There are games so painful that they make one question whether being a sports fan is really worth it, and Roma's catastrophic, suicidal, 2-2 draw against Cagliari was just that kind of game. When the final whistle blew, Coach Eusebio Di Francesco could be seen laughing helplessly, like Lovecraft's sailor Briden at the sight of the Cthulhu monster.
In this season of senselessness, the new day dawned after the cataclysm and brought with it no consequences whatsoever. Draws for Lazio and Milan (one of them no less incredible than the Lupi's) meant that nothing changed in the standings. Roma withdrew into a training retreat, sure, but the club confirmed their faith in Di Francesco shortly thereafter. Carry on as usual.
Below that veneer of normality, of course, DiFra's position is in reality increasingly precarious, and it may be only the lack of plausible alternatives that has kept him on his seat. The likes of Vincenzo Montella, Laurent Blanc and Paulo Sousa inspire nobody, but one name is being circulated that would make the fans happy: former Juventus, Italy and Chelsea's Antonio 'Veni-Vidi-Vici' Conte.
Everyone already agrees that the 49-year-old is a highly unlikely option for Roma – he is invariably troublesome, legally embroiled with Chelsea, and hugely expensive – but things are looking so bad in the capital, that reports suggest Francesco Totti himself is trying to cajole the quarrelsome tactician into a return to Serie A.
So, with unmerciful disaster striking Roma again and again, should President James Pallotta sign Conte as soon as he has the chance? The answer is: not exactly.
Roma should consider the possibility of sacking Di Francesco, yes. Yet doing it right now would be a massive strategic error, even if Conte really were a viable alternative.
If you are not convinced, consider Roma's game tomorrow, played away to Viktoria Plzen: it may be the Italian team's most incredible game of the season precisely for being so completely irrelevant. Roma qualifying from a Champions League group with a game to spare is an astonishing occurrence which is being unjustly clouded by their domestic woes.
It is a measure of this season's wild inconsistency that Di Francesco's broken, demoralised men should represent a true force to be reckoned with in Europe's elite competition. Yet it also confirms what we already knew from last year.
DiFra is, by every estimate, as inefficient and inconclusive in Serie A as he is outstanding and surprising in the Champions League. Interestingly, this also happens to be the opposite of Antonio Conte's profile, who won championships with Juventus and Chelsea but never set the world on fire in the Champions League. In fact, he was bested by Di Francesco himself in last year's competition, when the Giallorossi scored six goals in two games against the Blues to snatch a first-place finish in Group C.
What kind of trade would Roma set themselves up for, if they swapped one man for the other? Conte would almost certainly improve the Lupi's results in Serie A – although that's sort of a given at this point, as one imagines almost any change in Coach would have that effect, at least on the short term. The downside is that their guaranteed Champions League Last 16 round would, in all the most plausible scenarios, be the end of the line for them in Europe.
On the other hand, sticking with EDF means taking a gamble in Serie A, but his track record suggests he has much better odds of reaching the Quarter-finals. If the draws are favourable, he may even have a slim chance of repeating last year's miracle and reaching the Semi-finals. Would the gamble be worth it?
In this writer's opinion, it's best to keep Di Francesco, not least because a Serie A resurgence cannot be ruled out for him. He managed to turn around a results crisis last year, and he may well do it again, especially once his key players return from injury and the winter transfer window allows for reinforcements. Even the shock of the Cagliari game, for all we know, may end up proving cathartic rather than destructive.
Trying to predict how things will turn out would be guesswork at best, but with Roma only five points away from fourth place in Serie A, it would be foolish to throw away their best shot in the Champions League for the sake of a target they may very well still reach.
Instead, Roma should wait at least until the Champions League Last Sixteen rounds before sacking their Coach. That may seem like a long way away (the games are in mid-February), but then again, these two months would represent the perfect chance for Roma to focus all their energies on the domestic front. At the very least, this would remove all remaining doubts on Di Francesco.
Even if Roma aren't fourth by February, there is reason to hope – based on the performances of their rivals so far – that they'll still be within range of that spot. And then Pallotta would have a solid reason to bring in a new face and really rescue the last seasonal objective.
Conte is a great Coach and it would be interesting to see what he could do with Roma's squad. But he has little to fight for there, what with Juventus having a stranglehold on the Scudetto, while DiFra deserves at least the chance to try his hand again in this Champions League tournament. His club has more to lose than to win by sacking him now.
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