Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Roma as we know it does not exist anymore - either on or off the pitch. This was plain to see on Wednesday evening in a vacuous performance in the Champions League against Shakhtar Donetsk – a team that had not played a competitive game for two months – and then again on Sunday as they allowed a three-goal lead to turn into a 4-3 defeat at Genoa.
There were underperforming players who know already that they would not be there next season, a coach who knew he was about to lose his dream job and a president who has no power left whatsoever and should already be gone.
Last Wednesday, Rosella Sensi cut an even more isolated figure than Claudio Ranieri as she sat puffing away in her favourite seat – and it wasn’t the blue haze of smoke wafting around the soon-to-be former owner that was sending those around her scurrying, rather the realisation that their meal ticket to the good seats was about to be discontinued.
The 3-2 defeat to the Ukrainian outfit was the prelude for the Curva Sud to demand the players march behind the goal so that the jeers and boos could really ring home – and not one player dared throw their shirt to the faithful as the shame of it being chucked back in their faces would surely have followed.
Leaderless, the players have been in open revolt and seemingly able to do whatever they want, as demonstrated by Marco Borriello who demonstrated his displeasure at being left on the bench in the Champions League tie by mouthing clearly for the cameras that he had “scored 25,000 goals” and that he should therefore be on the pitch.
Ranieri was in earshot but did little but remain stony still, staring no doubt into the abyss while all around the team crumbled to the ground - although he seemed oblivious to the fact.
“What crisis, I don’t see any crisis,” was his Nero-like take on the situation in the post-Shakhtar press conference - but after Sunday’s incredible events he knew the time for fiddling was over.
He had been left out in the cold at the club’s Trigoria training ground on Thursday as the players held their own meeting to see if they could at least muster some interest in the rest of the campaign.
Sensi had apparently demanded that the team be sent into the dreaded ‘ritiro’ where they would be locked up together 24-hours a day; but they refused point-blank which was further evidence that any sense of order within the club was absent.
Who is going to listen to someone who won’t be around for much longer? In reality the UniCredit bank are in control of club affairs until a new owner comes on board having taken on a debt-for-equity swap with the Sensi family to stave off bankruptcy.
The problem is that nobody seems willing to face up to reality and accept that it is all over: it should have been Sensi and her vapour trails of smoke heading out the door long before Ranieri became the scapegoat for failings further up the chain of command.
The Ultra community took things into their own hands in the most direct manner possible as the team prepared to depart for Genoa by lobbing smoke bombs and flares into the training ground before engaging in running battles with the forces of law and order. The coach carrying the team to the airport left with a escort of flashing lights and frayed nerves.
The players’ have been facing an uncertain future for some time now; John Arne Riise in particular seems bereft of all confidence in his own ability, as witnessed by the Norwegian losing his footing and the ball to enable Shakhtar to score their third goal on Wednesday evening.
The former Liverpool man looks a certain candidate for the exit door in the summer, as is Philippe Mexes, who is out of contract come June and didn’t even bother hanging around for the ritual post-game humiliation on Wednesday – before also going missing in the second half at the Luigi Ferraris stadium at the weekend.
The French defender, who has a stronger Roman accent than most of his team-mates, would in an ideal world like nothing better to stay in the Capital, but the new owners will be looking for a new start which of course brings up the thorny issue of what to do with Francesco Totti?
Keeping such a charismatic character as close as possible would seem to be the smart thing to do to ease them through their settling in period - and then over time allow age and the fading of the light to do the rest.
Beyond that, a ruthless streak is needed to rebuild the current ruins.
Timeline of Ranieri's departure
Sunday, February 20th
16.50 – AS Roma trudge off the pitch at Genoa after losing 4-3, having at one point lead 3-0.
17.00 – Gian Paolo Montali (a club consultant with the mandate of optimising the human resources for the sporting area) informs the media that the players and coach will not be speaking to the press and that a decision on the coach’s future will be made within 24 hours.
17.05 – Media abuzz with reports that Ranieri has resigned and has already told the players, wishing them the best for the rest of the season.
20.40 – The team lands at Rome’s Fiumicino airport and a briskly ferried to Trigoria, where a large police presence has already been deployed.
20.53 – Daniele De Rossi arrives at Trigoria having missed the match due to suspension.
20.55 – The club release official clarification that Ranieri has stepped down, with the lifelong Roma fan telling news agency ANSA: “I hope my decision fires up the team and I have always said that losing here hurts more for me than any other club.”
21.05 – Around 50 vocal fans gather in the rain outside Trigoria.
21.10 – Team bus arrives to a chorus of “mercenaries” with a few eggs, a bottle or two and a couple of oranges lobbed in its direction.
21.15 – The team bus carrying the Giovanissimi Nazionale (the under-15 side) arrives and on bound is their coach Vincenzo Montella who is favourite to take over from Ranieri. The former Giallorossi striker is greeted by cheers from the fans.
21.25 – Players are called into a meeting with club representatives.
21.35 – Sensi releases a statement that the club will make a decision on the new coach on Monday morning.
21.55 – Ranieri leaves Trigoria in his Smart car with police escort, who ignore the fact he is driving while chatting on his mobile phone.
22.15 – Players start leaving by a side gate, with Montella installed as the odds-on favourite to see the team through until the end of the season with Alberto De Rossi (Daniele’s father) as his assistant.
22.20 – Carlo Ancelotti installed has favourite to take over next season.
22.54 – Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi, Marco Borriello, David Pizarro and Marco Cassetti meet in a restaurant near Trigoria for a late dinner.
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