Tonight, Roma plays Genoa in what is not only a football match, but also the umpteenth reminder that for romanisti, Sunday football at 3 is a concept dead and buried. Sure, it'll happen now and again, but when it does it is with such sparsity that they're essentially anniversaries where we gather around, have some fun and remember the dearly departed. For shame.
But it is even more than this, and in particular it is the sequel to the roman à clef of Roma's entire season; Genoa-Roma on October 26th. In those 90+ minutes, in that 2-1 scoreline, we find forebodings of Roma's season as a whole. Genoa-Roma is to date one of the better performances by Roma this season, an occasion surely apt for the dreadful cliché that a better result would have been merited. In that game, the boa-constrictor x mamba hybrid of suffocating the opponent by keeping the ball in their half, to then move with speed and agility to win it back was on full display. Oh look, sounds like something Luis Enrique talked about on Saturday. Yet Roma lost, thanks to a last minute goal easily avoidable. Here, we find the other side of the coin to this season: not to put too fine a point on it, but playing well is not a prerequisite for winning (as Roma's opponents have learned many a time), nor does keeping the ball 95% of the time make you immune to those last 5% (as Roma have learned many a time), especially if you commit numbing, unnecessary mistakes.
Tonight's game is a chance to change the story just that little bit, a sequel to right the wrongs of the first book. Or better yet, a final submission with all the little imperfections of October's rough draft edited away without hesitation or remorse.
That October edition was helpful in one way, foreshadowing the appearance of a primary character: it introduced for the first time Fabio Borini. His name had been mentioned previously, but that Wednesday night in Genova was the first time we learned more than name, rank and serial number. It was the first time we were shown the full range of his character; the pirate climbing the side of the ship with a dagger between his teeth, the swashbuckling goalscorer, the boy who'd run around the world if need be. Considering his goal haul this season, it's telling what a tour de force it's been since he only notched his first on that cold and rainy Wednesday night a few days removed from November. Since then Borini has become a primary character in Roma's adventures, something which is unlikely to be altered even after tonight. So even as we're kept in suspense of the fate of Roma, we can rest assured Borini is one of the characters ensuring there will be other stories to tell.
October's game wasn't the first time an encounter between these two teams was symbolic of something larger, of course. Even restricting ourselves to modern history, this clash has often foreshadowed or signified Roma's shifting fortunes. There was the world's most dominant 3-0 win just over three years ago, perhaps itself a roman à clef for Luciano Spalletti's Roma. Looking back it was almost certainly the pinnacle of that team and era—not in terms of results, but in terms of beauty marrying ruthlessness. There were bigger wins against bigger foes, but that afternoon to me represents Spalletian Roma more than any other. A year ago, another game against Genoa came to symbolize Claudio Ranieri's unfortunate second season. A 3-0 win quickly turned into a loss, and Ranieri resigned immediately afterwards, unable to stem the tide. That it was the perfect metaphor for his leadership of Roma that season needs hardly needs pointing out, so quite why I'm doing it now remains a mystery.
Whether or not those incarnations of Roma were big readers I dare not say, but we know with certainty that the current one loves to read. Franco Baldini went around Europe interviewing candidates in a process that may or may not have consisted solely of asking them about their favorite quotes, passages, books and authors, and Luis Enrique got the job largely for reciting a passage so well. One can always hope that better positions them for tonight's edits. Going on this, I think it just might.