Should AS Roma win their match at home to Serie A's basement side Chievo on Thursday, they'll become the first team in the league's history to win its opening ten games of the season. It would mean they'd reached the 30-point milestone by the end of October, having not broken that barrier last season until late December. In the space of just a few months, the giallorossi have morphed from the laughing stock of Italy's big clubs to genuine title contenders.
It's an incredible turnaround that not even the most optimistic of fans would've predicted in June, when amidst the perpetual chaos Max Allegri turn down the vacant Roma coaching post to stay in Milan. A club jerked in one direction and yanked in the other by the successive ideologues Luis Enrique and Zdeněk Zeman had been left in an unrelenting state of vertigo. It was hardly surprising that they didn't know which way to turn.
However, be it through a shrewd stroke of genius or a lucky gamble -- in this case more than most it was likely more of the latter than the former -- Roma president James Palotta decided upon Lille's Rudi Garcia. Nine games, nine wins, 23 goals and eight clean sheets later, and the ever-underperforming Roma have been snapped out of their malaise. No longer do they seem so fragile and liable to be disrupted by the rigid impositions of an imperious coach, but rather a robust unit playing football with an unfamiliar delight.
Udinese coach Francesco Guidolin succinctly summarised the giallorossi's great revival after witnessing his side lose 1-0 at the hands of a ten-man Roma. "They are on top because they have been able to combine talent and concreteness, the value of individuals and pragmatism. Congratulations to them and to Garcia, who has arrived in Italy putting Totti, De Rossi and Pjanić into place," he hailed.
There is no doubt, Garcia deserves all of the acclaim. The Frenchman has managed to achieve wonderful football with a simple but effective approach. He hasn't tried to project an overambitious or unrealistic strategy on an incompatible squad, but has implemented tactics which play to his team's strengths. That isn't to say he's set Roma out defensively, but their miserly record -- having only conceded to Parma in Serie A this season -- is indicative of how his cohesive plan has paid dividends at both ends of the field.
Related to the tactical pragmatism alluded to by Guidolin is how he's restored Daniele De Rossi -- who was effectively frozen out by Zeman -- to his rightful place at the heart of the Roma team. A player of his calibre his simply just too good to omit, and has sat at the base of the giallorossi midfield trio with industrious summer signing Kevin Strootman and a playmaker in Miralem Pjanić who continues to look more and more world class with every passing game.
But, in of all the positions they've improved, it's their defence which has been the most significant. The capture of Mehdi Benatia may well go down as the signing of the season, with the former Udinese centre-back partnering Leandro Castán in a back line which had conceded 16 goals at this stage last season -- then the worst in the division. The sole goal they've conceded this campaign makes the anxiety caused by the summer sale of the talented teenager Marquinhos laughable.
Thanks to a thoroughly well-organised pressing strategy and the ability to sit compact as a unit, the added security is certainly the result of more than just a couple of smart signings. Once again, Garcia -- and, in this case, his ability to motivate and unite the players as much as his technical coaching -- has stood him apart from his predecessors.
With only nine games played it's still very early in the season to make grand predictions, though the giallorossi's perfect start to the season means there's no reason to suspect they won't push their fellow challengers right to the wire. Garcia's straightforward style is perhaps best illustrated with a quote from his introductory press conference. "I'm here to win with a team that must give the fans a good time." So far, so good.