Last week, Eusebio Di Francesco returned to Roma for the third time – this time as head coach. Our columnist takes a look at what he thinks the tactician will bring to the club…
In the middle of June 2001, the streets of Rome became submerged under the colors of red and yellow, when the Giallorossi claimed their third Scudetto on the last day of the season.
Francesco Totti, Gabrielle Batistuta, Cafu and so many more had led the city to glory, and the squad - and the fans - were celebrating their moment. Among them was midfielder Eusebio Di Francesco, who had returned from injury just in time to help the push to glory.
Sixteen years later, the Scudetto-winning legend returns to the club, looking to bring all he has learned during the intervening period to the capital. From leading his old side, Sassuolo, to the Serie B title and then into European competition, the last decade of Di Francesco’s career has been fundamental for Roma’s next chapter.
One aspect of his game that needed little development though, was his determination to drive his team to success through hard work – and it is this mentality that makes Di Francesco the right man to take the reins of the Giallorossi.
Just after his retirement as a player with Perugia, he made his first return to the capital when he became the club’s team operations manager. It was not the easiest time to come back: the next couple of years would prove tumultuous for Roma, with struggles in European competition and rifts within the dressing room. You often learn more in such adversity, though, and perhaps these hard times laid the groundwork for Di Francesco to learn more about the psychology of managing an elite squad.
It’s no secret that the city of Rome is a hotbed of football – a city that lives and dies by the result of each match. Adding the volatile eye of the media, a multitude of managers have come and gone after succumbing to the pressure. Di Francesco’s first press conference immediately dispelled the fears some fans had about him not being able to handle the weight: “The atmosphere in Rome may not be the easiest but I'm calm and looking forward to getting stuck into this fantastic experience.”
One of the key players under Zdenek Zeman’s Roma of the late 90s, Di Francesco became enamored by the all-out-attacking strategy and physical play that his coach demanded. It could be argued that it was the tenets of these philosophies that conditioned the squad that Fabio Capello would ultimately lead to the Scudetto.
Where the Czech tactician had his shortcomings - in protecting leads and suffocating counter-attacks – Capello offered a slightly more practical framework in key moments. Di Francesco observed both methods.
Having learned from some of the best Italian coaches of the last 20 years, Di Francesco was able to pick and choose the best elements from the more veteran managers.
“I was fortunate enough to work with the likes of Fabio Capello, Gigi Cagni and Luciano Spalletti too," he said, when asked about his debt to Zeman. "I ‘stole' secrets from those coaches and now put my own twist on things.”
His attacking yet balanced style is what has allowed his teams to thrive, with fluid, flowing football, yet responsible defensive coverage that closes space quickly – a feature Roma’s spritely backline will have little issue in adapting to.
One of the most appealing ideals we can expect him to bring is the beauty of his play. A healthy Sassuolo was a pleasure to watch for football fans who appreciated the fine points of attacking – with a tandem of tridents between midfield and attack, playing free-flowing passes that moved the ball in a system of criss-crossing runs and off-the-ball movement.
The Lupi will now be engaging in movements that confound the best defenders, and positioning that will constantly pepper the opponent’s net.
The Pescara native’s hard-nosed attribute as a player is exactly what he will expect out of his Roma. A constant, animated sight on the sidelines, his seat is almost never used during a match. Anything less than 100 per cent will result in an open-handed, upwards facing palm and a howl.
Through his thick-framed eyeglasses, he sees every movement – positive and negative – and is diligent to achieve maximum efficiency.
From his personal understanding of how to win a title, to his adaptability and ability to absorb the pressure of the city and media, Di Francesco’s appointment offers the promise of a new and exciting Roma.