A party atmosphere took centre stage yesterday evening at the Stadio Olimpico as Roma dispatched Parma 4-2 to go within eight points of wresting the Scudetto from Juventus. Yet if we were going by the history books, Roma shouldn’t even be this far into the title challenge.
Rather than letting the Giallorossi’s reputation as bottlers threaten to overwhelm the present however, Rudi Garcia is having his men up the intensity level in a sustained push for the top. There is a noble merit in the way capital outfit plugs on despite the odds, as the Frenchman leads them on an incredible journey that initially started out as a modest objective to return to Europe.
How they swatted plucky Parma aside signalled their desire to heed Garcia’s call before Wednesday’s rescheduled encounter - secure 21 points from the remaining eight fixtures for a shot at the title. To manage such would be a monumental task certainly. And even then, the cruel eventuality lingers that achieving such a feat may still not be enough to dislodge the conquering Bianconeri from their throne.
But to focus on that is to miss the point. Indeed, Roma have recognised the transformation from the comic collapses of previous seasons into a competitive unit for what it is, and grasped that with Garcia lies the basis of their future. It is with good reason then that the 50-year-old has been identified as a jewel of the outfit alongside Miralem Pjanic and Mehdi Benatia, with a contract extension believed to be in the works - the club’s upward surge depends on it.
His imprint had already been vital from day one. An effective leader, the Coach immediately proved up to the unique challenges of helming the Olimpico side. Unlike predecessors of the American era such as Luis Enrique, Garcia has neither appeared overawed by the task of shepherding a dressing room of egos and personalities, nor navigating the pressures exerted by club and fans alike.
It’s small wonder the players trust their boss unreservedly. “He can be a turning point in the history of Roma. I’m not exaggerating, he can help us to win,” vice-captain Daniele De Rossi insists. Rodrigo Taddei, hero against Parma, can join a long line of those rejuvenated under Garcia’s guidance - a line consisting of Mattia Destro, Gervinho and Douglas Maicon, to start with a few.
Imparting fresh belief at Trigoria, Garcia immediately rendered the team unrecognisable compared to the spineless one that ceded last May’s Coppa Italia Final to arch-rivals Lazio. The upturn in character has been swift and evident. Beset by injuries to Francesco Totti and now Kevin Strootman, outplayed and comprehensively defeated on occasions by Juventus and Napoli this term, opportunities have abounded for Roma to produce her customary moments of implosion.
In stark contrast, the squad has showcased remarkable consistency, cementing their credentials as worthy title contenders and racking up their all-time record points haul at this stage in the process. Garcia’s demanding presence has spurred a massive turnaround from his charges - that drive for perfection the hallmark of a coaching great.
On Wednesday, Roma conceded an inconsequential Jonathan Biabiany blockbuster with the result sewn up, still provoking the trainer’s wrath after: “Let’s start from the negatives - we shouldn’t have conceded their second goal. It made me angry.” There isn’t much else ‘Porompompero’ can be angry with over Roma’s season, however. Even if the season does not finish in silverware, foundations have been laid for many other milestone years in the future. The Giallorossi under Garcia are truly on the up.