Teams of the Decade #10: Roma 2000-01

February 9, 2010

Into the top ten we go! And to start the top ten, it’s the oldest side on this list, the superb Scudetto-winning Roma side of nine years ago. Roma played wonderful football, had a XI packed with really likeable, talented players, and a manager (Fabio Capello) who consistently got his tactics spot on. And it was the best side in the final season Channel 4 showed live games on Football Italia.

In one sense, there was no secret why Roma suddenly became title challengers – spending £50m on a new spine for the team – Samuel, Emerson and Batistuta – is always going to improve your side considerably. But, although these three had wonderful seasons, the real reason Roma became title winners was because others stepped up and became truly top-class players. Vincent Candela went from being an average left-back to a rampaging wing-back, Damiano Tomassi and Cristiano Zanetti had the seasons of their careers, and Francesco Totti became truly world-class.

Indeed, it was Tomassi and Zanetti who were Roma’s first-choice central midfielders until the new year, thanks to Emerson picking up a serious injury early on in the season. Both were unfussy, unspectacular and unfancied players, but their discipline allowed Francesco Totti the license to create without having to worry about leaving the centre of the pitch open for counter-attacks.

The wing-backs were a joy to watch all season. Cafu was just Cafu – motoring up and down the right wing for 90 minutes, acting both as a right-back and a right-winger, tackling and crossing equally well. The afforementioned Candela did a less spectacular but equally important job on the left.

Upfront, Batistuta was in his last great season as a footballer, but he was superb. 20 goals in 28 games at a new club is pretty special, and most sides simply weren’t able to deal with the tridente Roma played. Against a 4-4-2, this side worked brilliantly. The three centre-backs marked the opposition forwards with a man to spare, the Roma 4 sat deeper than the opposition 4 in midfield, and negated their ability to counter. Totti played inbetween the lines – with two strikers upfront, the opposition could only mark him with a holding midfielder, which then created room for Tomassi or Zanetti. It did leave the opposition full-backs free, but they were effectively playing against two full-backs playing high up the pitch (Cafu and Candela) who were both defensively very aware. The three-man defence worked because if one wing-back got bypassed on the flank, the centre-back closest to him was comfortable covering in a wide area, and the wing-back on the opposite side would tuck in, to make a back four. So if Candela got beaten on the overlap, Samuel would come to meet the winger, Aldair/Zago and Zebina would cover in the centre, and Cafu would defend the back post.

The only real debate in this side concerned Batistuta’s partner. Marco Delvecchio was the tall, gangly targetman who rarely scored but supposedly did a great job for the team; Vincenzo Montella was the small, pacey poacher with an incredible scoring record. Capello favoured Delvecchio for the first half of the campaign, protesting that his all-round game was better for the rest of the side, but in the end Montella simply scored so often as substitute that Capello couldn’t leave him out. And then, with a tridente of Montella, Batistuta and Totti, Roma had as lethal an attacking three as any club has had in the decade.

It was a rare appearance of a back three in a successful club side, and the key was that the three were all suited to their roles. Samuel was left-footed and therefore happy to play on the left-side of a three; he and Zebina were the physical man-markers, whilst either Brazilian, Zago or Aldair, was the spare man and the one who distributed the ball forward.

The final word must go to Totti – at 24, the captain of his hometown club, and the best player in their first title campaign since 1983. He had the most wonderful season imaginable for a player in his position, and contributed so well both in terms of goals and assists. He has a reputation as being overrated in Britain, and at 33 that’s unlikely to change, but he is a truly remarkable footballer – and quite possibly the most consistently brilliant attacking player throughout the decade. This might not even have been his best season, but it will probably prove to be his only league title.

There’s a relative lack of YouTube footage of Roma’s victorious season, but that side’s finest moment probably came the next campaign in their astonishing 5-1 derby victory over Lazio, with Vincenzo Montella scoring four, and Totti rounding it all off with a stupendous chip.

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