As the tears over Francesco Totti’s departure gradually dry (spoiler: they never will), Roma fans are left to think about next season, and the leading candidate to replace the departing Luciano Spalletti on the bench.
Having taken Sassuolo from the Serie B to the Europa League, it is high time that Eusebio Di Francesco gets to run a prestigious team. Will he be a success in the mould of Maurizio Sarri in Naples, a spectacular but unsuccessful performer like mentor Zdenek Zeman, or just another Luis Enrique?
As boring as it sounds, we may need to define exactly what ‘success’ stands for.
If it means continuing Roma’s policy of developing exciting players, then it makes sense. After all, the Giallorossi’s hiring of Monchi is more in line with Walter Sabatini’s work than we’d initially think: the likes of Marquinhos, Miralem Pjanic, Medhi Benatia being signed, developed and sold on for a big fee. In this sense, Di Francesco has done very well with Sassuolo, helping Nicola Sansone, Domenico Berardi and Simone Zaza perform on the big stage.
Even if EDF isn’t right for Roma, his hiring would be good news for Italy as a whole, seeing as he’s worked with young Azzurri talent Lorenzo Pellegrini (who could return to Roma with him), Matteo Politano, Stefano Sensi and Federico Ricci, to name a few.
Another advantage of the Abruzzo native is his entertaining style, in line with the likes of former Roma Coaches Rudi Garcia, Luciano Spalletti, Carlo Mazzone and Zdenek Zeman, who all set off fireworks at the Olimpico. Remember, Monchi’s previous club, Sevilla, took a big step forward under the effervescent Jorge Sampaoli.
But is this enough? It’s hard to work out whether EDF will help Roma make the jump and win their first Scudetto since 2001, when the pragmatic Fabio Capello was in charge. Hiring Sarri has Napoli playing beautifully, but their long title wait continues. Sampaoli’s Rojiblancos eventually ended the season in fourth, too.
After spending years knocking on the door but never making it past the threshold - eight second-place finishes since 2000 are proof of that - Giallorossi fans are getting frustrated, especially when the club isn’t investing what Juventus are. Beyond that, the more cynical Bianconeri are constantly improving - reaching two Champions League Finals and completely dominating Serie A.
Thankfully, Di Francesco is more of a pragmatist than Zeman, the Bohemian Coach famous for preferring style over results.
“For Zdenek, the opponents have to be attacked at all times, no matter what the circumstances,” the former winger told the Gazzetta in 2015. “I believe that at certain times, a team shouldn’t try to dispossess the opposition. That’s the difference”.
A closer look at the Sassuolo Coach’s system also paints a far more pragmatic picture than expected: the Abruzzo native always asking his players (especially the attackers and the centre midfielders) to move around and change positions during the 90 minutes, akin to the tactics-heavy approach used by a certain Max Allegri in Turin.
Only boasting possession stats around 48 per cent, EDF expects his central defenders to start the attack (another Allegri feature), helping former Milan flop Francesco Acerbi to go from losing 7-0 to Inter (twice) to being selected by Italy in 2016.
Still, it’s hard to avoid the impression that former Azzurro (12 caps, one goal) is still learning his job, going through a slump this season before recovering in the second half of the campaign - one admittedly conditioned by a freak number of injuries to key players and extra Europa League commitments.
All in all, optimists will say that Roma have hired one of Calcio’s most sought-after, promising tactical minds, one that needs the big stage to showcase his talent - and whose reputation may justify a stay of execution if things initially go wrong.
Juventus are just miles ahead of everyone right now, anyway. This isn’t to say that they are certs for next season, but the Old Lady’s pursuers may be planning beyond the short term, Napoli spending Gonzalo Higuain’s €90m transfer fee on youngsters like Piotr Zielinski and Arkadiusz Milik.
Pessimists will, on the other hand, point to James Pallotta’s mismanagement of Spalletti and club legend Francesco Totti as evidence that all is not well in the capital, where the inability to secure a new stadium deal has imposed a conservative slant on recruitment - and seems to be prompting star players to search for glory elsewhere.
As enticing a prospect as EDF is, Calcio fans have seen too many Montellas and Prandellis tread the same path before. Rather worryingly, the latest Italian masked hero may need to be superhuman to improve Roma’s lot.