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Di Francesco lifting Roma to new heights

Milan (AFP) – Eusebio Di Francesco has stamped his mark on AS Roma during a rollercoaster first season which has seen the side from the capital return to the Champions League semi-finals for the first time in 34 years.

The fast-talking 48-year-old, whose reputation is one of an astute tactician with a talent for attractive attacking football, replaced Luciano Spalletti, who departed for Inter Milan after a second-placed Serie A finish in 2016-17.

Taking over a side missing retired club legend Francesco Totti, Di Francesco has set about moulding the club to his style, as they sit third in Serie A and are into the Champions League final four for the first time in over three decades.

They come up against Liverpool — over two legs starting in Anfield on Tuesday — a side who dramatically beat them on penalties in the 1984 European Cup final in the Stadio Olimpico.

“Now we’re all convinced that we have the best coach we could possible have,” said club sporting director Monchi after Roma shocked Barcelona 3-0 at the Stadio Olimpico to secure a 4-4 aggregate draw and reach the semi-finals on away goals. 

“It’s his victory.”

For that game, Di Francesco switched for the first time to a three-man defence from his favoured 4-3-3 formation.

“The difference for me was Di Francesco, he changed a lot of things and he got it spot on,” said captain Daniele De Rossi.

Named after the legendary Portuguese player Eusebio, football is a family tradition with Di Francesco’s 23-year-old son Federico a talented midfielder with Serie A rivals Bologna.

He is often compared to Jurgen Klopp for his coaching style and dress sense, standing on the sidelines dressed in tailored suits and wearing colourful hipster glasses. 

Di Francesco says his managerial style is a mixture of Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte. 

“I like Ancelotti’s calmness and the relationship he can establish with his players,” said Di Francesco.

“Conte is very good from the motivational point of view and is a great worker on the training pitch. I think I’m in the middle of the two.”

Despite insisting he wants to make football fun and a joy for his players, Di Francesco is also a disciplinarian.

He does not hesitate to take tough measures when required as Belgian Radja Nainggolan learned when he was dropped after a boisterous New Year Eve’s celebration.

Di Francesco learned his skills during his playing career with Roma from 1997-2001 when he helped the club to the last of their three Scudetto titles in 2001.

He had a reputation as a hard working and consistent midfielder whose presence in the dressing room was vital for the success of the group.

In his four years with Roma, Di Francesco made 129 appearances, scoring 16 goals and earning 12 call-ups to the Italian national team. 

The Pescara native’s career would eventually take him to Piacenza and Perugia after getting his start at Empoli and Lucchese. 

After he retired he returned to Roma for the 2005-06 season as the team’s operations manager where he was inspired to begin his own coaching career. 

His coaching career would begin at Virtus Lanciano and, after impressing there and with Pescara, after a short spell at Lecce he would make his name with Sassuolo.

Di Francesco guided the club from Modena in northern Italy from the obscurity of Serie B to the Europa League, finishing the 2015-16 campaign in sixth. 

“Di Francesco is one of the coaches who have made Italian football more attractive with his Sassuolo side,” said Spalletti.

In 2017, Roma approached Di Francesco a third time — after player, operations manager, he took over as head coach and given the scope to implement all he had learned to guide the club to even greater heights.

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