x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Reality bites at Roma for Luis Enrique as coach

His stock has fallen in Italy after a demanding first year in Serie A.

Luis Enrique's Roma side have fallen away in the second half of the Serie A campaign.
Luis Enrique's Roma side have fallen away in the second half of the Serie A campaign.

Poor Luis Enrique. For the head coach of Roma, football must have seemed a cruel sport these past few days.

"Football?" he said after his team's 0-0 draw at Chievo had all but confirmed that a top-three finish, and Champions League football next season, would be beyond Roma. "This wasn't a football match, it was water polo."

True, rain had destroyed any attempts by either side at a passing game.

You cannot blame the weather for Roma's under-par campaign. But you can, as large numbers of supporters now demonstrably do, ask questions of the readiness of an inexperienced coach to take on such a demanding club.

Last summer, Luis Enrique gained the confidence of Roma's new owners, was granted significant funds to spend on players and any internal doubts about his youth and lack of familiarity with Italian football or indeed the hot seat that in any senior dugout would be masked by how fashionable he seemed.

He had the Barcelonabrand practically tattooed to his forearms: he is a former Barca captain, and had embarked on the managerial ladder with a successful season coaching Barca B.

So similar was his recent CV to Pep Guardiola's, that Roma's genuine concern had been that if, as had been strongly hinted, Guardiola were to step down at Barcelona, Luis Enrique would be courted as his replacement and tempted.

Last Friday, Guardiola announced he would be leaving Barcelona. The Spanish club's instincts were to appoint his replacement "from within". Twelve months ago, that would have led them first to Luis Enrique; instead they went for Guardiola's understudy, his No 2, Tito Vilanova, who has no track record as the head coach of a senior team.

In short, Luis Enrique is far less fashionable than he was. "It has not been a good year," he said. The application of his dogmas - barcelonista ideas about the primacy of possession football - to Roma has been awkward and Roma bear the classic symptoms of transition: inconsistency and a lack of momentum.

Twice last months they shipped four goals in a game. Two wins out of the last seven was not form to keep them among the several battlers for Serie A's third place.

Luis Enrique has heard many votes of confidence from his bosses during the season, but he knows, when it ends, the bottom line is what counts.

"In this job you are judged by results," he sighed after his wet night in Verona.

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