I have no idea what this image has to do with anything
And so on to the next grand issue. The midfield. Last year saw Pizarro playing a season which was a bit like Ridley Scott's 79-84 period, absolute unrepeatable gold. I think if there's one player getting the credit for how well Roma did last year in the second half of the campionato, that's him. In terms of performances, he was the best regista in Italy, no less.
There was little doubt around Chili Smurf's being the starter again this year. I didn't agree with that, and that's why I was advocating the purchase of a new regista. In fact, I hold that this is where all the energies and resources should have been invested - not on Adriano, but in getting our hands on a regista who could truly break the mould. If you've really got to FOLLOW THE GLITZ, at least do so where it matters, in the part of the field where it's really needed. It was simply impossible to expect Pizarro to have another season at the same levels, and as far as I was concerned, it would have been great to have had him coming off the bench.
Management decided not to change this particular starter because GOOD FACTORS ARE A CONSTANT, and what else is there to say? When Pizarro went down like Apollo 13, it turns out that the most useful and functional pawn we grabbed over the entire summer mercato is, yo there bro, Simplicio, the closest thing to a regista we've got. In fairness to management, they did at least do *something* here, unlike with Riise, where they sat on the dynamite scratching their bellies. Still, Simplicio was intended as an airbag, as a safety measure for those times when Pizarro had to be rested in view of the Champions League games. Imagine if instead we'd invested on, say, Andrea Poli. As well as the performances, what kind of prospects would that offer for the next three years?
Instead, looking at the team entering the field to play Catania made me want to cry. Cassetti, Taddei, even Perrotta, and Totti, who had the most precipitous fall of form this year. All of the names whose role was to provide speed and dynamism to the team (except for Menez) were slow and dehydrated. Ranieri's been a mixed bag tactically, alternating some strokes of genius like taking off Totti and De Rossi to win the derby with some monumental fuck-ups like, well, much of the first half of this season. But one thing I don't like is his football philosophy, which weds itself perfectly to that of the higher strata of management. Like the upper echelons, Ranieri believes that OLD IS BETTER THAN NEW, and so he'll let someone like Cerci go die in Fiorentina because he prefers playing Taddei. I actually don't mind Taddei as long as he's used sparingly, and I was in awe of him in the 2006-07 season (second best player of that year after Totti, even more impressive than De Rossi). But not in 2011, goddamn it!! At least not in a team which is meant to compete for the Scudetto.
(I should also add that I'm one of the staunch defenders of Cerci, and that I realise this is a subjective matter. But yes, Cerci, like Andreolli, required patience and trust. Neither were given, and I can't blame him for leaving. If he becomes a starter for the Azzurri before the next World Cup I'll be the last to be surprised - there's so few Italian players in his specific role).
Anyway, Ranieri seems to have no problem building his teams around a very slow core, leaving the forwards kind of fending off for themselves. Unsurprisingly, the other midfielder he gave away aside from Cerci was Guberti, who was the 'other' fast midfielder we had. His tactics, for what little I've seen of them this season, seem something like "Toss that dang ball to Menez and wait till that frog-swallowing baby-faced Hugh Laurie invents something." For the rest, all of his midfielders seem to be muscular, substantial types, the kind who could be bouncers outside clubs (last November I was walking drunk through Rue de Chatelet in Paris and I walked up to this bouncer outside a pub and hoarsely yelled, 'Get out of my way, I'm someone important!' I was subject to the same identical foul that De Rossi pulled on Brian McBride in 2006). It's no cause of wonder that Greco flourished this year. There's something funny about the idea of a Greco-DeRossi-Brighi panroman midfield, but it's not really how teams should be built when they're fighting in the Champions League, where speedy football usually gets the edge.
Actually, the Champions League is the one most underestimated factor of the year. I haven't seen a single prediction which seriously took it into account as a major variable. I'm going to quote myself again, this time from the preview to Roma's 2009-2010 season, written before the summer:
The common opinion is that Roma’s objective will be to regain the fourth place. This is true, but in this case the objective belies the potential. People tend to underestimate the difference in mental and physical energy that results from playing or not playing in the Champions League. Roma, being the only great team to be excluded from that competition, will enjoy a considerable advantage over its competitors in the race for the Scudetto. We do not exaggerate when we say that next year Roma could actually win it, if luck is on their side and the referees stop gracing the big three. Roma Club Focus, 11/06/2009.
The fact that we weren't playing in the Champions League is perhaps the biggest reason why we almost won the Scudetto last year. It's the reason Inter dropped a thirteen-point lead, busy thinking about Chelsea and Barcelona. This year, the same conditions do not apply. Incredibly, no-one in either the management or the media seem to have made much of this. Roma's objectives for 2011 were drawn out as though there had been no major shift in conditions - and playing in the Champions League is a GIGANTIC differential. I'd call this an example of the GOOD FACTORS ARE A CONSTANT faux pas, but the blind spot seems to have been so widespread that I hesitate to blame it entirely on Sensi & co.
Sadly, perspectives are not too bright this year either. The team in theory has the talent to compete for the Scudetto now that it has (kind of) stabilised itself, but the tax of playing in the Champions League will produce too much damage on the long run. I'm also afraid that we won't go too far in that tourney itself. As I said, Ranieri's tactics also follow the OLD IS BETTER THAN NEW philosophy and they're old-fashioned, almost obsolete. Borriello's odd goal and Menez's talent, coupled with a talented pair of central defenders, means that he's still a tough bone to chew on. But his teams are too slow and static for a competition like the CL. Prospects are quite grim.