Rudi García’s Roma are a strange animal. The temptation is always there to acknowledge them as a dangerous side, and at times they very nearly achieve that, but at the heart of that team there always exists the fundamental problem that they are just so beatable.
The latest side to take advantage of the Giallorossi’s weak will were Serie B side Spezia, who were able to knock their more illustrious opponents out of the Coppa Italia on penalties on Wednesday night after a scoreless draw at the Olimpico.
García was philosophical after this latest setback, admitting to the mass of gathered reporters:
“At the moment, something is missing and it isn’t just the injuries.”
That something would appear to be confidence and belief in their own convictions.
On the face of it their team is not bad. In fact with the likes of Daniele De Rossi, Edin Džeko and Miralem Pjanić on their books theirs is a starting eleven that is arguably at least on a par with the strongest in Serie A (with the exception of Juventus).
And yet they sit in fifth place, seven games without a win in all competitions and seven points behind league leaders Inter – nowhere near looking like the formidable title-chasers that they should be by now. Consecutive second place finishes in both of García’s previous seasons should have been the base for a stronger challenge this year, especially with champions, Juve, having made such a poor start, but it seems that if anything they are regressing mentally.
The fans have already made their feelings known. Following the team’s recent defeats to Barcelona and Atalanta the players turned up to training one morning to be greeted by a somewhat creative fan protest – 50kg of carrots and a banner that read: “Buon appetito conigli” (enjoy your meal, rabbits). The rabbit being a symbol of cowardice in Italy.
Attendances are dropping, boycotts are being organised, everyone from President James Pallotta to García to the players are being blamed; the atmosphere around the club is sinking into ever deepening pits of toxicity. It’s not even anger they feel anymore, it’s sheer indifference – and that is far greater a problem.
García has said he will “stay on and fight to the death” but it might be nearing the time where that decision will be taken away from him.
In many ways he is lucky to be at a club like Roma and not somewhere like Milan, who probably would have fired him three times over by now, but Pallotta must surely be losing his patience.
The manager deserves credit for building this team and for establishing them as the main challengers to Juventus in a short space of time, but the worry is that moderate competition and second place finish are the absolute best that can be achieved under García, and with the re-emergence of Napoli, Inter and Fiorentina they don’t even have their almost-guaranteed Champions League spot anymore.
Not that they have been making much of an impact in Europe when they have qualified. Roma have tended to fold disastrously in the Champions League under García. For a club that Pallotta is trying to establish as one that is strong in Europe, it’s hard to look past the 7-1 home demolition by Bayern Munich last season as well as the 6-1 humiliation in Barcelona last month.
That they qualified for the last 16 this year is more down to luck than anything else (as the meagre six points earned shows) and Real Madrid should be very confident of comprehensively knocking this Roma side out of Europe.
It’s hard to know whether or not García still has the dressing room. This “mea culpa” attitude that he, Pallotta and some of the players have adopted suggests that everyone at the club recognises that the problems extend beyond García’s management and as recently as three weeks ago sporting director Walter Sabatini was adamant that the man in charge now was there for the long haul. However, it’s also true that replacing a manager is far cheaper that replacing a squad.
The lack of viable alternatives at this time of year could help the beleaguered manager. Eusebio Di Francesco was one name mentioned but he would be highly unlikely to leave Sassuolo right now given the fantastic season they’re having, and while Carlo Ancelotti has made no secret of his admiration for his former club, he seems destined to replace Pep Guardiola at Bayern next year.
Marcello Lippi has indicated he is ready and willing to return to Serie A for the right job but, at 67, he really wouldn’t fit the long-term project of the Roma board – as an interim manager maybe but Pallotta and Sabatini would surely be extremely reluctant to go down that route unless the team’s form drops dramatically enough to warrant it.
It’s hard to see García surviving at the club going into next season. Realistically only a storming title charge and/or progression past Real Madrid (at least) in Europe will see him keep his job.
The players need to take a long, hard look at themselves too, though.
The club might call themselves the Wolves but right now the fans can only see rabbits.
Simon O’Keeffe, Pundit Arena