Roma Eye Serie A Title, but Can They Handle the Pressure?

Andy BrassellFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2014

Ashley Cole has been one of a host of eye-catching signings for Roma this summer.
Ashley Cole has been one of a host of eye-catching signings for Roma this summer.Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

If Roman skies looked blue before, they are positively cloudless now.

The optimism accrued during Rudi Garcia’s first season in charge of AS Roma, when a highly improbable runners-up spot in Serie A was secured, has been further augmented by a rewarding opening month to the transfer window.

Having already secured the vast Champions League-winning experience of Ashley Cole and Seydou Keita, as well as the versatile Urby Emanuelsonall for freethe Giallorossi showed to exactly what extent they mean business in 2014/15 by completing a €22 million deal to sign Juan Manuel Iturbe.

The 21-year-old Argentinian is an explosive talent and was a huge hit during his debut season in Italy with Verona.

Moreover, Roma had seen off serious competition. Last season, ESPN FC and Sky Sports indicated they were beating rivals Napoli to the signings of Radja Nainggolan and Michel Bastos, respectively. This time, BBC Sport suggests they trumped champions Juventus in snaring Iturbe.

Iturbe will have plenty of help in midfield. Salih Ucan, probably the finest young talent in Turkish football, has joined him, moving from Fenerbahce.

Meanwhile, Kevin Strootman joined the squad on their U.S. tour this week as he continues his recovery from a cruciate knee ligament injury.

They all want to be part of Garcia’s stimulating vision, it seems. The conductor of the orchestra, Miralem Pjanic, signed a new deal in spring tying him in until 2018.

Even Mehdi Benatia, Serie A’s outstanding defender last year, who was heavily linked with Manchester City and Chelsea by The Guardian, is still there for now.

Perhaps the best news for Roma this summer, however, is from outside the corridors of the Stadio Olimpico.

The exit of manager Antonio Conte makes Juve look curiously vulnerable all of a sudden, a feeling that has not at all been quelled by his swift replacement by unpopular former Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri.

The medium to long-term implications for the Bianconeri remain to be seen, and we may wonder if they can convince players of Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal’s quality of their continuing ambition in the wake of Allegri’s arrival, given his struggles to help Milan impose themselves in Europe.

What it does most of all, though, is provide a glimmer of hope. Conte’s Juventus were more than imperious. They were relentless and ruthless, indefatigable and equipped with an unquenchable spirit.

Roma’s 85 points last season would have been enough to win Serie A in each of the four seasons before Juve started their current title run, but it left them 17 points short of the top.

If you’re convinced that Roma are favourites, maybe we should take stock for a second.

As a surprise package last season, they wildly exceeded all hopes. Now, there is expectation.

Coach Rudi Garcia must prove that an excellent 2013/14 was no flash in the pan.
Coach Rudi Garcia must prove that an excellent 2013/14 was no flash in the pan.Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

There is also a potentially taxing Champions League campaign, with Cole and Keita (along with native legends Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi) key in helping the squad to mentallyas well as physically process a busy fixture treadmill.

Garcia will have his challenges too. Having impressed with the freshness of his ideas and attractive football last season, he will need to continue to engage his players this term.

He has also had good board backing this time—as opposed to with the losses of Erik Lamela, Marquinhos and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo—which he must repay.

Ultimately, Roma will have to cope with a whole load of pressure that wasn’t there at the start of last season. Garcia’s success in keeping them focused on the road that has got them this far will determine whether they can make a real fight of the Scudetto this season.