Pagine Romaniste (Alessio Nardo) Is a revolution needed or not? At Roma, it’s usually the first option. Whether it’s a question of strategy or of player trading, fans are now all too aware of these phrases. They are part of a vocabulary in modern football that fans like less and less, as they are forced to live in a state of perennial anxiety. Of fear, almost. Because there is always the chance, lurking just around the corner, that the team will lose a key player. Particularly in defence. There was a time when fans would be able to become closely attached to a good player, as there was a high chance that they would see him wearing a Giallorossi shirt for a long time. Think of players like Aldair, Candela, Cafu, Zago, Mexes, Panucci. All very talented defenders, who enjoyed successful spells at Trigoria for long periods of time. They left an indelible mark behind.
Now? It’s completely different. Now players come and go. Since 2011, the year the American consortium took over, Roma’s defensive structure has continually changed. Not once have they built a solid base, nor given a group of players more than a year to play together in order that they can develop their awareness, their understanding, their movement. Just like Juventus have done, who have maintained the same backbone of the team (Buffon, Barzagli, Chiellini, Bonucci, Lichtsteiner) for 6 years. It’s no coincidence that they have won 6 scudetti in a row with the best defence in the league on every occasion. Because in Italy, the best way to winning is by not conceding.
But let’s go back to Roma. The first year, the first revolution: Mexes left on a free, as well as Riise. 3 new starters came in: Kjaer, Heinze and Jose Angel. Problems arose due to the decline of both Cassetti and Juan (because of age) and a serious injury to Burdisso. The back four (completed by Rosi) was ever-changing, unreliable and ineffective. In the summer of 2012, there was another shakeup: 7 left, 6 came in. The defence was rebuilt: Piris and Balzaretti at full back, Marquinhos and Castan in the middle. Individually there were good performances, despite a tragicomic season. The result? Summer 2013: Marquinhos was sold to PSG for almost €32m, the unrefined Piris was sent back to South America, while Castan and Balzaretti were kept on to start the next season alongside Maicon and Benatia. Half of the defence was the same as the previous season. Almost a record, given the club’s habits.
Roma got 85 points that season, flying under Garcia, but were forced (…) to sell once again: Benatia left for Bayern Munich, and the Greek Kostas Manolas came in. And here the element of bad luck comes into play: Maicon’s knee went to pieces again, Castan fell victim to a cavernoma, Balzaretti to a sports hernia injury that eventually forced him to retire. Sabatini bought 5 defenders in the summer of 2014, with a 6th joining in January 2015, in effect revolutionising (this time out of necessity) the defence once more. Other than Manolas, another Greek – Holebas – came in, along with Cole, Astori, Yanga-Mbiwa and Spolli. Many of them only stayed for a year and were then jettisoned to make room for more new faces in summer 2015: Rudiger, Digne, Gyomber and Emerson.
Even 12 months ago, it was the same story again. There was no stability in the team’s defensive backbone. Many players left, more arrived. This time it was Bruno Peres, Juan Jesus, Vermaelen, Seck, Fazio and Mario Rui. Spalletti used a back 4 but mainly a back 3, which gave great results. Excellent results. Roma kept a lot of clean sheets and challenged Juventus’ outstanding defensive record. But at the end of the season, it has been shaken up again. The defence will go back to a back 4 under Di Francesco, Rudiger is leaving (on the verge of a move to Chelsea), Manolas’ future is in the balance, as is Mario Rui’s, who is destined to join Napoli. It’s likely that, when August arrives, we will have seen yet another defensive overhaul, with 3 new faces (Karsdorp, Moreno and a new left back to take the place of the recovering Emerson) in already. The club’s strategy is now clear. To turn a profit on players, particularly on defenders, who are considered more easily replaceable than midfielders and forwards. But the long-term effects of this strategy are debatable. To deny that is a clumsy attempt to distort reality.
In (4): Jose Angel, Heinze, Nego, Kjaer
Out (5): Castellini, Mexes, Loria, Riise, G. Burdisso
Starting defence: Rosi, Kjaer, Heinze, Jose Angel
In (6): Marquinhos, Castan, Piris, Dodo, Torosidis, Balzaretti
Out (7): Jose Angel, Juan, Heinze, Nego, Kjaer, Cassetti, Rosi
Starting defence: Piris, Marquinhos, Castan, Balzaretti
In (4): Maicon, Benatia, Toloi, Jedvaj
Out (3): Marquinhos, Piris, N. Burdisso
Starting defence: Maicon, Benatia, Castan, Balzaretti
In (6): Yanga-Mbiwa, Cole, Astori, Holebas, Manolas, Spolli
Out (5): Toloi, Dodo, Benatia, Jedvaj, Romagnoli
Starting defence: Torosidis, Manolas, Yanga-Mbiwa, Holebas
In (6): Rudiger, Digne, Gyomber, Emerson, Zukanovic, Nura
Out (6): Cole, Yanga-Mbiwa, Astori, Holebas, Spolli, Balzaretti
Starting defence: Florenzi, Manolas, Rudiger, Digne
In (6): Juan Jesus, Bruno Peres, Vermaelen, Seck, Fazio, Mario Rui
Out (6): Digne, Castan, Maicon, Gyomber, Torosidis, Zukanovic
Starting defence: Rudiger, Manolas, Fazio, Emerson
Defenders sold or not retained after first season at the club
Jose Angel, Heinze, Kjaer, Marquinhos, Piris, Benatia, Jedvaj, Yanga-Mbiwa, Astori, Holebas, Digne, Vermaelen
Defenders sold or not retained after half a season at the club
Toloi, Spolli, Zukanovic