It was a real low point for Roma. After finishing sixth in the League last season, success in the Coppa Italia Final represented their last chance to qualify for Europe. But they lost and by doing so gave up their chance. But, much worse than missing out on Europe was that the defeat came at the hands of their local rivals Lazio.
The reaction was typical. Fans rioted, the famous mural of Francesco Totti in the city centre was smeared with the words ‘Rome is dead,’ Lazio fans staged a mock funeral for their cousins and had an actual priest perform the ceremony. It was all very dramatic, but, seldom is Rome boring.
Fast forward four months or thereabouts and how things have changed. Roma are leading the Serie A table. They have not dropped a single point. They have won all five of their matches so far – something they had never achieved in their history. Only one team has scored more goals than them and no one team has conceded fewer – Roma have leaked just one goal so far. They have even exacted revenge on Lazio, defeating them 2-0 last Sunday.
It’s been the perfect start to life under new boss Rudi Garcia, who deserves much of the credit. Upon being appointed in June, the Frenchman explained his coaching philosophy as being “without doubt offensive, but I am well aware that in order to win a game you also need an excellent defensive base”. Unlike many a Coach, Garcia has actually lived up to his words. His side have displayed a real desire to attack while remaining watertight at the back.
But Garcia is not getting carried away with his team’s historic run of results. “Are we in the history books? It’s important to make history at the end of the season, not so much now”. He is right, of course. Yet, if his side are planning to make history come May, there is certainly no better way to start than by going out and winning every match. The question is – can Roma actually challenge for the title?
From this early vantage, it is hard to argue that they cannot. Roma are playing at a level they have not exhibited in a long time and virtually every player is performing. Club captain Francesco Totti is enjoying a real purple patch. Daniele De Rossi, after a couple of indifferent seasons, is back to his best. New signings Kevin Strootman, Adem Ljajic, Mehdi Benatia and even Gervinho have all hit the ground running since their summer arrivals. Alessandro Florenzi is also once again showing why he is considered one of Italy’s brightest prospects, while Miralem Pjanic is revelling in his role as the side’s midfield playmaker.
There is also real sense of a collective spirit within the side that no doubt is contributing to their success. Speaking after his side’s midweek win away to Sampdoria, Strootman admitted: “I was so impressed by the way we celebrated, all together including the kit staff.” Garcia has been left similarly impressed: “The credit goes to my players, because this is a fantastic squad, everyone works hard for each other and is eager to do well”.
Since taking over the club in 2011, the American consortium that now own Roma have continually expressed their desire “to make Roma into a championship-calibre team and be one of the great teams in the world.” No doubt, there is still a long way go before such dreams become reality. Yet, for the first time under the American ownership it seems the club are finally on the right track and success in Serie A might not be too far away.