Monday, June 20, 2011

Luis and Ivan go to Roma

In his own quiet way, Luis Enrique has success at Barcelona B has been almost as impressive of that of Pep Guardiola with the senior team. Enrique succeeded Guardiola at the Mini Estadi and in three has taken the team from the Segunda B to third in the Segunda Liga, which, were they a regular team and not Barça’s reserve side, would have seen them in the playoffs for promotion to the Primera Liga. This is all the more noteworthy as Barça B is a team of young lads, most of them 18, 19 or 20, that regularly has it’s best players unavailable because they’ve been called up to dine at the grown-ups table. Thiago Alcantara, Jonathan Dos Santos, Andreu Fontas, Marc Muniesa, Sergi Roberto and Nolito have all been shuttled between the two squads. Injuries, Copa Del Rey games, playing well for Barça B can all mean the lungs being torn out of a side that still has to field a full team every Sunday.

On the back of this, Enrique’s move to Roma is an interesting one. During the season all the talk had been of Getafe, a well run but poorly financed (though this may change with their purchase by the Royal Emirates group) and supported team. It would have been a stepping stone, as it has been for Quique Sanchez Flores, Bernd Schuster and Michael Laudrup. Expectations are modest, avoiding relegation is pretty much the limit of their ambition.

Contrast this with the pressure cooker that is AS Roma. Despite being relatively successful (2nd place finishes, 2 Copa Italias and some decent results in the Champions League) under Luciano Spalletti and Claudio Ranieri, their most recent scudetto was 10 years ago when Fabio Capello was in charge. Since then they have excelled at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, blowing the title on more than one occasion.

Conceding last-minute equalisers, ludicrous penalties, multiple sendings off, needless yellow cards that see their best players suspended for big games, ridiculous collapses against hopeless opposition, Roma are a team that always seem likely to beat themselves as much as the opposition in front of them.

So what have Enrique and de la Pena (more of him later) let themselves in for? Firstly they take on a squad where most of the players are 30 or over (in some cases waaay over) Vucinic, De Rossi, Borriello and Menez are the only top class players at the club that are in their 20s and two of them, Vucinic and Menez look almost certain to leave. There’s also the goalkeeping situation, which rapidly needs addressing. Their 3 keepers, Julio Sergio, Doni and Labont are prone to such comical errors and lapses of judgement that there’s a good chance of one of them showing up at Arsenal soon. Doni used be very good but he’s gone to pieces in the last two seasons and is on his way out the door.

On the plus side, De Rossi is brilliant and Borriello has signed permanently from AC Milan. French lunatic and sometime defender Philippe Mexes has left (for Milan as it happens) so instances of on-pitch madness should be well down on last season. Juan and Nicolas Burdisso are a solid central defensive pairing. Taddei and Pizarro are very tidy midfielders and the clubs new owner, Tom DiBenedetto looks like he might buy a few players and more importantly, leave Enrique and his coaching team to it (he’s a partner in the Liverpool and Red Sox owning NESV, who have a good ownership record).

Inevitably a laundry list of Barcelona fringe players and almost the entire Barça B squad have been linked with a move to the Stadio Olimpico. Of the players available they could do with one or all of Bojan, Jeffren and Soriano, though one of them is likely to be included in the deal that brings Alexis Sanchez from Udine to the Camp Nou. Enrique will probably play the same 4-3-3 at Roma and with an existing forward line that includes a 35 year old Francesco Totti, it’s in desperate need of upgrading with some young, mobile players. As for the rest of Barça B, the noises the players have been making, particularly Martin Montoya, would suggest they’ve got no interest in been pushed out the door.

One final word about Ivan de la Pena, the other ex-blaugrana at Roma and Enrique’s assistant. A player of immense talent who got shunted out of Barcelona by Louis Van Gaal, making a disastrous move to Lazio, one his career never really recovered from. Though he did do very well at Espanyol following a second (and very brief spell at Barcelona), he was much better than that. A fabulous passer and the lungs of that Espanyol side, he retired in May and this will be his first coaching role. I wish him all the best.

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