Eusebio Di Francesco's future on a knife edge at Romaby Chloe Beresford / 29 January 2018, 11:14Tweet
"In England there was less pressure. If you do not play well it is normal that they criticise you. But criticism is part of the game, so you accept it," Roma striker Edin Dzeko told the Il Messaggero newspaper back in January 2017.
"At Roma it’s similar to with Bosnia, they do not criticise you, they insult you. So I'm used to it. At home, you will be OK three times, but if you miss a fourth time, the insults start again. It’s as if they are waiting for the right opportunity to hit you."
While it is a very long time since the famous Colosseum has been used for gladiator fights, the mob mentality is very much still present in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, the long-suffering supporters creating a pressure cooker for all those who enter it, as Dzeko points out in the aforementioned interview. So too, the local press and radio stations who analyse every single detail of each match that passes, their obsession with the fortunes of the capital club constantly on public display.
Having entered that arena as a player between 1997 and 2001, Eusebio Di Francesco knows more than most about the pressure to perform. His final season for the Giallorossi was the last time they won the Scudetto, and the 17 barren years that have followed are simply not good enough for a club of this stature. He returned as their Coach this summer having achieved success with a smaller club, his CV during five years with Sassuolo making for impressive reading indeed.
Now working with famed sporting director Monchi at Roma, it seemed like the young and talented boss was exactly the right man to take the club forward after so many had tried and failed. Indeed, previous boss Luciano Spalletti had spent the entire previous campaign dealing with endless questions over whether or not captain Francesco Totti was going to play, an issue that often overshadowed even what was happening on the pitch.
However the beginning of 2017/18 brought about a fresh start, Di Francesco free to make his team selections without controversy over his now retired former team-mate Totti. A series of good early results brought optimism to the capital, with three wins in a row starting with a 3-0 victory over Chelsea bringing about a peak in the side’s form at the end of October.
After that impressive triumph, the 48-year-old steered his team to a 2-4 win away at Fiorentina, followed by an always appreciated 2-1 win in the Rome derby versus hated rivals Lazio. But it was after this superb spell of results that things started to turn sour. A 1-1 draw with relegation-threatened Genoa was perhaps seen as a mere blip, especially as a 3-1 win over SPAL soon followed, but that match on December 1st was the last time the Giallorossi scored more than one goal in a match.
That’s not to say there haven’t been problems in the background that have caused a knock-on effect on the pitch for the Coach. Key midfielder Radja Nainggolan was handed a one-match ban by the club for having posted a video on Instagram of himself smoking, drinking and swearing on New Years Eve. The Belgian has been in woeful form, while also the subject of links to a move to China in the January window, in addition to the well-documented interest from Chelsea for Dzeko and left-back Emerson Palmieri.
There can be no excuses for the poor performances on the pitch though, as a run of six matches have seen Roma draw three and lose three, only having netted four times across that whole period. A 1-0 defeat to a Sampdoria side who were without key players Fabio Quagliarella and Dennis Praet was the worst yet, especially as Di Francesco could offer reporters no explanation of the lack of goals when questioned after the match. The video below shows the boss ranting at his players during the first half, compelling them to pass the ball forwards rather than always backwards, a sign of his utter exasperation.
American owner James Pallotta may well be ready to be patient, seeing his appointment as one that needs time to bring the necessary results alongside his transfer wizard Monchi. However, the fans will not accept these kind of results, putting Pallotta under pressure to take action.
“Then listen to me. Learn from me,” said Oliver Reed’s character Proximo in the film Gladiator. “I wasn’t the best because I killed quickly. I was the best because the crowd loved me. Win the crowd. You will win your freedom.”
If Eusebio Di Francesco can win over the crowds in Rome, perhaps he too will win the freedom to extend his stay at Stadio Olimpico. But he will have to do it fast, with supporters already baying for blood.