For the mindset at the club when he arrived last summer to what he achieved since, Richard Thomas says Roma’s Rudi Garcia is the deserved Coach of the Season.
What a difference a year in football makes. Exactly 365 days ago this coming Monday [May 26], Roma suffered the ultimate ignominy of a Coppa Italia Final defeat to arch-rivals Lazio, a day which arguably goes down as one of the darkest in the Giallorossi’s recent history.
The loss came after yet another underwhelming Serie A campaign that saw the club finish sixth in Italy’s top flight. The season before that they finished seventh, while 12 months previously they wound up in sixth again. It is fair to say that the stench of mediocrity had set in at Stadio Olimpico.
Over in France meanwhile, a Coach relatively unheard of in the peninsula by the name of Rudi Garcia had guided Lille to a sixth place finish in Ligue 1. Just two years previously he had led Les Douges to a French League and Cup double, but a combination of his own team’s stagnation and Paris Saint-Germain’s new found riches meant there seemed little hope of returning to those heights anytime soon.
If both the Coach and the Giallorossi were somewhat disillusioned with life last May they certainly cannot be now. On June 12, 2013, Roma appointed Garcia as their new permanent boss and they have since proved to be a match made in heaven.
“He is a proven winner with a great football mind,” Giallorossi President James Pallotta said of his new acquisition at the time of Garcia’s appointment. “He fits in perfectly with our vision for the future.”
Giallorossi fans at the time could have been forgiven for thinking that the club’s American owner was merely offering a few positive soundbites to the media rather than truly believing his comments. After all, he had reportedly courted all three of Walter Mazzarri, Max Allegri and Laurent Blanc unsuccessfully for the post before turning to the Frenchman.
The 50-year-old, however, has risen magnificently to the challenge, proving a bigger hit at the club than surely even Pallotta had dared to dream. An absolute refusal to accept second best, an ability to get the best out of the resources at his disposal and a creation of the common goal are just three of the traits that have helped bring the good times back to Stadio Olimpico well ahead of schedule.
His results are there for all to see. Ten successive wins to open the season. A club record Serie A points haul. A string of inspired signings that formed the bedrock of his team’s success. An exciting and attacking playing style. An improvement of four League places and a whopping 23 points from last term to finish as League runners-up. As Garcia himself said the week after the season ended, he ‘would have signed with his own blood’ for that back in August.
As if these achievements weren’t enough, they have been reached whilst turning a profit in the transfer market and on the back of losing key players such as Marquinhos, Erik Lamela and Pablo Osvaldo last summer. Garcia has worked wonders at Roma and, for the first time in many a year, the club appear to have a genuine, long-term strategy geared towards success.
It will of course be tougher next season, as Garcia only too readily admits. With Champions League football returning to the capital in haste, the Giallorossi squad must be bolstered significantly if they are to hope to repeat the feats of this season. For the moment however, the tactician can look back on a job extremely well done in 2013-14.
Antonio Conte, the man responsible for ensuring the Frenchman’s debut season in Italy didn’t end with what would have been a deserved Scudetto, maintained his Juventus winning machine and improved it still further this season. Rafa Benitez and Vincenzo Montella laid firm foundations at Napoli and Fiorentina. Roberto Donadoni, Giampiero Ventura and Andrea Mandorlini had Parma, Torino and Verona respectively exceeding all expectations. Garcia, however, has completely galvanised a whole club and he deserves all the recognition he gets.