Before a ball has even been kicked in the upcoming Serie A season, I have already begun doubting my preseason predictions, specifically that Roma will end the season outside of the top five. But I don’t except all of the fault for this festering feeling of impending failure. Most of it goes to Roma’s front office for their flurry of great business at the end of this past transfer window.
A few weeks ago, I just could not see just what the plan was from the Giallorossi’s new chiefs, american owner Thomas DiBenedetto and new director of football Walter Sabatini. The pair came to power, hired an unproven coach and sold off some of their top players, including Jeremy Menez and Mirko Vucinic. It seemed an impossible task to assemble a team that could make a real scudetto challenge in less than a month’s time. But with the help of a flurry of deadline day purchases, that may just be what Roma has done.
Before the turbulence of the transfer window’s final day, the Giallorossi had already spent fairly heavily. A pair of talented young Argentinians joined the club, with the signings of striker Pablo Osvaldo from Espanyol and midfielder Erik Lamela from River Plate. In the previous season, Osvaldo scored 13 goals in 24 games for Spanish side Espanyol, so Roma will be looking to him to help supporters forget about the loss of Vucinic.
Perhaps I was already getting slightly nervous about my predictions before deadline day, but after the closing bell rang on August 31 I was wishing I could go back in time and reexamine my decisions. Roma made an enormous splash on the final day of the mercato. They spent around 10 millions euros on the talented young Bosnian attacking midfielder Miralem Pjanic from Lyon who could prove a dangerous player in Serie A. They also secured loan deals for Argentine midfielder Fernando Gago from Real Madrid, Danish defender Simon Kjaer from Wolfsburg and Italian startlet Fabio Borini from Parma. Suddenly, in a matter of a few hours, Roma has a deep and talented club who could easily push for a place in Europe.
The wildcard in all this, and the main reason I didn’t select Roma to finish in the top five, is their new coach Luis Enrique. Enrique is a former successful Spain international, but he has very little coaching experience, and no experience managing at a top flight club whatsoever. He comes to the capitol after leading the Barcelona B squad since 2008. Now, coaching in the Barcelona system is certainly nothing to laugh at, but the problem for someone thinking about a team’s potential is that we know very little about what kind of system or character Enrique will look to build in his team.
These questions swirling in my head about the quality of Roma’s new coach have not been answered, but with the squad Enrique now has to work with it is hard to believe that even someone with such little experience couldn’t make it into a winning team. And even though we lack the information needed to truly predict what kind of leader or tactician he may be, it is clear from his years at Barca, and Roma’s work in the transfer window, that the man has an intelligent football mind and he has a plan.
Hopefully, we will begin to get answers to some of these questions this Sunday, as Roma open their 2011-2012 campaign at the Stadio Olimpico against a Cagliari team clearly in turmoil. Cagliari finished 14th in the Serie A table last season and strangely sacked coach Roberto Donandoni in mid-August. This weekends match looks like a great opportunity for Enrique and Roma to get maximum points and start their journey with the wind at their back.
So what do you think? Do you think Roma can challenge for Europe? Or even for the scudetto?