Why Rudi Garcia Is Not the Answer to All of Roma's Problems
Another season, another coach on the Roma bench. After what seemed like an eternity, Rudi Garcia was announced as the Giallorossi's new manager at a press conference, following a season that promised much and delivered nothing but heartache.
In attendance that day, the club's director of football, the CEO and the president. It was big news here in Italy, but it happened in New York. Which is probably just as well, because only one of the four men present spoke Italian.
This is one of Serie A's most supported clubs, a team with perhaps the most visceral, complicated and passionate connection to its fans and its city. And at the moment, it's hard to imagine those in charge being any farther away.
It's not just the language barrier, though it doesn't help. Nor is it the fact that the business side of things is being run, for the most part, on the other side of the world.
Foreign involvement isn't always a bad thing and since taking over, the American consortium who bought the club from Rosella Sensi have invested considerable sums in the transfer market and made some big plans. But the positive turn-around has yet to come, and doubts remain about the direction in which the club is heading. Something, it seems, is being lost in translation.
No matter what they do, Roma seem stuck. Perennial losers. Hardly surprising, as hard times hit the Sensi family elsewhere and left little money for investment on pitch. But since changing hands, the club is in rude health financially, which makes the lack of progress difficult to understand.
They finished the 2009-10 season as runners up to Inter, but the year after they struggled to sixth after parting ways with Claudio Ranieri and putting faith in Vincenzo Montella, the former striker promoted from his role coaching the youth team.
When the new owners arrived, L'Aeroplanino was among the first out the door. This was to be a revolution, and new blood was needed. Faith was placed in Barcelona's Luis Enrique and with a host of new faces on the playing roster, great things were expected. They failed to materialise. The Giallorossi limped to seventh and Enrique was on his merry way.
Next up, Zdenek Zeman. More new players, same old disappointing results. The Czech was dismissed, and Aurelio Andreazzoli was given the unenviable tasking of steadying the ship for the rest of the season.
He managed little better, finishing sixth and presiding over a Coppa Italia loss to rivals Lazio that will haunt the club and its supporters for years to come.
In the meantime, Montella lead Catania to their best ever league position in his first full season as a coach, earning himself a chance on the Fiorentina bench, where he's crafted an entertaining and effective side that finished above Roma in the league with a wage bill less than half that being paid out by his under-performing former employers.
The board wanted a fresh face with new ideas to lead Roma's renaissance, and they fired him at the first opportunity, without ever really considering him. Every decision taken since has had a similarly ill-fated air to it.
Enrique was unprepared and ill-equipped for life on the hottest of Italian hot seats. Now the coach at Celta Vigo, time will tell if he has the potential to be a great manager, but from the very beginning the idea of building a Barcelona 2.0 in the Italian capital was flawed.
Roma is a club equally rich in traditions and weighed down by expectations. Hiring a manager from the current en vogue outfit in world football was not going to be enough to secure success. That much must have been obvious to anyone with even a modicum of understanding of the game. Trying to transplant the ideas and ideals of the Catalan giants only made matters worse.
But if hiring Enrique was foolishly idealistic but done for the right reasons, then Zeman's employment was impossibly mismatched.
Zeman is a cult figure at the club, and in Italy in general. His arrival pleased elements of the hard-core support who have always pined for his return, and won favour for those in charge. After that, it was a roll of the dice. Sure, his commitment to youth development and direct, attacking football was easy to fall for, but he was never going to be given the time to make any of it matter. He didn't fit Boston's idea of what the club should be.
There was too much belligerence in the way he dealt with criticism, too much self-assured indifference to other people's opinions. Too much history, threatening to consume the present. Too many enemies. And far too many cigarettes.
He was a marketing nightmare. Which, of course, is of critical importance these days at Trigoria. Or Boston. Or New York. Or wherever the club's being run from.
This is an operation that's almost truculent in the way it promotes itself. A club that tweets incessantly about what board members are up to, that prides itself on being “First on Pintrest!”, that re-designs its crest with all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop, because someone was worried that their fans didn't actually know what city they were based in. That's the actual reason they gave for the change. No joke (for ye of little faith, it's the two-minute mark here.)
All of that would be fine, if the club was competing for the league. A force in Europe. Quantifiably on the right track. But it's not. There's an awkwardness to the bombast, because for all the talk about building Roma into one of the world's leading sides, to those suffering in the stands it still resembles an under-achieving sleeping giant, languishing indeterminably in the mid-table.
To make matters worse, Franco Baldini's resignation means that the management of the club now falls to CEO Italo Zanzi, a successful businessman and attorney, but one with no experience in Italian football.
Baldini gave the new owners a certain creditability in Italy. He had been the late Franco Sensi's loyal lieutenant and is a man for whom Roma represents more than just a job. The Italian was brought in to help shape a new Roma and to change the landscape of calcio in general, but during the course of his second stint in the Italian capital, he saw his power diluted and his opinions ignored.
After two disappointing years, someone had to pay. That's the nature of football, ridiculous and counter-productive though it often is. But it shouldn't have been Baldini. The 52-year-old is a man of integrity and intelligence, capable of running a major business and yet humble enough to understand that to the fans, that business represents more than just a balance sheet.
It's been a difficult beginning for Roma's new owners. Mistakes have been made and without wanting to sound overly critical, a good look in the mirror would do certain members of the board a world of good.
There are a lot of pros to the American's modern take on how to run an Italian football club, but the baby shouldn't be thrown out with the bath water. Roma needed modernising, but changing too much can do more harm than not changing anything.
Rudi Garcia is a positive change. He arrives in Rome after five successful years at Lille, having achieved great things and played good football while doing it.
Maybe the new French manager will make all the difference. Perhaps he'll bring an air of French cool, a laissez faire attitude that takes the pressure down a notch and stops his side from imploding at the very first sign of trouble. But don't hold your breadth.
Speaking to the Gazzetta dello Sport (in English, via football-italia.net), Garcia hit on the subject of language. “I know it is very important to express yourself in the home language," he said. "You’ll see that I will be fluent soon."
It's not just about the language, but if Garcia settles in and adapts to Roman life soon, things might start to look more promising. At the moment, however, the gap between those in charge and those in the stands couldn't be any bigger—and a manager can't change all that.
Garcia's comments should resonate with his new employers. A desire to understand what is wanted and needed in Rome, and to express ideas clearly in a way that can be understood by everyone, is desperately needed farther up the food chain. Pallotta is keen on the cliche that "Rome wasn't built in a day," and that's true. But there should be a lot more to show for two years of work.
Bienvenue, Rudi. Let's hope it doesn't end up being adieu anytime soon.
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