Funny, that. Also worth remembering in the face of early outrage and panic in Rome today. If it's not Totti misbehaving, it's Luis Enrique having gone mad. And he can't have gone mad without Sabatini and Dibenedetto and a certain London gentleman having done the same. So where does that leave us?- Vox populi, vox dei.
- The voice of the people is the voice of a dog.
- The voice of God, Joshua.
Somewhere in between, as usual. I was more concerned after the games preceding this one, because last night I saw clear improvements all across the pitch. The defense didn't look as vulnerable as before, despite Cassetti moonlighting as centreback and Cicinho/Rosi tag-teaming the right back position and me hugging my knees everytime a Bratislava player as much as looked at that area of the pitch. In a midfield consisting of a 19 year old kid, Fabio Simplicio and Simone Perrotta, that 19 year old named Viviani played so well that it's exciting to imagine what he could look like in either two year's time, or right now if paired with two players not so painfully unsuited for possession based attacking football as Simplicio and Perrotta. José Angel on the left defies being pigeonholed into one single position, so keeps the entire flank as his office. Lots of times he's going to forget if he left the coffee machine on before going to work and have to double back to avert disaster, but in general it's going to be fine. His style of play is akin to going all in with the rent money on red at the roulette table—throwing himself into interception attempts at least 20 meters higher up the pitch than half of serie A's left backs have ever gone. If he's overplayed it will inevitably look bad, but the offensive output we can expect from him readily balances it out. Attack is the one part of the field I thought would take the shortest time to settle into Luis Enrique's new schemes, but has so far been perhaps the most troubling part of the team. Last night, despite a single solitary scrappy Perrotta goal, showed some improvements here as well; Roma created a lot and got into decent/good positions, but didn't finish well.
Not everything was excellent, and I'm not trying to say that our shit don't stank. While I personally can't imagine Totti not playing football one day, he is 35 years old and it would be presumptuous to consider him an centerpiece beyond discussion. Diamonds may be forever, but they're gonna need to sit out a few too. Doing so for the sake of playing Stefania Okaka's brother, though, is positively bizarre. This time it was ill timed: Totti not only looked as fresh as others in attack, but he was the only one with the kind of experience that acted as misdirection. When he came off there was nothing to keep us viewers, Roma or Bratislava from noticing that playing in red was little more than a bunch of kids entering the final minutes of a European knockout game. The pressure they felt was tangible even before the Bratislava goal. I'm not even sure if it was the mental aspect of Totti leaving (shit just got real) or by having him replaced by Okaka's skill set (fresh or tired, there's a difference in quality the world's oceans combined couldn't contain), but I felt it because it was so tangible. Trust, this is an issue that will need to be straightened out as soon as possible. If Luis Enrique does treat all his players the same as he says, he needs to develop a finer sense of substitutions—based solely on the technical aspects of that change, he messed up last night. Forget the name on the back of the shirt; the wrong player still came off. Totti, for his part, must realize that whatever he says or does not say, does or do not do, will get blown out of all proportion and factor that into his behavior when substituted.
I'm loath to say that things will only improve from here when more high quality players become available, because that's not how football work and it drives me mad every time I hear comments like it. Things can't "only improve from here", and players won't inevitably become better with time (shout out to Okakachukamuthafucka). But things will improve once DDR is back in the team, along with either Pizarro or perhaps the midfielder so far existing only in Sabatini's head. Once Lamela is intrigated, once Osvaldo replaces Stefania Okaka's brother as an option in attack, once Kjaer puts an end to Cassetti's moonlighting, then of course things will improve. Not because they have to, as if micromanaged by some very strange twist of fate, but because the jump in quality is significant enough for it to matter and be felt.
This is a project that will take time. Back in March, April and May everyone was happy to provide it for this new Roma. Right on schedule, most have abandoned any such notions long ago and are now calling for the heads of Luis Enrique and Sabatini along with Dibenedetto ran out of town. Those people are, in the worst connotation to a relatively mild term, not serious. Marshall McLuhan once said this of his critics objecting to the changes of the day:
To start announcing your own preferences for old values when your world is collapsing and everything is changing at a furious pitch: this is not the act of a serious person. It is frivolous, fatuous. If you were to knock on the door of one of these critics and say “Sir, there are flames leaping out of your roof, your house is burning,” under these conditions he would then say to you, “That’s a very interesting point of view. Personally, I couldn’t disagree with you more”. That’s all these critics are saying. Their house is burning and they’re saying, “Don’t you have any sense of values, simply telling people about fire when you should be thinking about the serious content, the noble works of the mind?”
Back in spring, Roma's world was collapsing and everything was changing around us. It was unsustainable to continue along the same path the club was headed; spending a lot but not nearly enough to compete with other clubs. Spending a lot but not nearly enough with respect to the revenue coming in. Choosing an entirely different path this summer, a different coach and mentality, I'm sure Roma could have squeezed another year out of that old group. Another year of being stuck in-between, but ultimately another year of falling too short. But then, there would be no other way but down. It's a fall I'm not sure Roma as a club, as a team, could recover from. Roma's house was on fire, and at the time we all agreed that it was. Looking back, some are changing their mind as if to say that it wasn't that bad after all.
This cultural revolution (what, did you think a communist never wrote an elegant phrase?) is necessary. It's the only path to some sort of future in which Roma has more than it has previously had. Last night were visible early signs of how this can work: thirty plus passes strung together before shooting, dominant use of the ball (more than 2/3rds possession over 90 minutes), unrelentingly proactive football. That's the path forward. If it were easy, everyone would do it.