“I don’t choose players depending on how much they earn. I look at what the squad needs. If we select a team based on wages then I don’t know whether we would win.” Zdenek Zeman’s words, on Sunday, as he justified his decision to again bench Daniele De Rossi in a game at Catania which Roma lost 1-0.
If Roma were fighting for the title, or even seriously challenging for the top three, then you could allow the Czech tactician the luxury of dropping the League’s joint highest earner. But they’re not. The Giallorossi are sixth in the standings, 13 points behind leaders Juventus and eight shy of third-placed Napoli who have been deducted two points this season.
What Zeman has failed to realise is that, generally, a club’s wage bill reflects the quality of player. De Rossi is on €6m a season, after tax, for a reason – and not just because he’s a Roman. It’s the same argument for Nicolas Burdisso and Miralem Pjanic, who along with Francesco Totti, are the four most handsomely paid players in the capital.
Yet De Rossi, Burdisso and Pjanic have all had problems in being selected by a tactician whose stubborn loyalty to 4-3-3 is not getting the best out of the squad which he has available to him. While other Serie A tacticians have opted to change systems over the last 18 months, which have resulted in improved performances and results, Zeman continues his quest in trying to get his brand of football – which has never been concrete enough to win any major honours – accepted.
The trio of Alessandro Florenzi, Panagiotis Tachtsidis and Michael Bradley, when fielded simultaneously, are not the midfield unit of a top-three side. They would be more in line of a Chievo or a Catania, not a club who are targeting a return to the Champions League.
While Zeman should be applauded for aiding the explosion of 18-year-old defender Marcos Marquinhos, the development of midfielder Florenzi, the consecration of Erik Lamela and the fifth-coming of Totti, he has done little more during his second stint at the Olimpico. That has made them the biggest under-achievers of the season so far.
The only other positive of a club who seemingly have no present and are led by a Coach with hardly a past, is that they have a bright future. While Vincent Candela’s recent assertion that Roma have the best squad in Serie A was overly influenced by his history and love for the club, he was right to be impressed by the personnel available to Zeman.
Director general Franco Baldini and sporting director Walter Sabatini may have hired the wrong Coach for two successive summers now – after the needless Luis Enrique gamble – but their market dealings have laid the foundations for a competitive side.
Sure they’ve got things wrong, but that was inevitable when you bring in so many new faces and then change the style of play on not one, but two occasions. The decision to sell Fabio Borini to finance Mattia Destro can also be questioned, but the squad now has a number of players born in the 1990s who can become pillars of future success. Destro included.
That will obviously take time, but it will also need the right technical project and a Coach who finds a system to suit the characteristics of his best players. More precisely, a boss whose initial job at Trigoria would be to find room in his starting XI for firstly Daniele De Rossi and then Miralem Pjanic.