Roma revolution not going to plan
"Roma, Roma, Roma". The club's introductory song at the Stadio Olimpico repeats the name of the team - and the city - three times, for emphasis, celebration, adulation.
You may not be surprised by those words, those sentiments, those displays of affection and passion and rapture. Feelings that most Roma fans would associate with their beloved Giallorossi in both the good and in the bad times, the former always made sweeter by the prevalence of the latter.
You've read it here before, but winning in Rome is probably twice as hard as doing it somewhere else, even in Milan. The pressure is immense, the skin is thinner, the knees jerk quicker than anywhere else in Italy.
Luis Enrique, as prepared as he may have thought he was for all of this, knows by now.
After Roma's 3-0 defeat at Fiorentina last Sunday, the Spanish manager was for the first time this season barracked by his own supporters, some of them standing only a few yards away, behind the glass that separates the bench area from the bottom of the main stand.
A further 30 or so waited for the squad to return home by train to unleash their anger and call for Enrique to resign, although common sense dictates 30 out of the millions supporting Roma is such a tiny percentage this should not even be newsworthy.
A worrying change of attitude from just 15 days earlier then, when an unusual banner with the words "Never slaves to the result" was hung at the front of the Curva Sud, signifying the fans' acceptance that the side would have to go through hard times before starting to absorb Enrique's style and coaching philosophy?
Hardly so, as Il Romanista, a daily newspaper entirely devoted to the club (plus a few pages on Rome's general affairs), noted on Tuesday. Most of the members of Roma's Curva Sud, the paper argued, do not own the Tessera del Tifoso - a pass that allows fans to travel to away games. Thus, it's highly likely those who turned on Luis Enrique were the same fans that have been sceptical of him since the day he apparently pursued his own tactical agenda rather than a result and allowed Roma to be knocked out of the Europa League by Slovan Bratislava at the preliminary stage.
Down 1-0 from the first leg, Roma were pressing for a goal when Luis Enrique took Francesco Totti off, which in the eyes of many is tantamount to using the city's Colosseum as a giant colander,
Generally speaking, and at great risk of falling into clichés, Romans are a funny bunch. You may or may not like them - and in fact many across Italy don't - but there are times you have to hold your hands up and concede they can come up with something no one else could even conceive, in keeping with the spirit of a city where you could apparently pick almost anybody off the street, hand him a microphone and kick-start the career of the next great stand-up comedian.
This sense of humour, borne perhaps out of having to deal with horrible traffic, government officials (and their wives, sons, daughters, lovers) speeding past them in official cars at red lights and thousands of tourists spreading goodwill, money and - er - bad smells in the crowded underground cars, seems to stop short of acknowledging a Roma side can be successful without Totti.
A few minutes after the Captain - never use lower case when mentioning him - left the pitch, Slovan equalised and went through, setting the first serious roadblock in Luis Enrique's implementation of a plan to overhaul Roma's mentality, tactics and approach. It's called "progetto" in Italian, but plan is perhaps a better word than project to identify it.
And it's a monumental task, one which requires an unusually consistent and cohesive effort from all relevant components.
Not so much the American majority owners, who have so far appeared to delegate authority, but the persons they appointed. Among them, sporting director Walter Sabatini and, more recently, Franco Baldini, who left his job in the England set-up at the end of their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. Both have been firm supporters of Enrique from the very beginning, but the interaction between the different parts of the Roma plan sounds at once fascinating and intriguing.
In Luis Enrique's beautiful philosophy, for example, Totti carries as much weight as one of the many youngsters who have been brought in to carry out the plan. No one should consider himself a starter unless he deserves to be, and the Spanish coach's words on Rodrigo Taddei just a couple of weeks ago sum up his attitude: "When he was out of the side he kept working hard in training, he had another chance and he took it. He's a great footballer and a fantastic professional". Some would argue that in the first four words of the last sentence, Luis Enrique's philosophy is clear: show me your skills, and you're in.
Not surprisingly, then, Roma have had a different starting line-up in each Serie A game so far. And therein lies part of the problem. Conventional wisdom dictates that you should settle on a core of players then add the moveable parts to accommodate each gameplan, but this has hardly been the case in Rome.
Daniele De Rossi, the so-called Captain Future, has spent most of the season in a position that requires him to sit in front of the defence. Many times, in fact, he has dropped so far back to organise play that while the full-backs pushed forward and the centre-backs shifted wide, he has became an additional defender when in possession, although this may sound oxymoronic.
All of a sudden, though, De Rossi was moved to right midfield in a 4-3-3 for the game at Novara. Why? Luis Enrique's explanation was rational and spotless - "I felt he'd provide us with more outside shooting, and that's his position for Italy anyway" - but outsiders were moved to ask why, then, had De Rossi been deployed in another area before, and has been since.
Critics of Luis Enrique point out that players have been moved around so much they have failed to establish themselves in one position, although Roma's passing, off the ball movement and ambition of high pressing mean it's often hard to pinpoint what a player's responsibility really is.
Ball possession in the opposing half has been so consistent Roma are currently Serie A's No. 1 in that statistical angle, and Luis Enrique, who has puzzled observers by praising his side after defeats such as the one at Genoa, insists they can play their way out of trouble. But scoring goals has proved to be more difficult and therein lies another problem, one which surely separates the Giallorossi from any version of Luis Enrique's previous club, Barcelona (he coached their B side).
A fairly consistent goalscorer like Marco Borriello has been all but exiled, as smaller, quicker players like Bojan, Fabio Borini and Erik Lamela have been tasked with partnering Pablo Osvaldo up front. The former Fiorentina, Bologna and Espanyol striker has produced more than expected, perhaps - at one point scoring in four consecutive matches - but he has also produced many controversial moments: Osvaldo punched Lamela in the Udinese dressing room after complaining about a pass he had not made and being met with a "shut up, you're not Maradona" as a reply, subsequently receiving a fine and one-match suspension.
The club-imposed ban was a move meant to reaffirm Luis Enrique's grip on the squad but might have worked in the other direction after he revealed what had happened to the media, who had only received rumours of raised voices between veterans and younger players.
Osvaldo, perhaps still upset at being hung out to dry by the man who had persuaded the club to sign him, was at it again on Wednesday, leaving training early after a bust-up with another unnamed player - not Lamela, apparently - and setting up a torrid end of the week ahead of Monday evening's big clash with Juventus.
Ironically, Luis Enrique will not have to tinker much with his XI this time, as suspension for the three players sent off against Fiorentina (Juan, Bojan and Gago, who also picked up a knock) and injuries have left him with a smaller pool of players to select from.
There is almost no chance of Luis Enrique losing his job even with a defeat against Juventus - Baldini, speaking to Radio Rai in late October said: "I've tied my fortunes to his and supporting him will be like supporting myself" - but reading between the lines of what comes from Roma's Trigoria training centre you get the sense it may be the Spanish coach himself throwing in the towel if he senses the players haven't bought into his plan.
Most of the Curva Sud is not a "slave to the result" then, but the man they keep supporting ironically may still be.