Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Luis Enrique turned up at AS Roma’s training ground on Friday looking more like a new signing than the club's new coach.Looking trim and dressed casually in jeans and polo shirt, the 41-year-old arrived with his new staff – including Ivan de la Pena, a former Lazio player no less, who also looked as if he wouldn’t need much persuasion to get involved in a five-a-side match.
Given a tour of the Trigoria training facility, they looked suitably impressed with the training pitches, players’ quarters and country-club air, swimming pool and all. Then they sat down for a 15-minute chat with the man they most need to win over: Francesco Totti.
One can clearly picture the steely stare and iron-gripped handshake when the pair were introduced, and new sporting director Walter Sabatini must ensure that there is mutual understanding between two hard-headed individuals whose co-existence will be crucial to Roma becoming a power once more in Serie A.
While Totti is still the undisputed king of all he surveys, Enrique certainly has all the credentials to become the team’s true leader and uniting force; as Sabatini pointed out, the Spaniard has that built-in arrogance that ensures you always come out on top in the battle for a parking place in the Eternal City.
His playing career at Real Madrid and then Barcelona is well documented and, having had his nose splayed across his face by Mauro Tassotti at USA 94, his very presence gives Romanisti another reason to hate title holders AC Milan.
However, the experience gleaned at the Barcelona academy of excellence in charge of the Blaugrana B side will be invaluable and could even revolutionise the Italian game. What conversations Guardiola must have had with Pep Guardiola on the philosophy that has taken Barça to the heights of footballing perfection they have currently attained. Even if he didn’t get on that well with his old team-mate, he's privy to the secrets of the Camp Nou and the La Masia player-development complex.
Tellingly, Enrique will have complete control over every area within the Roma set-up from the under-8s onwards, with each side playing in the same way as the first-team – just as they have been doing at the Catalan club. The talent is there – Roma have always had the pick of the best local talent and the youth side won the Italian Cup Final against Varese on Sunday – but the new structure will be the first step on what everyone hopes will be a Roman answer to cultivating their own Xavi or Iniesta... and dare they dream of a new Messi somewhere down the line?
This is not like Jose Mourinho, who arrived in Italian football like a force of nature to drag Inter to the Treble of the Serie A title, Champions League and domestic Cup by exerting his own will on his players and opposition alike. Roma aren't demanding instant success but rather a cultural evolution in the way the game is played.
Enrique arrives with no baggage: he doesn’t know or owe anyone in Italy. But those he will work will closely – initially Sabatini and eventually Franco Baldini, when he unties himself from his England commitments – are masters of the intrigue and Machiavellian power plays within the Italian game and will guide him through the corridors of mistrust and envy that will no doubt rise against the Romans from such an insular world.
Enrique has been handed a two-year contract and as it stands there will be no panic reaction if the team fail to finish in the top three next season. However, everyone including the new man are well aware that the resources will be made available to reach that objective.
The club’s new owner Thomas Di Benedetto has thus far maintained a low profile but has given Sabatini carte blanche to provide him with five or six names that can be persuaded to move to Rome.
Already there have been suggestions that Enrique will return to Barcelona for Bojan Krkic and suddenly with Americans at the helm and one of Europe's most sought-after young coaches in charge, agents are talking up their clients as the perfect additions to the new Roma adventure.
Javier Pastore had already been linked some time ago, but the Palermo playmaker has looked more likely move to Real Madrid or Inter – until the last few days, that is. Now that the Argentine is back home to prepare for the Copa America and having seen the likes of Erik Lamela of River Plate and Ricky Alvarez of Velez Sarsfield suddenly linked with Roma, his agent is making overtures towards the Giallorossi management.
There's no doubt that the manner in which the Spanish Ironman competitor swaggered into town has had a galvanising effect with even the out-of-sorts Daniele De Rossi seemingly coming round to the idea that maybe this new-look Roma is really the place to be.
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