x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Roma's crisis feels familiar

Shareholders and fans have turned against Sensi and even Ranieri is taking criticism.

The Roma defender Philippe Mexes is visibly dejected after the 2-1 defeat at Udinese on Wednesday.
The Roma defender Philippe Mexes is visibly dejected after the 2-1 defeat at Udinese on Wednesday.

No Francesco Totti: he is injured. No Daniele De Rossi: he is suspended. The rest have been grounded in the practice camp in Trigoria by order of the president, Rosella Sensi. So what is new at Roma? Their current crisis is already carrying all the symptoms of their last two or three, with the captain's habitually fragile knees and the vice captain's typical indiscipline just the tip of what appears to be a rapidly melting iceberg.

Roma play Bologna this afternoon after a dreadful fortnight. They have lost their last three matches in Serie A, sit two points above the relegation positions, and fans have been congregating around Trigoria to sloganise and declaim against spoilt stars and what they regard as inadequate boardroom leadership. A shareholders' meeting on Thursday descended into a night of heckling against Sensi, and although no one is yet blaming a head coach, Claudio Ranieri, who has only been in the job for six weeks, a sudden nostalgia has also afflicted some fans. The nobility of Sensi's father, the previous president, was lauded at the raucous shareholders' event; so was the reign of Ranieri's predecessor, Luciano Spalletti, who was sacked in September after one bad start to a season too many.

It is hard not to feel for Ranieri, and not simply because he is so good at presenting a genial, likeable and professional side to himself. Corralled at Trigoria with his players, he is defiant. "We will come out of this tunnel," he maintained, "and this same group of players were doing well as team until recently, so they can do so again." But, after some promising firefighting - Ranieri won four and lost only one of his first seven matches in charge - he has been unable to prevent old neuroses and weaknesses returning.

This was not exactly what Ranieri bargained for at Roma. His appointment is still being hailed from his employer as a populist choice. "He is a Roman and a romanista," Sensi reminded her antagonists last week. So he is, but from a long time ago in a career that then took him across Italy, Spain and England. "It's been more than 25 years since I last lived and worked in Rome," Ranieri said. So it is only the older Roma loyalists who recall Ranieri as the hard-working defender who wore Roma's jersey, briefly, in Serie A in the mid 1970s. As a player, he had more success at Catanzaro, Catania and Palermo. As a coach, he made his name at Cagliari, Napoli and Fiorentina, then in Spain's Primera Liga and with Chelsea in England.

As a firefighter, he remade his reputation by saving Parma from what looked certain relegation in 2007. And the firefighter image hardly left him, even at Juventus, where in two seasons he restored that club as a Serie A force until leaving in April. "They had just come out of Serie B, and the aim was to get Juventus back up," he said of that episode, which ended with him being fired. "We finished third in Serie A, and then second. Nobody asked me to win the league in that short time at Juve and, yes, I'd have been happier to have finished the season there. But this is how things sometimes happen. A little door closes, and a big one opens."

But behind Roma's door, a bad fire was burning. "They had had mainly the same team for the last four years, the same manager for that time, and I am working with a squad I inherited," said Ranieri. "It's important to look forward and the team are behind me, following me 100 per cent." That included the totemic, hugely influential Totti, he added. "Totti is different, the whole world knows that. He's our magic box, unique, and it's vital for us to have him, because when he's on the field you always have the possibility of something out of nothing." Alas, for Roma's crisis, they have no Totti for at least the next three weeks.

ihawkey@thenational.ae Roma v Bologna, KO 6pm, Aljazeera Sport + 7