Roma closed out the season with a comfortable win away at Milan, and had there been a few games more it’s possible that they would have edged out Napoli in the race for second. In the end it was a creditable third place finish, and the dour play in the latter stages of the Rudi Garcia era has been long forgotten after Luciano Spalletti took over for his second spell in charge of the club. There have been failings at all levels during the course of the season – from owners, directors and players, not to mention Franco Gabrielli and Roma’s relationship with the former prefect of Rome – but the club’s recovery in the second half of the season to secure Champions League football again mean it should be seen as a positive campaign overall.
What went right
The decision to appoint Luciano Spalletti and almost everything thereafter. As in 2014/15, Roma’s season was in danger of unravelling in the second half of the campaign, and belatedly James Pallotta took action to remove Rudi Garcia from his position. Spalletti came in and Roma finished the season with 14 wins and 3 draws from their final 17 league games. There was too much to do to secure automatic qualification to the Champions League, but Spalletti’s success was in reinvigorating his side and reinstalling a team spirit that had evaporated in Garcia’s final months. Although Roma must go through the qualifying round to get into the group stages, another Champions League campaign has been assured, and with it both financial rewards and an added incentive for Roma’s big players to remain with them this summer. Kevin Strootman’s recovery has been a huge boost for the club, and although Leandro Castan was some way from being the warrior centre back we know he can be it was great to see him get a handful of games earlier in the campaign.
What went wrong
Despite tailing off at the end of last season, Rudi Garcia retained the support of many fans going into the 2015/16 campaign. This time Roma struggled to reproduce their best form, and by November it was clear that Garcia no longer had the full support of his players. The performances were painfully predictable and easy for opponents to read, and the Coppa Italia exit to Spezia and 0-0 draw with BATE Borisov in the Champions League were diabolical to watch. The decision to sack Garcia should have been made sooner to allow Spalletti more time to work with the squad, as the team was clearly going nowhere under the Frenchman; by the time he was sacked they had won 1 in 10. The club’s treatment of Garcia in his last days was appalling, but that’s been covered before. The absence of the Curva Sud has also been a major factor over the course of the season after the ultras boycotted the vast majority of games at the Olimpico due to the introduction of plexiglass barriers dividing the curva. Without their diehard fans supporting them no matter what, the atmosphere in the stadium has often been more like a library than the intimidating arena Roma fans know it can be.
Player of the season
Mohamed Salah. There has been little subtlety in Roma’s tactics at times: put the ball into space and make Salah chase it. With his electrifying pace though there has been no need for subtlety as time and again Salah led counters forward, giving the Giallorossi an outlet that opponents were unable to handle, and he ended as the team’s top scorer with 15 goals in all competitions. Salah can be frustrating and should even have scored many more, with misses against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu particularly glaring, but overall his contributions to the team have been outstanding.
Signing of the season
Stephan El Shaarawy. This could be Salah again, but for the sake of variation I’ll nominate El Shaarawy. He came in with a lot to prove after failing to live up to early form at Milan and failing to make an impact at Monaco, but finished with 8 goals in 16 Serie A games including a spectacular backheel goal on his debut against Frosinone. El Shaarawy has really found himself at home at Roma, and provided a much needed boost to the team’s attacking options in January at a time when Roma were stalling. Honourable mentions to the tireless Diego Perotti, who has contributed a lot as either a false 9 and on the wing, and Antonio Rudiger, who has developed into a fine centre back after a shaky start.
Flop of the season
Edin Dzeko. There is only one candidate for this. Dzeko came in to great fanfare and greater expectation as the missing link to Roma’s scudetto challenge, but he has never looked comfortable in a Giallorosso shirt. He may have scored 10 goals for the club and been able to hold the ball up well, but has consistently missed embarrassingly easy chances (home to Palermo for just one example) and generally been more of a hindrance when he has been on the pitch. Not for his lack of effort, but for the fact that when he plays the team sacrifices their fluidity and pace in order to play to Dzeko’s strengths, making their style more predictable and easy to defend against. Perhaps the wrong club at the wrong time for the Bosnian – he may well leave in the summer.
By the end Rudi Garcia and his team were a sorry sight; it was not only the predictability on the pitch but also off it (with his rehearsed soundbites in press conferences) that was frustrating. Garcia leaves a fine legacy, picking the team up from a very low point and taking them to two successive second-place finishes, and for that he should always be thanked, but it was the right choice for him to be sacked.
In fact, the club waited too long, and that isn’t just with the benefit of hindsight given Luciano Spalletti’s achievements. Not only I but many Roma fans were imploring the decision to be made sooner, but there’s no question that Spalletti has done everything asked of him and more since taking over. All that has marred his second spell in charge was the spat with Francesco Totti, as coach and captain engaged in a power struggle over his decreased role in the team, but ultimately that also reached a sensible conclusion. Much will depend on the club’s summer transfer activity as to whether Spalletti can mount a title challenge, but there’s every reason to be hopeful.
What needs to happen this summer
Big changes aren’t really needed at Roma to take them to the next level of title challengers. Unlike previous years though, they need to keep hold of their key players in order to do so. Miralem Pjanic has a release clause of €38m, while Radja Nainggolan and Kostas Manolas are just two others who have been linked with big money moves away. Walter Sabatini knows how to drive a hard bargain, but the sporting director’s own future is also uncertain. Roma must keep Pjanic, Nainggolan and Manolas, and look to balance the books by offloading fringe players (Juan Manuel Iturbe, Seydou Doumbia, Adem Ljajic, etc.) or highly valued youngsters such as the €8m-rated Sadiq Umar. Signing a right back is also a priority, as neither Maicon nor Vasilis Torosidis are now sufficiently good enough to provide competition for Alessandro Florenzi, and if Roma cut their losses on Edin Dzeko then another centre forward will need to be brought in as Francesco Totti cannot play every week, and Ezequiel Ponce (currently injured) and Antonio Sanabria (coming off an excellent season with Sporting Gijon) are unproven in Italy.