Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Luis Enrique arrived at AS Roma in the summer with dark hair on his 41-year-old head and a reputation for being a no-nonsense coach. Nearly nine months on he has grayed considerably and for many in the Italian capital he has stopped making any sense at all.
When he turned up at the club's Trigoria training centre for his first session in August wielding an iPad, he was immediately dubbed Zichichi, after Antonino Zichichi, the silver-haired doyen of nuclear physics. But in recent weeks he has been acting more like the nutty professor.
The latest experiment to go up in smoke came in Wednesday’s rearranged fixture home fixture with lowly Fiorentina, a match which ended in a frustrating 2-1 defeat. In truth the damage had been done last weekend at Juventus, when the Spaniard had decided to start Simone Perrotta, who had not played since December, leave the in-form Francesco Totti on the bench and once more deploy Daniele De Rossi out of position in central defence.
The gossamer-thin line-up was torn apart by a marauding Juve to the tune of four goals. However it was not just the defence which was shredded, but also the whole camp’s fragile confidence
The cold shouldering of the captain turned into a full-blown bout of flu which had the Romans fretting that their inspirational leader would miss the midweek fixture, yet it was Enrique’s pre-match press conference which caused most distress in the Capital.
Asked to explain how the team had failed to provide Juventus with any semblance of a competitive run-out, silence ensued. And ensued. And ensued, before being briefly broken by a muttered, “I am thinking.”
Nearly a minute passed before he launched into a long, meandering and at times incoherent explanation, one which was more awkward than the silence that had proceeded it.
Among the topics touched upon were 'taking responsibility', 'believing in the team' and 'not always relying on Totti'. One couldn’t help but wonder if the team talk had been equally as rambling.
Having gone a goal down to Fiorentina after only two minutes, it seemed Roma had rescued a point when Totti stuck out a foot to fortuitously divert Fernando Gago’s wayward effort home with 12 minutes remaining.
But the rest of the match had been a similar to the debacle in Turin: a mish-mash of misplaced passes and nervy defending, so it was no real surprise when the visitors scored a winner two minutes into added time.
Roma’s soft centre was exposed once again, as was the team’s ill-discipline. Forward Pablo Osvaldo was shown a straight red card for dissent and joins Erik Lamela - caught spitting at Juve’s Stephan Lichtsteiner in Sunday's defeat - and De Rossi in being banned for this weekend’s match against Napoli.
Enrique has been strict with his code of ethics off the pitch, banning Osvaldo for a dressing-room dust-up with Lamela and dropping De Rossi for turning up late to a team meeting. However, once they cross the white line, the players seem to lose all respect for the team ethic.
At least the coach was willing to accept this most recent set-back had been his fault, and thought better than to mention the “project” which the local media firmly believe isn’t going to make it past the blackboard stage.
He still couldn’t let go of his growing bitterness towards the press, claiming they should be pleased to see he was only four games away from leaving the club, with the season drawing to a close. However, in doing so he fed himself to the lions, which now include a growing number of the fans: a giant banner on Wednesday read: “If you are a real man Luis then leave now.”
In fairness, a foreign coach taking on his first major job with the plan of changing the philosophy of the Italian game was never going to have an easy time of it, especially in the high-pressure environment of Rome.
Patience is something generally in short supply among the media and fans in Rome, but not within the club, it would seem. Sporting director Franco Baldini reiterated that Enrique would be in charge next season – a stance unlikely to change over the course of the run-in, even if the team does fail to qualify for Europe.
But if Enrique is still around in August, he better have a new formula stored in that iPad.
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