Roma are convinced that they hired the right man in the summer. They made that quite clear when, after the 3-0 loss at Fiorentina in December, they offered Luis Enrique a new contract despite the worrying statistic that his Giallorossi side had collected just 17 points from a possible 39.
It was the kind of form that would force Italian clubs to consider their options, a slump in results which led Vincenzo Montella, the tactician who Enrique replaced in the summer, to quip: “If I was in the Spaniard’s shoes at Roma, the club would have sent me back to commenting on games for television by now.”
Montella, who according to Catania director Pietro Lo Monaco has the DNA of an important Coach, is sadly right. He wouldn’t have been given the cloak of untouchability which Enrique has been provided with, nor the wristwatch which provides the former Spanish international the kind of patience that few of his colleagues in the Italian top flight are afforded.
The former Roma striker was considered as too inexperienced for the job, too much of friend to some of the Giallorossi squad to be an impartial tactician. To his credit, he left for Catania in silence even in the knowledge that fellow 4-3-3 practitioner Enrique – who arrived in the capital with the alluring whiff of Eau de Barcelona – was just as unproven.
Eight months on, however, and it is arguably Montella who has been the more convincing as links with Inter, Napoli and even Lazio testify. Sunday’s 1-0 win over the Biancocelesti saw the Sicilian minnows join Roma on 41 points in the table – albeit before the Giallorossi’s game against Genoa on Monday night.
Roma undoubtedly keep the ball better under Enrique than they did with Montella calling the play, but there has sometimes been a lack of effectiveness to the capital club’s brand of football this season – even after the switch from 4-3-3 to 4-3-1-2 – which has compromised results. Their defending at times has also been poor, leading to doubts about the true tactical aptitude of Enrique in a League which demands touchline intellect.
Montella too has had to abandon his preferred 4-3-3 on occasions, opting instead for a 3-5-2 which has seen playmaker Francesco Lodi win fans in central midfield, the return to form of Sergio Almiron and the courage to prefer Gonzalo Bergessio in attack over Maxi Lopez – even before the latter’s January move to Milan.
While there is the obvious argument that Enrique has had to settle into a new country and an unfamiliar style of football, Montella has had to adapt to a squad with a strong South American influence and a club who are always open to selling their best players.
Despite the constraints at the Stadio Massimino, The Little Aeroplane has got Catania flying and in some style. Not only have results been surprisingly good, especially in 2012, but the Elefanti have also been easy on the eye – an objective which was high on the agenda at Trigoria when the decision to appoint a new tactician was taken by Franco Baldini.
It should also be pointed out that Montella, during his 13 Serie A games in charge of Roma following the resignation of Claudio Ranieri, managed 1.85 points per game. Enrique, despite the summer spending spree, is only averaging 1.57 in Serie A. Statistically speaking, Montella’s Roma would be third right now.
Of course things have evidently changed at the Stadio Olimpico and the new project is in its infancy, but it is only natural to ponder whether Montella would have done better than Luis Enrique this season. With just three points separating them in the League table with 10 games to go and considering what raw materials they have to work with, there are some with the benefit of hindsight who are arguing that this Roma would have been more of a force under their former striker.
Roma, rightly or wrongly, have opted for the long-term view and their unyielding belief in Enrique is commendable in a world so contaminated with false promises. But there may be a time when instead of backing Enrique after another defeat, they start to question whether in searching for the next big thing in coaching, they actually sacrificed him.