After enduring a season that lurched from one disaster to another, Roma have hit the reset button ahead of the new campaign with the appointment of Paulo Fonseca as coach on a two-year contract.
The Portuguese takes the reins from caretaker Claudio Ranieri, after the veteran returned to his boyhood club on a short-term deal to steady the ship following the dismissal of Eusebio Di Francesco in March.
With Roma labouring to a sixth-place finish in Serie A and in the midst of in-fighting amongst former and current board members, not to mention the discord across a hugely passionate and demanding fanbase, Fonseca has taken on a gargantuan task. But what can the capital club expect from their new man?
Born in Mozambique, Fonseca’s footballing education was forged in Portugal as he spent the entirety of an unassuming player career in the various levels of the country’s professional pyramid. However, with a keen eye for the tactical side of the game, Fonseca emerged as yet another graduate of the Portuguese coaching system that had developed the likes of Andre Villas-Boas, Leonardo Jardim, Bruno Lage and it’s most famous disciple, Jose Mourinho.
In keeping with the tradition laid out by his compatriots, Fonseca cut his teeth in his homeland with the likes of Braga and Porto, before enjoying success abroad with Ukrainian powerhouse Shakhtar Donetsk.
It was with the latter that he began to catch the attention of European football observers, as he led the club to a domestic double in each of his three seasons and lifted seven trophies in all.
The manner of victory is what ought to excite Roma fans, with the 46-year-old insistent on intense and quick football that relied heavily on a versatile midfield to support a fluid attacking front three.
In Cengiz Under, Justin Kluivert and Nicolo Zaniolo, the Giallorossi have enough precocious attacking talents to thrive under the new man, whilst Bryan Cristante, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Steven Nzonzi ought to be able to slot into Fonseca’s blueprint.
Indeed, Fonseca made a point of demanding attractive football from his team as he was unveiled as the new Roma coach, insisting that he would not abandon his attacking principles in the capital and ensuring his side found a match-winning attitude that has so often deserted them recently.
“First of all, I expect a courageous team,” he told Roma’s official website. “A team that wants to play against the biggest teams and against the smallest teams with the same approach.
“For me, the quality of the performance is very important. Of course we want to win, and this is the main goal, but equally I want to build a team that has real quality about it’s play.”
Meanwhile, success in Ukraine was built on team with a tight budget, particularly after Shakhtar were eliminated in the qualification rounds of the Champions League in Fonseca’s maiden season and missed out on crucial funds to strengthen.
Shakhtar failed to sign anyone of note on the back of their elimination, yet their new tactician turned a stalling squad that had lost the league title to Dynamo Kiev into a dominating unit, after taking over from the iconic Mircea Lucescu.
With Roma facing the ignominy of scraping into the Europa League this term, and their financial clout hampered as a result, Fonseca will be expected to make do with what is currently available to him and turn a team that lost it’s way under Di Francesco back into Champions League qualification contenders.
Away from the pressure of the Champions League and with a new feel to the club ahead of the impending arrival of new sporting director Gianluca Petrachi, Fonseca has an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a successful stint at the Stadio Olimpico.
A dressing room that often appeared divided mirrored the general feeling around the club last season, but in hiring Fonseca the Lupi are bringing in a man who knows how to make a squad tick.
Due to the ongoing crisis in Eastern Ukraine, Shakhtar played their matches some 93 miles west of Donetsk in Kharkiv and struggled to generate home support. Despite this, Fonseca channelled a siege mentality in the squad and his man-management skills, something Roma are crying out for, saw the Hirnyky reestablish themselves as the dominant force in Ukrainian football.
Roma are blessed with a youthful squad with plenty of potential, and appear to have found a hungry young manager who can shape this team into his image. In the charismatic Fonseca, who famously attended a press conference dressed as Zoro, the Giallorossi have appointed a man who has the ability to heal a split dressing room and bring entertaining football back to the Olimpico.
Whether he is given the tools and opportunity to navigate through the minefield that is the current structure at Roma remains to be seen, but the club have set out their stall by bringing in one of Europe’s most highly rated young coaches. It promises to be an exciting campaign ahead in the capital.