How Roma Can Conquer Serie A

Colin O'BrienContributor IFebruary 13, 2014

ROME, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 22:  Rudi Garcia head coach and Daniele De Rossi of Roma celebrate the victory after the Serie A match between AS Roma and SS Lazio at Stadio Olimpico on September 22, 2013 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)
Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

It's a case of lots done, more to do at Roma. Since taking charge last year, president James Pallotta has steadied the course of the American project in the Italian capital, and though the Lupi have failed to keep pace with Juventus in the championship this season, the signs for long-term success are encouraging.

The fact that there's a sense of deflation around Roma's inability to challenge Juventus for the league this term is a classic example of how fickle—and unrealistic—football fans and commentators can be.

After a disastrous season in 2012-13, Roma looked like a shambles, albeit one that had already cost quite a lot of money to assemble. There was clearly potential in the squad, but Luis Enrique, Zdenek Zeman and Aurelio Andreazzoli failed to unlock it. The Giallorossi had an aimless air to them, and it was difficult to see them challenging at home or abroad in the short to medium term.

Fast forward a few months, and they were on a record-setting unbeaten run in the league, scoring for fun and hardly ever conceding. The transformation was incredible, in the truest sense of the word. Had you told most fans in the Curva Sud that their side would be sitting comfortably in second come February, with a return to the Champions League in their sights, they'd have looked at you a little skeptically. Some might even have laughed. And yet, there they are.

Now it's time for them to make the final step up and become what they've always had the potential to be: one of Europe's top clubs.

The Giallorossi have long had the latent, untapped ability to achieve more than they've managed, on and off the field. They've only won three titles in their history, but a look at the number of times they've finished runner-up paints a more accurate picture of their stature in the Italian game. It was always harder for teams from central and southern Italy to succeed in Serie A, but Roma have usually managed to keep within touching distance of the big Milan teams and Juventus.

Support for the club runs deep in the city and beyond, and given Rome's enviable position as one of the world's great tourist destinations, it's a mystery as to why that huge market of visitors has as of yet not been targeted properly. Clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United in England have shown how valuable visiting fans can be, and there's no reason why the club can't attract more foreign fans to the games and create a new, lucrative revenue stream.

The lack of their own stadium is the only obstacle to that goal. There have been plans for an English-style, Roma-owned venue since the days of Rosella Sensi, but although the current American owners have committed themselves to the project, there still hasn't been any ground broken. The sooner that changes, the better.

Juventus' new stadium is rightly the envy of Italy, and it gives the Bianconeri a considerable commercial advantage over their rivals. On top of making match days much more attractive propositions, owning the ground means that the club wouldn't have to pay rent to the local commune, or in the case of Roma, the Italian Olympic Committee, CONI. The cost of renting the Olimpico from CONI has long been a bone of contention in the capital, both for Roma and Lazio, and in the past the Aquile have threatened to register in Florence, and play in the Stadio Artemio Franchi instead.

 On the pitch, it's more a case of refining what is already an excellent squad. A few important additions over the summer would give Rudi Garcia a squad capable of winning the league and reaching the latter stages of the Champions League, as the Frenchman now only lacks depth.

As far as starting XIs go, there's not much different between Roma and a side like Juventus. The defensive partnership of Mehdi Benatia and Leandro Castan has been one of the most impressive and consistent on the continent this season, and Daniele De Rossi, Kevin Strootman, Miralem Pjanic and the recently-arrived Radja Nainggolan would make it into almost any top midfield.

Gervinho's renaissance at the hands of his old coach from his Lille days has made him a constant goal threat, and Francesco Totti continues to defy critics and his age by consistently performing like few others can. There's also an exciting core of youth at the club, and players like Mattia Destro and Adem Ljajic can only improve.

The difference between the Giallorossi and a scudetto-winning side is only clear when changes must be made. Their stretch of consecutive wins came to a halt thanks to a couple of injuries, and the recent Coppa Italia loss to Napoli showed a frailty that is a concern, that is to say, there's still no plan B. 

If one or two of Roma's key players are injured or playing poorly, the whole unit grinds to a halt. Bringing in a couple of world-class players in the summer would change that and give the manager more options and the depth he'll need to deal with a domestic and a continental campaign. 

After that, Roma just need to stick to the plan—it's obviously working—and hold on to their best players. Last term they lost Marquinhos and Erik Lamela to big bids from abroad, and in both cases, the sales were perhaps justified. But they can't do business like that every year if they want to contend, because the game's biggest teams don't sell their best players. 

Pjanic, Gervinho, Strootman and at least one of the defenders will likely be the subject of a lot of transfer speculation come the end of the season. The club needs to stand firm and tell the would-be suitors to look elsewhere. Because as much as becoming a big team and overtaking Juventus is about planning and considered investment, it's also about attitude. Roma need to act like a top club to become one.