution made by Totti to the club’s history, would surely feel an understandable sense of relief that what had become such a thorny political issue was concluded ahead of their arrival.
So significant was Totti’s presence that his departure also adds to the sense of a new era at Roma, something that Di Francesco will hope promotes patience. Ironically though it is a significant link to the past that will perhaps endear Di Francesco most to followers of the Giallorossi. A Scudetto winner alongside Totti in the 2000/01 season, it remains the club’s most-recent league title. A side that played some great football under Fabio Capello, who skilfully crafted a system and style of play that cleverly maximised the best talents of those available to him.
The same challenge is now laid down to Di Francesco, who must surely be enthused and invigorated by the opportunity to recreate that sort of success at his old club. What’s also significant is that he is able to do this with the knowledge that the style of play he implemented so adeptly and successfully at Sassuolo has been described as the “right fit for Roma” by Club President James Pallotta. Also endorsed and personally singled out by Monchi, Di Francesco begins life at the Olimpico in a very strong position and with the knowledge that he was Roma’s first-pick to take the club forward – we’d be hard-pressed to say the same about his predecessors’ position at Inter. Spalletti has left Roma in good shape though, indeed I think history could actually end up judging his second spell far more favourably than the present does, particularly if Di Francesco is able build on some very solid foundations and take the opportunity he has undoubtedly earned.