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Posts Tagged ‘Luis Enrique’

Apologies for the recent paucity of updates, but a busy festive season will do that to a man. I’m looking to get back into the swing of things from today onwards so that I can give AS Roma the attention they deserve. Here’s my take on their Spanish revolution.

The Luis Enrique project has interested me from day one. Thomas DiBenedetto took ownership in April and soon disposed of caretaker manager Vincenzo Montella. In came ex-Barcelona player Luis Enrique, followed by swathes of Spanish-based players (Bojan, Fernando Gago, etc.) and the likes of Maarten Stekelenburg and Miralem Pjanic.

Wholesale changes were made with 19 players coming and going to and from the Stadio Olimpico. Roma spent over €70m on players last summer (offset by €26m worth of sales), but all this on-field arrivals were secondary to the new man in the dugout.

Enrique’s only management experience had been with Barcelona’s B team. He managed the Catalans’ second string from 2008 to 2011, bringing them to heights that even his now-illustrious predecessor, Josep Guardiola, couldn’t reach. Barca B finished in the Segunda Division’s playoff places in Enrique’s last season, representing an all-time high for the Mini Estadi side.

Essentially, Roma had brought in a man whose track record was even better than Guardiola, who now ranks among world football’s most successful managers. Enrique and Guardiola were cut from the same cloth: both were Blaugrana favourites who’d cut their teeth with the reserve team. Enrique’s appointment naturally caused a lot of excitement, given how well Guardiola has done since moving up the managerial ladder.

That’s not to say there wasn’t apprehension. As encouraging as the Guardiola/Enrique parallels were, Enrique was still a vastly inexperienced manager who’d be operating in a league that typically places tactical intelligence over flair and trickery. Roma’s squad, additionally, was ageing and seemingly unsuited to Enrique’s vision, and the Giallorossi would have to deal with the disharmony caused by widespread personnel changes from day one.

Roma had big plans. Enrique describes himself as “an offensive coach who looks good football,” echoing the Barcelona philosophy. “We chose Enrique for symbolic reasons,” said Roma’s Sporting Director, Walter Sabatini. “Enrique represents an idea of football that we would like to follow, which imposes itself today through Spain and Barcelona… I was looking for someone outside of Italian football. Uncontaminated.”

A bold, brave stance from both men. Taking influence from the Rinus Michels-inspired tiki-taka philosophy, Roma became a unique project in Italy. A league traditionally based on getting results at all costs now featured a man who saw attacking football as the only way to play. Things were about to get interesting.

Enrique’s Roma made a slow start and claimed just two points from their opening fixtures against Cagliari, Inter and Siena. The Giallorossi won just three games by the start of November, and Enrique’s job was already under threat by mid-December.

Roma’s teething problems were understandable and inevitable. It’s impossible to achieve instant fluency with such a high player turnover, regardless of the who’s in the dugout. The players, additionally, needed more time to adapt to a completely new style of play, and Roma’s defenders often look all-at-sea. Players were out of position, Pjanic became an overworked creative outlet and having too many attackers in one area often stifled forward play.

This was always going to be a long-term project and it should surprise nobody that Roma are still finding their feet. Enrique is still learning the trade and his team are still adapting to his ideas. It’ll be a while before Roma reach full potential and Enrique’s boys have plenty of trials and tribulations ahead of them.

Recent signs, however, have been very encouraging. Roma drew 1-1 with Antonio Conte’s unbeaten Juventus on December 12th, and followed-up with a superb 3-1 victory in Naples six days later.

Both games exhibited everything the Giallorossi had been lacking. They’d become accustomed to dominating possession without getting results, but took points from two very strong sides with less than 50% of the ball. Roma became ruthless, took their few chances and played with the fire and grinta they’d been lacking.

“Enrique has become Italianised,” said the critics. “He had to become like us in order to win.” Nonsense, I say. Roma won an ugly game with Napoli, yes, but it wasn’t because Enrique had abandoned his ethos: he <I>adapted</I> it.

I always cringe when I here coaches say “we will play like Barca.” Barcelona’s proactive approach is admirable, exciting and successful, but you can’t just mimic another team’s style and expect to win. Messi, Xavi & co. have spent most of their lives living by the Barcelona philosophy. For them it’s not just a playing system, it’s a way of life. It’s impossible to completely recreate without years and years of work from a grassroots level upwards.

Ex-Argentina boss Sergio Batista learned this the hard way after last year’s disastrous Copa America campaign, but Enrique is too smart to fall into the same trap. Roma’s displays against Napoli and Juve demonstrate this. Enrique saw that certain elements weren’t functioning as he’d like, so he tweaked his gameplan. The goal is still to use elements of Enrique’s Barca education to forge a new playing style, but the means of achieving this needed to be altered.

Enrique has not conformed to Italian football but identified his system’s weaknesses and acted accordingly. Roma were dominant in their next fixture (a 2-0 win at Bologna), recording 71% possession and putting their opponents to the sword accordingly. The plan is coming to fruition.

Gian Piero Gasperini tried to force his preferred system on Inter without considering his players’ strength and weaknesses. Enrique is taking the smart manager’s approach of tweaking his vision to accommodate his players’ attributes, much like Chelsea’s Andre Villas-Boas. He can only work with what he’s got at the moment, and it’ll probably take another summer mercato before he can acquire his ideal type of player.

This is why I respect Luis Enrique. He has a clear vision of what he wants to do with Roma, but he’s clever enough to realise that his mission will take time and a consideration of his available resources. This is a man who knows exactly what he wants to accomplish: commend Luis Enrique for his adaptability, don’t accuse him of becoming “Italianised.”

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… okay, the next couple of weeks will be busier than expected. It’s the holiday season, so I’m going to stretch “Roma Week” out until Serie A’s winter break ends on January 8th. This’ll give me plenty of time to produce content and enjoy the season in equal measure.

I looked at Roma’s recent fortunes in this week’s edition of my Serie A Weekly column, so click here for my appraisal of the most interesting project in calcio today.

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Associazione Sportiva Roma were founded in 1927 as the result of a merger between three existing Roman clubs: Roman F.C., Alba-Audace Roma and Fortitudo Pro Roma. Italo Foschi, a secretary for the National Fascist Party, who wanted Rome to have a larger club to challenge dominant northern sides like Genoa and Pro Vercelli, initiated the merger.

The club settled in the working class region of Testaccio, building an all-wooden stadium there (the Campo Testaccio) in 1929. Thrown straight into the top tier, Roma didn’t become a success side until Serie A’s second official season (1930-31). A team featuring Italian internationals like Fulvio Bernardini (who I covered a few weeks ago) and Attilio Ferraris finished second to Juventus, preceding a credible third-place finish in 1931-32.

A slump in league form saw most of Roma’s high-profile players depart, and they were forced into a rebuilding process in the mid-1930s. Enrique Guaita, an Argentine-born forward, was among those who joined, and his goals helped fire Roma back towards the top. In 1935-36, coached by the Scudetto-winning ex-Casale player Luigi Barbesino, Roma finished second to Bologna by just a single point.

Goal-getter: Amedeo Amadei.

Roma’s inconsistency resurfaced and the Giallorossi (“yellow-reds”) finished as low as 10th the following season. Their first title win in 1941-42 came as a huge surprise, as the capital city side had finished 11th the year before despite making the Coppa Italia final. 18 goals from star striker Amedeo Amadei helped Roma to a three-point advantage over runners-up Torino.

Again Roma struggled to establish dominance. They finished 9th a year after winning the title and continued to struggle after Serie A’s post-World War II resumption in 1946. They went into a slump, never finishing above 15th between 1946 and 1951. They were relegated after a wretched 1950-51 campaign saw them finished 19th, although the league was tight and they were just seven points behind ninth-place Udinese.

The Serie A exodus didn’t last long, however, and Roma won promotion at the first time of asking under future Azzurri coach Giuseppe Viani’s tutelage. 1951-52 remains Roma’s only season outside of the top flight to date.

The Giallorossi slowly re-established themselves as a top-half side, and achieved yet another second-place finish in 1954-55 with Englishman Jesse Carver at the helm. Originally Roma had finished third, but they were bumped to runners-up when second-place Udinese were relegated after a betting scandal.

Unable to establish themselves as one of Italy’s top sides, Roma’s up-and-down Serie A fortunes continued. They did achieve some success in cup competitions, however, and won the 1961 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (a precursor to the UEFA Cup/Europa League). They beat Birimingham City 4-2 in the final, and won their first Coppa Italia three years later with a win over Torino.

A second Coppa Italia followed in 1969 as Roma continued to fluctuate around Serie A’s midtable. The 1970s were just as successful on the cup front, but Roma never finished above third in Serie A. During this period they added the 1972 Anglo-Italian Cup and 1979-80 Coppa Italia to their trophy room, before finishing as Serie A’s runners-up in 1980-81.

Bruno Conti, an exceptionally quick and skilful winger, was among Roma’s star players at the time. His Roma career lasted from 1973 to 1990, and he even managed the club after Luigi Delneri’s departure in the 2004-05 season. Conti made a total of 372 Serie A appearances in his career and won 47 Italy caps, scoring five goals. Today he works as Roma’s Director of Football.

The Giallorossi had been within touching distance of the Scudetto on plenty of occasions, and the hunger for gold was returning. The Eternal City exploded into celebration at the end of the 1982-83 season when a dominant Roma side won Serie A with games to spare.

Roma were unable to repeat the feat in 1983-84, finishing second, but they did manage to win the 1984 Coppa Italia. They also competed in the 1984 European Cup (Champions League) final, taking a feared and respected Liverpool side to a penalty shootout that the English side went on to win.

Yet another Coppa Italia win came in 1985-86, but Roma’s league form was slumping again. By 1991 they’d added another Coppa Italia and put forth a losing effort in that year’s UEFA Cup final, but Roma were regularly finishing 8th and 9th in Serie A. To this day they’ve never been able to establish themselves as the number one side in Italy, often following-up Scudetto victories with season of mediocrity.

The 2000s marked a shift in Roma’s fortunes as the club splashed-out on big money signings like Gabriel Batistuta, Hidetoshi Nakata, Walter Samuel and Brazilian midfielder Emerson. 2000-01 was hugely successful, and Roma won their third Scudetto with a 3-1 last-day win over Parma.

Roman hero: Francesco Totti.

Captain and local hero Francesco Totti emerged as a true Roman icon around this time, and his performances were instrumental in the club’s success. I don’t even need to explain the phenomenon that Totti has become. He’s a unique player, one of the finest of his generation, and one that the Giallorossi will struggle to replace when he leaves or retires.

Roma continued to spend big. Aldair, Cafu, and Vincenzo Montella had already arrived at the club, and enfant terrible Antonio Cassano signed for €30 the following season. The Giallorossi finished second in 2001-02, missing out on a fourth Scudetto by a single point, but did capture that year’s Supercoppa.

Big financial troubles surfaced in 2002-03, an inevitable result of the previous couple of seasons’ big spending. Batistuta was loaned to Inter to cover his wages, and Cafu was released to AC Milan. Christian Chivu’s 2003 signing was delayed and only secured by the FIGC’s own money. Roma, however, slowly recovered. More shares were released onto the stock market, and approximately €80m was injected into the club in order to keep it afloat.

Roma have continued as calcio’s perennial nearly men ever since. They’ve won a further two Coppa Italia’s since 2003 and finished as Serie A runners-up an astonishing five times. This season they’ve undergoing something of a revolution under new American owner Thomas Di Benedetto and manager Luis Enrique. The transition to a slick, possession-based team hasn’t been easy, but things are finally starting to pick up for Roma. I’ll have more on that tomorrow.

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