A Peek in at AS Roma & Paulo Fonseca
Another Portuguese (born in former Portuguese colony Mozambique) coach at another top club. The Iberian country is an absolute factory for talented coaches.
AS Roma, the last several years, have been one of the best of the rest behind Juventus in Serie A despite not getting anywhere near the same level of admiration as Napoli. Granted they were rarely ever close to challenging the Vecchia Signora’s dominance and Eusebio Di Francesco was never quite convincing, while Ranieiri was always going to be a short-term fix but they have flown too long under the radar. Fonseca has arrived and might be the one to change that. He is young, ambitious and hardened and he is working with a team that mirrors those attributes and importantly it appears he has been given the backing of the club.
Matteo Politano of Inter Milan has been linked with AS Roma (Football Italia) while Cengiz Ünder the (former?) wonderboy has fallen completely out of favor with Fonseca after starting the season behind the eight ball with an early injury. Even just over a year ago it would have seemed implausible for Roma to sell Ünder under such circumstances. He was always going to be sold but it seemed to be more likely that he would have been in form when that happened. Fonseca has not featured him much in games and has relied more on Nicolò Zaniolo, Edin Džeko, Diego Perotti and Justin Kluivert. The club appears to back Fonseca in this situation and it would be hard to argue against them. Napoli, Inter Milan, Lazio and even potentially resurgent Fiorentina and AC Milan were mooted as the big top competitors in Serie A after Juventus ; AS Roma not so much. However, the Giallorossi are continuing the establishment of a side that can compete in the Italian league and could prove to be a tough out for any team in Europe. They are solid defensively defensively with just 18 goals conceded in 17 games and they have needed to be as they are not even averaging 2 goals per game. Fonseca has prolonged Roma’s defensive excellence of the past few years, 2018/2019 notwithstanding. He has game-winners (such as Dzeko and Kolarov) and potential future stars (for instance Kluivert and Pellegrini) and a player who is both in Zaniolo. This is his first season and with so many other European teams often struggling defensively in their managers’ first year, the fact that Fonseca has been able to rediscover Roma’s defensive solidity is both impressive and significant. His successes in Portugal (besides Porto) and particularly in Ukraine (where he did indeed have a big team with financial advantages and supreme attacking talent) speak of a coach who is capable of bringing the best out of players and developing a cohesive, effective attack. Despite working for a historically strong club in Shaktar Donetsk, Fonseca still had to navigate the horrendously difficult Ukrainian conflict which saw his team miss out on playing at their home stadium. In the Italian capital, he has no such problem.
He has joined a club with an established structure and transfer gameplan not unlike his former club. Roma unearth some hidden, young gems— some more hidden than others, ie Ünder vs. Kluivert— before selling them on at a much higher price. Sometimes the gems are not as young as Zaniolo— Mohamed Salah was 23 years old when first loaned to Roma— but they almost invariably get the best out of them and then sell them. They complement this strategy with a highly-underrated and steady production from their academy and shrewd veteran buys. A study in 2018 showed that Roma had the most productive youth system in the country, https://www.asroma.com/en/news/2018/2/roma-academy-the-most-productive-in-italy. The classics include Alberto Aquilani, Il Futuro Capitano, Daniele De Rossi (newly retired) and the emperor himself Francesco Totti. More recently there has been captain Alessandro Florenzi, Lorenzo Pellegrini and the talented Alessio Romagnoli currently of AC Milan. Edin Džeko, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Chris Smalling, Ashley Cole and Aleksander Kolarov show that Roma keep a critical eye on other leagues, particularly the English Premier League. Steven Nzonzi, Hector Moreno, Javier Pastore, Maxime Gonalons are further examples of their layered team building strategy. It does not always pan out ; Nzonzi was bought (and did well but was then loaned out) after Gonalons failed to make the grade. However, it often does and has consistently set up Roma for success.
If Fonseca is given time and more trust he could turn AS Roma into a force to be reckoned with in Italy and an occasional threat in Europe (they did make it the UEFA Champions League Semi Finals not too long ago). Now, if rumors of an American billionaire taking over AS Roma are true, the new owners would do well to trust in this established system and Paulo Fonseca. If they can finance a refurbishment of the infrastructure and add money to the transfer coffers, Roma might be more dangerous than anyone expected.