The Passport and the Compass


Many would have Luis Enrique, his Roma in tow, lost in the woods. Many would claim he, and his Roma, were desperate and had decided to abandon all hope of finding their way out, instead opting to walk back onto the path from whence they came. "He's Italianated"—those two words contains so much fear and anxiety. At face value the words are harmless, Italy is after all one of the World's foremost footballing nations. But lift the veil, and you're staring straight into some of the uglier traits of the press covering this cultural revolution. When they say "ah, he's winning now, but he had to become like us to do it", they're really betraying a small part of them that hopes this all goes to hell. Why? For the small, petty pleasure of saying "I told you so". "I told you you can't bring an outsider here and do something different. It'll never work." But Luis Enrique was never lost in the woods. He never contemplated doubling back towards the safe path, the path of precaution. The standard thoroughfare of serie A. If he took until the last two weeks to find the path he'd been looking for all this time, it wasn't because he abandoned his ambition halfway there. He didn't stick his finger in the air to feel which way the wind was blowing and change course. It was because the path sought out is difficult to navigate. Narrow, and unforgiving. Luis Enrique, and his Roma, haven't been able to walk it until now, and that's why we've had to wait. They found their footing vs. Juventus, gained traction in Naples, to finally lay a better foundation for the path in Bologna.

The barb of Luis Enrique's process of becoming Italianated is all the more shameful in that it rests on a deliberate misinterpretation of what was actually visible. Not the speculation of what Luis Enrique was trying to do, but the tangible things he was actually doing: Lamela and Osvaldo tracking back so much requires a hefty amount of distortion to be defined as Made in Italy, where creative stars are often exempt from defensive work. (For further reference, see the movement of Pazzini for Inter. Not two meters wasted in preemptive, defensive work.) These demagogues would perhaps be surprised to look at heat maps of David Villa's movement for Barcelona. The process of rendering Luis Enrique Italian—but what they're really saying is cautious, afraid, weak—apparently also includes playing a former right winger with defensive skills so poor you'd be forgiven for doubting he could mark his own shadow at left back.

Last night in Bologna was the culmination of this entire half year. Roma laid claim to the ball almost ¾ of the game's 90 minutes in a display of domination seldom seen—if indeed at all—in Italy these past few years. But more than ball possession and stacking up numbers in an impressive fashion, last night was astounding for the number of chances created. Roma only scored two goals, but I don't think I'm exaggerating even a little when I claim that it could just as easily have finished 5-0 as 2-0. This is noteworthy when considering the terrible difficulty Roma had in creating chances like these, or chances at all, in the beginning of the season. Once the foundations are in place, the goals will surely come at quicker intervals and with more regularity than before. The new year looks more promising than any other in Roma's recent past.