Year One

Given all that has come to pass since, the 3-1 win over Napoli in December now stands as a monument to wasted potential. Greatness thrown away on the threshold thereof. Placing it into a larger context than we knew at the time, we could be talking about one of the saddest games in some time, because there's proof there was more to this Roma than anything has suggested since. Roma had only the task of walking slightly further down the hallway—only a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, trabajo y sudor—but somehow found a way back to the journey's beginning, consumed by the very same demons we thought long conquered. Instead of Matt Damon leaving his miserable life in Boston and his deadbeat friends, he stays around while the camera captures his decay into mediocrity with excruciating detail in a six hour extended look. I wouldn't like that film, and I don't particularly care for this one either. The Napoli result came in the context of a surprising 1-1 draw against Juventus, and prior to that a 3-0 loss away to Fiorentina. The narrative was a sports classic; after reaching its nadir with 3 goals given away and 3 players sent off, the week in which Roma played Juve and Napoli represented visible growth and maturity. Progress so tangible and hard fought, this had to be it.

Whether or not it was intended that way (we'll find out soon enough), Luis Enrique insisting that he be judged on the results is what could ultimately decide his legacy and very future in Rome. Because I did not, and still do not, agree with those who crow that this was doomed from the start. Roma set out with the best of intentions, and the footballing world in 2012 isn't that big anyway, the concept of ball possession not precisely foreign to Italy; Juventus has the ball even more than Roma does, and Milan average just 0.1% less than Roma. Keeping and passing the ball is, as determined by the eventual scudetto winner having about as much of the ball as Roma does, demonstrably a viable approach even in serie A. It is not as revolutionary or crazy as it often reported, a line which does a disservice to Italian football. It then only stands to reason that claims of having predicted this lack of success on grounds of barcelonism being a product particularly unsuitable for export are self-serving, based on hunches rather than evidence, and something writers far better than me would call Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

If Roma's project (if it exists, Luis Enrique seems to think that it does not) has failed—and 16 seasonal losses certainly makes a persuasive argument when lined up next to a regression in the quality of Roma's play—it isn't because the intention and ambition was flawed, it is the execution thereof which has been at fault. The question is now whether this same group of players and coaches can learn to execute better. (Because we must make absolutely clear that the tumble down a steep cliff-side since January doesn't resolve the players, who are complicit as well, and it would be counterproductive to provide an alibi. That in itself could of course turn into an alibi for the club, which it probably does not merit after January's strange activity both in and out.)

It is not—says I, completely irrelevantly; says the management with all probability, and with all possible importance—a matter of treating this season as a sunk cost and reversing policy. This grand fantasy is still worth striving for, and it hasn't been a year wasted; plenty of young players have come in and evolved in Rome. Lamela is a future star, and Totti seemingly can't talk about Pjanic without using big adjectives. However, Luis Enrique wasn't the first choice last June, and he isn't synonymous with the project today. Luis Enrique runs it today best to his abilities, but what if he's just not good enough? It's a thought seldom considered aloud, as we've instead seen a philosophical (term applied liberally) debate about exportable barcelonism (In this installment of the Jurassic Park series, I guess Rome is an island, cloning dinosaur DNA does in fact work, but something still goes wrong and Gabi Heinze ends up eating a large number of people in 90 minutes) but 16 losses, a quality of play not so much in decline as in free-fall, repeated mistakes and a relationship to discipline best described as destructive, all begs the question. It is telling of the faith invested in Luis Enrique that it took until the end of April for the fans to finally lose a modicum of patience, and speculation of his future to pick up pace in the press (previously, such speculation had fallen on deaf ears, whereas the frequency of speculative stories this week suggests more of a willingness to listen/daydream of a different reality). Few are the ones without genuine respect for the man Luis Enrique, fewer still the ones who now wonder if that's enough

The fans who claimed themselves free from the yoke of results are now instructed by Luis Enrique to judge him on his results alone. Having bought into a cultural revolution meant to liberate us from precisely that kind of cynical thinking, we are left perplexed. Not least because these results make it impossible to judge favorably. Were we asked to consider other values as well, things would look a lot better for both Luis Enrique and Roma. But at the moment we aren't. Will that change again at the end of the season?