“We can only grow stronger if we stay together.” Here’s how Rudi Garcia looked ahead to the first league match of the season against Verona, on the eve of the match at the Bentegodi. In the press room at the Bernardini, the Giallorossi coach touched upon this season’s targets and how he’ll deal with the defense and forward line, before revealing that Szczesny will start the match against Andrea Mandorlini’s men.
Roma played against a number of top sides during pre-season, does this give you confidence for the upcoming campaign?
“That’s how we chose to run pre-season, they’re all matches that allow you to progress and that’s what we wanted this year. We chose to play away against strong teams and finish with a friendly at home against Europa League holders Sevilla. We saw some great football and the makings of the new Roma side. Now though it’s time for the real thing. Games matter and there are three points up for grabs. Obviously no team in the world can be entirely certain they’re 100% fit in the opening match of the season. We have no shortage of ambition however and we’re concentrating solely on this game, which matters to us. I want my whole squad to be focused because the first match is always very important.”
What do you expect from this coming season?
“Tomorrow we need to play well to nullify Verona’s threat and do all we can to play quality football. As for the league, we still have lofty ambitions. My approach hasn’t changed and I came to Rome to win trophies. We’ll give it everything. Our main aim is the same as the previous two campaigns. We want to qualify for the Champions League.
“I’ve been here for two years and, every day as I leave Trigoria, I see the excitement and ambition of the people, and the same goes for us. As I’ve said, I have no guarantees in football. What I will ask everyone though – the players, the coaches and the club – is to work together, and I ask the fans to do likewise. When we’re united, we make Roma great. Discord ultimately harms the club however. I came into a tough situation two years ago and we did brilliantly the first year. Last term we had a series of issues in the second half of the season, but in winning the derby we showed that positives can come out difficult situations and we qualified for the Champions League.
“Why am I saying all this? Now that I know the environment, I’m aware that defeatism can creep in at times like these because the fanbase deserve more success than they’ve been given thus far.
“I’ll say it again, my aim is to have everyone pulling in the same direction so we can be better. We have a wonderful squad and we’ll be even stronger if we stay together. Everyone at Roma is just passing through. I’m not the only one saying we have to be ambitious, you can see that from the history of Rome. We’re in the most glorious city on earth and we wear the best colors. The club is destined to win things. We have to make sure we’re up to contributing to Roma’s destiny and by doing so we’ll get stronger.”
We’re all very aware of what Edin Džeko brings. Roma haven’t had a center forward like him for a while. Will your set-up change with him in the side?
“I’ve got some decisions to make offensively but we have greater options. We have more players to choose from and I believe that’s going to help us to win games. When things aren’t working, I’ll be able to switch formation and throw on players who can do different things. There are several things we’ve looked at and we’ll continue to do so over the next few days. We could also play the captain and Edin together, it’s not sacrilege to say that. We’ll need big performances.”
How will you set up defensively given the absentees?
“Maicon’s injury is not serious, he’ll be with us next week and will be ready for our next home game. Ashley Cole will not be in the matchday squad, that’s a club decision, in that we’ve taken it all together. Gyömbér trained with us yesterday and today. It’ll be tricky to involve him immediately. He could play his part if need be but we need to consider the fact that as yet he hasn’t had a chance to work on how we defend as a team.”
Have you closed the gap on Juventus or has it grown?
“We’ll only know come the end of the season whether we’ve closed the gap or not. What I will say is the club have done some fine work to improve. Some great players have signed but obviously the window is not closed yet. It’s not a nice time for coaches. It’s tough to begin the season with the transfer window still open and we’ll finalize our squad on September 1. In the meantime, there are three points on the line on Saturday in order to get off on the right foot.”
Have you decided who will start in goal tomorrow?
“Yes, I’ve made my decision for tomorrow. I’ve spoken to both of them because they’re the first people that need to know. This season Roma are lucky enough to have two very good, experienced goalkeepers, just as all top clubs do. That said, there won’t be a number one and a back-up, they’re on a par with one another to my mind. Wojciech Szczesny will start tomorrow but going forward I’ll pick whoever’s in the best form. They’re at the same level.”
Have you spoken to Lucas Digne? Will he sign for Roma?
“We’ll talk about transfers on September 1. We know we’re looking for a left-back and after that we’ll need another one too. Digne is an option there but I prefer to focus on tomorrow, we’ll have time for these matters at a later date.”
What have you made of the Dutch national team coach’s comments about Kevin Strootman, someone he dubbed ‘a sporting tragedy’?
“All I can say is Kevin is an exceptional football and one of the world’s best midfielders. We know that after this second injury he’ll need time to get back to 100%. He will come back and he’ll come back stronger. I’m here for him. I’m waiting for his return and let’s hope he’s back as soon as possible.”
How will you manage Francesco Totti this season?
“We’re very lucky to have the captain and I don’t need to talk about what a great man he is on and off the pitch. He showed once again in Valencia how important he is for the team. He will turn 39 soon and he can’t play every game without losing a bit of sharpness. There’s no issue there for me. As I’ve always said, he’s an asset to have in the squad and that will always be the case for as long as he has the privilege of representing his beloved Roma. Edin did well against Sevilla because the team played good football, and the same goes for Francesco. Whether your name’s Totti or Džeko, if you don’t give your center forward service, there’s not much he can do. The captain will have a big role to play both on and off the pitch.”
It looks like James Pallotta is providing you with a team that can win things. Is that the case?
“Our ambitions are always as high as possible but it comes down to how you perform on the field. Obviously the club has done a huge job in improving a number of things. We are focused on everything that can help us improve the squad. We have to get the best out of our players. That’s my job.”