By David Sainsbury
The end of 2004 may have come as a relief to AS Roma as they aim to put a miserable autumn behind them.
A 3-0 defeat at home against Real Madrid CF on Matchday 6 was the final indignity of a UEFA Champions League campaign which saw them earn just one point from six matches - their poorest showing in three attempts - but problems off the pitch were every bit as apparent as frailties on it.
Roma were left searching for a new coach on the eve of this season's campaign when Cesare Prandelli announced he was quitting to tend to his sick wife. German coach and ex-Curva Sud hero Rudi Völler took charge but lasted less than a month, quitting in frustration after two Serie A defeats and the ill-fated UEFA Champions League game against FC Dynamo Kyiv.
That game saw Roma awarded a 3-0 defeat and forced to play their remaining group stage games behind closed doors after the match was suspended after a missile was thrown at the referee. Current coach Luigi Del Neri eventually took charge of the club at the end of September.
For all their problems off the field this season, few would argue that on paper, Roma's squad is one of the strongest in Italy. Captain Francesco Totti and Antonio Cassano both possess sublime skills and the defence can boast players of the calibre of Christian Panucci, Traianos Dellas and Matteo Ferrari.
Simone Perrotta was brought in from AC Chievo Verona during the summer as a replacement for Juventus FC-bound Emerson in midfield, while both Mancini and Daniele De Rossi are talents who look set to establish firm international reputations in the future.
However off-the-field uncertainty and on-field indiscipline have limited Roma's effectiveness. Panucci and Cassano, who was sent-off in the opening Serie A game of the season against ACF Fiorentina and publicly fell out with both Völler and Del Neri, have both been sidelined by the club for disciplinary reasons.
On the field
On the field, Roma's cause wasn't helped by some acts of recklessness which saw them receive four red cards in their six UEFA Champions League matches, with De Rossi (three matches), Panucci (two matches), Philippe Mexes (two matches) and Giuseppe Scurto (one match) all forced to serve suspensions.
Too much talk
Greek defender Dellas summed up the current feeling within the squad as he commented after the game against Madrid: "
I'm bitterly disappointed, but I want to make one thing clear: there's been too much talk involving Roma this season, it's now time to do the talking on the field."
Hailing from a football-mad city of four million inhabitants, and playing at the 80,000 capacity Stadio Olimpico, Roma have the potential to be one of Europe's great club sides, but have so far failed to live up to their potential with just three league titles and the 1961 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup to show for their efforts.
Del Neri commented after Roma's final UEFA Champions League game against Madrid on 8 December: "Roma can regret the fact that they have had to change coach twice this season, this hindered team preparation and caused a series of problems which haven't been easy to solve."
He added: "We now have to concentrate on Serie A and try to finish in the top four, and qualify for next season's Champions League, because we want to give the competition another shot, but as real competitors next time."
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