Rudi Garcia has proved to be a sporting and psychological masterstroke for Roma. Arriving at a club infamous for overwhelming pressure, he set about changing mentalities and restoring confidence after a torrid season that saw the side finish a disappointing 2012-13 campaign with defeat in the Coppa Italia Final to Lazio. He embraced the veterans, nurtured the youngsters and instilled discipline. His players believed again and played accordingly, challenging Juventus for the Scudetto last season until the final weeks.
While Garcia boasts tactical intelligence and a keen eye for balance, it’s his understanding of human behaviour that has aided him in his quest for glory at Roma. He took great care to refer to the psychology of his players at every given opportunity - translating each momentous occasion as a nod to his players’ mental fortitude. Even his nonchalant comments were a ploy to boost his men, forever demonstrating the importance of their mind and how much they can achieve with a little faith and a lot of work. They were not inferior to any side, it was simply a matter of perspective. How much did they believe in the win?
His side grew leaps and bounds in one year and benefited greatly from the underdog tag. No-one knew what to expect. However, this season has seen a shift. The Giallorossi are no longer the underdogs in Serie A but worthy contenders, even if in Europe they retained the power of the unknown. Drawn into the group of death, Garcia did not panic but merely smiled. He was careful to never express fear, continuously mentioning the joy in partaking in a festival of football. This was about enjoying the occasion not about fearing an early exit.
When their first true challenge came up against Manchester City away from home, he placed all the pressure on the English champions demonstrating his understanding of psychology: “They have zero points and a lot of pressure on their shoulders, so they need to get a result on home turf.” When asked how his own men would handle the occasion, he repeated the psychological trigger phrase: “We must enjoy this moment.” No pressure and nothing to lose.
They achieved the point and perhaps were due more. However, since then Garcia has somewhat lost his handle on the side. His desire to stand up for his team and to the non-believers has resulted in defiance and the psychological weakening of his squad, beginning with the loss to Juventus. Regardless of the controversy surrounding of the refereeing decisions, Garcia’s insistence that followed that his team was the best in Italy coupled with promises that his men will win the title has since placed unwanted pressure on the shoulders of his players, who had previously excelled as the underdogs.
His intention was to provoke a reaction from his squad and prepare them for battle so that they may prove themselves. Instead, Garcia, his men and even their fans began to lose their humility and surrendered to pride. With the Bayern Munich game approaching, Gazzetta dello Sport grew interested in the rising confidence and asked the fans who would triumph. Only 26 per cent believed the Germans would win.
In the end, Roma capitulated, believing that they could play their own game against arguably the best possession side in Europe. Garcia immediately took the blame, carefully shielding his players from criticism. The devastating loss was the result of a tactical collapse, not a psychological one he insisted.
Nonetheless, the result impacted the side, as did the last minute goal against CSKA Moscow. The pressure was mounting, the team was struggling. Then the decisive match against City arrived only for the Coach to insist: “I'm sure we can do it.” The fact they lost is of little importance, what proved concerning was their trepidation. Did they still believe?
The draw to Palermo and the struggle against Lazio since the turn of the year have effectively demonstrated a lack of intensity. Players are missing and at times so is Lady Luck, so battling against excessive pressure and expectation will only compound the problem. It’s with a little calm and further experience that the Giallorossi will be able to achieve their ambitions.