Inundated with questions regarding his future, Rudi Garcia finally shed light on his position. “The day I realise I can no longer help the club to win trophies, I will make way for someone else.”
His comments came after a peculiar 1-1 draw with Fiorentina in the Europa League, a rare positive display wedged between sterile domestic form. Roma entered the tie having tasted victory just twice since the turn of the year.
More pertinently, though, his response was a far cry from his bravado after Roma’s ill-famed 3-2 defeat to Juventus six months earlier. “We will win the Scudetto,” he had claimed, publicly reiterating his conviction that his side were a stronger outfit than Juventus. His view was echoed by many.
That summer, Juventus had appointed Massimiliano Allegri as Antonio Conte’s successor. The Italian had been discharged by a flailing Milan six months earlier and was putatively incapable of steering Juventus to their fourth consecutive Scudetto.
Roma, in contrast, were burgeoning. The two sides were separated by 17 points before Conte had called it quits on his time in Turin, but the side from the capital were a revelation. If one were to disregard the concluding matchdays of the 2013/14 season, Roma had tasted defeat only twice all season.
They had, to further compound Juventini misery, also snatched Argentine winger Juan Iturbe from under their noses at the last minute; the nimble Verona winger who had lit up the division during the previous campaign.
Roma, like their bianconeri counterparts, had began the season with a bang. A lapse in concentration from Rudi Garcia’s side at a set-piece against Parma separated both they and Juventus at the summit of the table.
The October 5th spectacle was set to decide it all; a forecast for the remainder of the season, perhaps. Roma eventually succumbed to a late Leonardo Bonucci thunderbolt. But that strike only served to amplify the title race.
Granted, the Giallorossi departed Turin with nothing to show for their endeavour, but the display reaffirmed the notion that Juventus’ hegemony was under serious threat.
Both sides continued to tussle for first place, but it was the Old Lady who occupied top spot at Christmas. Both sides had surrendered points en route but it was the Roma fraternity who had entered the winter break harbouring doubts over their sides ability to remain within touching distance of Juventus.
They required a dubious penalty decision against Sassuolo to salvage a 2-2 draw before being held by an abject Milan side at the Stadio Olympico. That, many have deduced, was the beginning of their descent.
Garcia’s side chalked more draws than victories after the winter break, with Juventus sealing their fourth successive Scudetti with four fixtures still to play.
In fact, Roma had diced with the possibility of dropping out of the European spots, but steadied themselves before knocking off city rivals Lazio to secure automatic Champions League qualification.
When it was all said and done, though, the gap between themselves and the champions stood at 17 points. An identical points tally to last term.
The belief that had permeated throughout the squad had dissipated. The midfield, previously inventive and dynamic, stagnated. The attacking triumvirate, spearheaded by Francesco Totti, became reticent.
Gervinho was discernibly jaded after he returned from the African Cup of Nations. Adem Ljajic performed in bursts. And, the most promising of the bunch, Juan Iturbe, flattered to deceive.
The defence, in contrast, remained quasi-consistent, shipping the second fewest number of goals behind Juventus, but even they failed to prevent the side from haemorrhaging points to their closest competitors.
The arrivals of Seydou Doumbia and Victor Ibarbo in January, prompted by Roma’s inability to unlock opposition defences, failed to have their desired effects. Tactically, Garcia came under fire and his once distinguished 4-3-3 became a stick in which to beat him with.
There were calls from various corners of the Roma faithful for Garcia to be relieved of his duties. His knee-jerk response after Roma’s defeat to Juventus, they said, had set unrealistic expectations.
Juventus’ €122 million wage-bill does not bear comparison with Roma’s. Their squad, meanwhile, required time to gel. Allegri’s was ready made.
However, their cries fell on deaf ears. The hierarchy have re-established their trust in the ex-Lille boss and have backed him in the transfer window. Ibarbo’s loan from Cagliari has been extended an additional season.
The Colombian was propelled into a side sapped of ingenuity and was, to his credit, a weapon in transition. It is hoped that he can provide potency in the final-third.
Meanwhile, the club have secured the services of Iago Falque from Genoa. A fleet-footed wide man with a penchant for the spectacular, he remains similar in style to Iturbe, though slightly more spontaneous.
The talented yet volatile Wojciech Szczesny has also arrived on a season long loan from Arsenal to battle for a starting berth alongside Morgan De Sanctis. The latter turns 39 in March and is liable to occasional mishap, but the Pole’s arrival is little more than a stop-gap.
There has been no indication that his contract contains an option to buy and Arsene Wenger retains belief in his 25-year-old. Should Szczesny perform adequately this term, Arsenal will be more reluctant to sell him.
Should he perform dismally, Roma will be more reluctant to purchase him outright and will seek other, cheaper options in pursuit of a safe pair of hands.
But the arrival of the summer has undoubtedly came in the form of Edin Džeko. Indeed, the Bosnian was a polarising figure in England, but his goalscoring prowess cannot be disputed.
He hit 48 goals in four full seasons, collected a pair of Premier League winners medals and netted, in the words of David Platt, “heavy goals.” £14 million stands at a bargain considering both his pedigree and Serie A’s reputation of perpetuating the careers of ageing forwards.
Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose, at a combined age of 75, scored 35 goals between them last season. Dzeko, still only 29, should have at least five fruitful goalscoring years ahead of him.
Džeko equips Garcia’s side with a penalty box presence that they sorely lacked last term. Roma’s often sterile performances stemmed from Totti’s habit of dropping into the midfield and the only authentic No. 9 within their ranks, Mattia Destro, was shipped out to Milan for the remaining six months of the season.
Doumbia was purchased in January as an alternative, but he could not produce on a regular basis. Small wonder Roma’s most menacing performances during the spring came when a bona fide centre-forward was leading the line.
The responsibility of integrating Džeko into the XI now rests with Garcia. Whittling down Totti’s gametime at the tip of the attack is paramount. Miralem Pjanic suffered markedly when there was little movement ahead of him and should benefit from his compatriot’s arrival.
Mohamed Salah, who has arrived alongside Džeko, should provide the spark out wide. The Egyptian, a hitherto disappointment at Chelsea, took to life in Italy like a duck to water at Fiorentina last season and is capable of piercing through the most resolute of backlines — as Juventus will attest to.
For Garcia, nevertheless, it remains a decisive season. He vowed to tender his resignation should he become a burden to Roma. This season should see whether those words come to materialise.