Exactly 365 days since he agreed to become the club's head coach, we spoke to Paulo Fonseca to reflect on his first year in the Italian capital.
From his first few weeks in Rome, to the highs and lows of the season so far and his preparation for a busy final run-in over the weeks ahead, here is what the Portuguese boss had to say on his one-year anniversary with the Giallorossi...
A year ago today you signed the contract with Roma - can you remember your emotions that day?
“I knew I was joining a great club, I was so motivated and enthusiastic and ready to get started. The passion the Roma fans have really got me excited too, and in the year since I can say that we have enjoyed a few good moments. Now I feel completely settled within the club and I’m delighted to be part of this family.”
You arrived in the capital in the first few days of July – what did you make of the environment then?
“Everyone was full of enthusiasm, it was the start of a new era. It gave me that confirmation that the atmosphere and the passion that exists for this team was exactly what I had already seen, albeit from a distance.
"I already knew pretty much all of the players, and from the first day I immediately realised the quality and the professionalism they have.”
How important was it for Edin Dzeko to renew his contract during the summer?
“I always believed Dzeko would stay on for the long-term. At that time there was the possibility that he could leave, but from the very first conversations I had with him I got the feeling that he would stay. You could see in the way he worked in training, working hard every day with professionalism and desire.”
Was it a good or bad thing to play the derby so early, in just the second week of the season?
“We played the first game against Genoa, where we were unlucky to draw – and then it was hard to go and play Lazio. We were a new team, with a new coach – whereas they were a pretty settled side with the same coach.
"That derby was not a great game from our perspective, we were better in the second meeting. That’s down to the short period we had had to work with the players, but since then we’ve been on a positive path.”
Would you say the game against Sassuolo was the first true ‘Fonseca game’?
“It was a great performance, but I had always had faith in my players. Against Sassuolo, though, the display itself was especially convincing – and from that the group gained confidence for the games that followed. Even if a defeat against Atalanta soon followed, which brought us back down to earth a bit.”
What did you make of that game?
“The truth is that everyone could see that was going to be a difficult game. And rightly so, given that in the past we hadn’t done especially well against them – they are a strong side and they too have played together for a number of years. Nevertheless, that was an important defeat for us: we realised the work we still had to do and understood a bit more of what needed to change.”
In October there were other setbacks – was it overall a step back for the side?
“Roma-Cagliari was an unlucky game – the performance was good, we just lacked a goal. That’s not an excuse, you need to score and I know that, but the attitude was right.
"Then there was the game against Sampdoria, which I was deeply unhappy about. Sometimes you need games like that, though, to realise the sort of mistakes you can’t be making. Perhaps this season has been one of those that has taught us what we cannot afford to be doing, too.
"After the game in Genoa we had a few injuries that didn’t help, and meant we had to play [Gianluca] Mancini in midfield. But after another two games or so I started to see the sort of side I wanted again.”
You mean the game against Udinese?
“Exactly, that showed the attacking intent of a strong group who played as a unit. We were down a man, yet we kept battling and ended up winning 4-0. That was a great Roma display.”
In Milan, against Inter, we secured a goalless draw after a good display. But was that a chance missed, or a point gained?
“I always want to win. You need to look at various aspects, though. Dzeko wasn’t at his best, we were without Pau Lopez too. We lacked a cutting edge in the final third, but it was a good performance.”
What did you make of the team at the start of 2020?
“Roma-Torino was an odd game, and the same goes for the Juventus match – where a few little mistakes marred what was otherwise a decent performance. The worst game of the year was against Sassuolo; on that occasion the team didn’t really go out there with the right focus and the way that one went knocked our confidence a bit for the following games too.”
How did you bounce back from that?
“Thanks to some good performances in the Europa League, which also helped us get back to winning ways in the league. Winning at home against Gent helped us get our heads up again, and from that we put in another decent performance to confirm our place in the last-16.”
What does the Europa League mean for the team this season?
“Playing on Thursdays is not easy and we have often gone out there with essentially the same side – but nevertheless, for us it is a really important competition. We want to go as far as we possibly can.
"We have to play Sevilla, and we know all about their quality and their record in this competition – but they will find themselves going up against a Roma side that is determined to win.”
What’s been the best goal so far this season?
“I won’t chose a goal because it was aesthetically beautiful – but one because it was important. Dzeko’s against Bologna, in the final minute. It was a key moment for us, in terms of our character, because the team fought hard to win that game and to do it in that manner was just amazing.”
During games we’ve seen you go from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 – or even use a three-man defence. How do you change the way your side plays?
“Changing things is not easy, or necessarily better: you need time to do it, and with so many games in quick succession it can make it difficult to assimilate certain ideas. But you can change things. And we have done that at times, while always sticking to our core principles, our playing philosophy.
"You can and should be able to change formations without changing the core ideas behind the way we play. That has to be the case – especially here in Italy. I am not a coach that is tied to one particular way of playing.”
How do you get going again, after such a long pause like this?
“It’s not been easy, keeping the players motivated and focused at home – but I have to say that the players have been great throughout. They all stayed in Rome and that’s no small thing; it’s not easy and it’s not something every club has done.
"Since we’ve been back I immediately realised one thing: they are all incredibly motivated.”
How is the squad physically?
“We’ve done a lot of tests on the players, after two months like this, and they all came back in better shape than they would have done after a month on holiday.”
What can we expect to see on the pitch when the season resumes?
“The intensity of the first few games might not be the same, but I think after four or five games we will all be back at the same level as before.”
Does playing every three days mean there will be a lot of rotation?
“Definitely. With a long period of games so close together it’s not easy to keep the same team on the pitch – you need to have options. Rotation will be vital.”
Does that mean having five substitutions will be useful?
“Right now, yes. For now it’s important, you just have to see how many injuries there have been in Germany already to realise that. We will also be playing during some of the hottest weeks of the year.
"And then after that, it gives you more options. It means the coach has the option to do it, though – it doesn’t mean he absolutely has to.”
Would you like the option to remain in the future too?
“I don’t think so. Five subs favours the bigger sides with the bigger squads. And so that would make it even harder for others – it’s better to have more competitive balance, it benefits everyone.”
How is Nicolo Zaniolo doing?
“He’s not training with the squad, but he’s getting closer to that point. He’s recovered really well, he’s ahead of schedule – but we don’t need to rush him back.
"We won’t call upon him for the first few games, but from July perhaps he will be available to get involved.”
What about Davide Zappacosta?
“Davide is doing well – he’s ready. He’s training as normal with his teammates and will definitely be in consideration throughout this period.”
What is you target for the end of the season?
“We want to qualify for the Champions League, even if we know that will be an extremely tough task. Our rivals are ahead of us in the table, and are really strong too. There’s not much time to make up ground, but we will try to do it – one game at a time.
"One thing is for sure: we will be a stronger side than we were before the stop, and we will try to show what Roma could really look like in future. Recently we have been able to work on a number of different things and the players have always worked hard. They are all highly motivated.
"It will be tough to finish in the top four, but we really want to show who we are and what we can be.”