BLOG ITALIA
Monday February 21 2011
Take off or plane crash?

James Horncastle asks whether the decision to appoint the man known as L'Aeroplanino will see Roma take off or crash

Marassi is certainly a place that holds mixed emotions for Claudio Ranieri. Last night the Tinkerman came full circle. Almost 38 years after making his debut for Roma as a defender away to Genoa, the butcher's son from San Saba tendered his resignation as the team's trainer. On both occasions the net result was a defeat, only this time instead of it being the beginning, it felt like the end.

Sad though it is, the news of Ranieri's departure isn't entirely surprising even if as recently as Saturday afternoon he had told reporters: "I won't abandon ship." The writing was on the wall, and quite literally too at least at the club's training ground in Trigoria where the ultras, who protested throughout last week, wrote the words "unworthy" and "mercenaries" on every available space.

Roma have never once suffered a 4-3 defeat in Serie A after taking a 3-0 lead. And ironically for Ranieri, a Coach who established his reputation at the club by launching an astonishing comeback in the title race last season, he became an unwitting victim of his very own specialty. Eight teams have gone behind to Roma in the 2010-11 campaign either to equalise or win. It speaks volumes.

Roma's problems go much deeper than Ranieri. Until his arrival, no Coach of Roma had ever managed to finish second in their first season at the club, not Fabio Capello, nor Nils Liedholm. He thoroughly deserved a new deal last summer. Lest we forget, Ranieri finished the last calendar year with more points than anyone else in Serie A, including Jose Mourinho, and leaves having won four consecutive derbies.

Of course, that's not to say, he didn't have his faults. Ranieri got it wrong too often this season with his team selections, his substitutions and by the same token his man-management of a dressing room which is not exactly lacking in big egos. At one and the same time, he was an agent and a victim of the uncertainty surrounding a club that finds itself in limbo.

Prospective new owner Thomas Di Benedetto is still in the process of doing due diligence and the sale of Roma is thought to be at least a month away. The departure of Ranieri couldn't have come at a worse time. Wednesday sees the team travel to Bologna to resume the match that was postponed for heavy snowfall on January 30. Roma's form going into that fixture was impressive – seven wins from their last eight games and a chance to mount the podium.

How quickly things can change in football. They now lie in eighth spot, nine points off the fourth and final Champions League place held by Lazio and stare at the prospect of a fifth defeat in a row for the first time since the 2004-05 campaign, the season of three coaching changes. It's a delicate situation, one that needs handling with care and experience. So the appointment of Vincenzo Montella as Ranieri's replacement and Roma's sixth tactician in six years is surprising.

The 36-year-old striker, who scored 102 goals in 251 games for the club, has been in charge of Roma's Giovanissimi team for one and a half seasons. The players he has coached are generally aged between 14 and 15, and despite blowing the Scudetto on the final day of the last campaign in typical Roman style, they have since recorded 21 victories from 21 matches this season, a remarkable feat.

"Tactics interest me little," Montella told Il Romanista. "I prefer to give the lads pointers that help them exploit their individual qualities better." He is being quite reductive in this respect. Montella has shown a proclivity for 4-3-3 and 4-2-1-3 at Giovanissimi level, always choosing to play three strikers.

He was supposed to fly to Barcelona this week to study the training methods of the Catalan giants. But a Guardiola effect isn't expected at the Stadio Olimpico even if Montella has imitated his former teammate by enjoying success at youth level. Roma are looking for someone more in the style of Leonardo, a former player who knows how the dressing room works and what's necessary to give the team a lift in terms of motivation.

Some would have preferred to see the wise figure of Bruno Conti step in again just like he did after Gigi Del Neri departed in March 2005. However, Roma's appearance in the Coppa Italia Final that year has often glossed over the panic that characterised his short stint in charge.

Conti won only one of 10 games, taking seven points from a possible 30. At one stage Roma were in danger of being relegated, but ended up finishing eighth, their current position in Serie A. Any repeat of that would jeopardise their search for a more permanent candidate, such as Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti. The absence of Champions League football would naturally render Roma a less attractive proposition.

The buck now passes to Montella. And with that in mind, the next question to ask is whether Roma will take off under the man known as L'Aeroplanino or crash and burn? Whatever the answer, the club and the players certainly no longer have any excuses.

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