The worst way to enter any fight, whether it be an actual fight or even a sporting competition for that matter, is with a mindset of self-doubt and inferiority.
Among other things, this seems to be one of the factors that has plagued the Giallorossi in European play for the last…oh I don’t know, decade. In nearly every fixture, Roma seem to take the pitch with a sense of apprehension, fear, and yes, inferiority. You can easily find countless examples over the years of Roma absolutely embarrassing themselves on the European stage, whether you point to the multiple matches where they’ve conceded 6 to 7 goals or when they play down to the level of massively inferior competition, such as BATE Borisov, Roma haven’t had exactly much to write home about from their displays in the Champions League or Europa League.
Fast forward to yesterday evening. My expectations, as per usual with Roma in Europe, were fairly low. In all honesty, I thought a 1-1 draw or even a 2-1 loss would have been considered somewhat “good”, considering the entire spectrum of Roma’s recent European displays. But Luciano Spalletti and his men decided to completely flip the dynamic. What we saw yesterday was a team who was far more confident and imposing than anything we’ve seen in years from Roma in European play. After watching Roma dominate the midfield, control the pace of the match, punish Villarreal for their mistakes, and simply impose themselves and their will on their Spanish counterparts, perhaps we are seeing a changing of the tide.
What we didn’t see was the scared and unassured team under Rudi Garcia who looked less like a top European club and more like a mid-table Lega Pro side. What we didn’t was a passive Roma who were more reactive as opposed to proactive. We didn’t see a team lack in confidence and make silly mistakes against inferior competition. But most importantly, we didn’t see Roma lose against an obviously lesser opponent. This is the key.
I’m convinced that important victories like this breed confidence for the future and could potentially have long-term effects. We are at such an elementary level with Roma in Europe that we should be making a big deal of Roma drubbing a 6th placed La Liga side away from the Olimpico. Don’t forget, this is the same club who were knocked out 4-1 on aggregate just a couple of years ago against Fiorentina in the Europa League. Yes, the same side who set a record for goals conceded but managed to advance into the Knockout Stage of the Champions League. Instead, we saw Roma be the first team since 2010 to score 4 goals against Villarreal at El Madrigal. We saw Edin Dzeko be the first player since 2001 to score a hat-trick against Villarreal in their home stadium. We didn’t just see a win…we saw dominance.
Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I scoured through Roma’s European results over the last decade to try and determine when the last time I saw Roma play this good in Europe. Sure, there was the convincing win over CSKA, but given how poor they did the remainder of that campaign, I kept searching. I had to rewind all the way back to 23 November, 2010. Yes, almost 7 years ago. Claudio Ranieri was the manager. Francesco Totti was only 34 years old. A guy named Fabio Simplicio was playing for Roma. The iPhone was only a few years old. And Donald Trump was still only a reality television character. (But what a match that was, who could forget Borriello being taken down and Totti grabbing the three points from the penalty spot).
So yes, let’s not take what happened last night for granted. Roma have a long and winding road to travel down before they are able to completely shake-off the stigma of embarrassment they’ve forced themselves to bear in European play. It’s going to take far more important victories against far greater opponents for the Giallorossi to be taken seriously again in Europe. But yesterday was a start, the first step of Roma inching towards relevancy on the European stage.