The Baldo Evolution

After leading Roma to their third historic Scudetto in 2001, Franco Baldini’s controversial return to the Lupi means he faces an even bigger pressure to succeed but so far he has done well. Rossella Marrai takes a look into the ‘Baldo evolution’.

The Baldo Evolution
Roma's Mattia Destro with Franco Baldini

  "I do not know [why I returned], but I immediately said yes. There was no reason for me to leave London and come here where many people did not want me. I said yes and that's it,” divulged Baldini on upon his return to Roma.

Brought into the capital club in 1998, Franco Baldini was handed the tough task of turning the constantly underachieving Roma into a success and he managed to do so within his third year at the club.

After finishing outside the top three in his first two seasons, the Reggello-born sporting director took action and sacked Zdenek Zeman at the end of the 1998-1999 season; replacing him with Fabio Capello.

“I chose Capello to win and to provide the change that the fans expect. Capello is a winner and I believe this,” Sensi’s daughter, Rosella Sensi, noted upon his arrival.

 Capello’s and Baldini’s joining of forces would be a match made heaven as it erupted the start of a long and fruitful career path together.

The tactician’s initiation year would welcome a host of new faces, which included Vincenzo Montella and Hidetoshi Nakata; however, a low sixth placed finish and a final 16 elimination from the UEFA Cup left little to be desired.

Nevertheless, patience paid off as the following year the Eternal City was lit up in streams of gold and red.

While few would have hesitated to make the move to a club, which finished sixth the season prior, Baldini put his persuasive skills to the test.

Known to be a charmer, the Sporting Director pulled out the stops as he brought in Walter Samuel, Johnathan Zebina, Emerson and the untouchable Gabriel Batistuta. And with Capello at the helm Roma was earmarked as a squad to be feared.

The 18-year wait was over when the magical duo of Francesco Totti and ‘Bati-gol’ swung aloft the famous Scudetto, in May 2001.

However, after three more seasons, with two seasons finishing as runners-up, it was time for Baldini to cut his ties with the Trigoria outfit and the Sensi family: a departure which left fans and the president angry.

“I am deeply saddened,” Franco Sensi announced on what was referred to as ‘Baldini’s abandonment’. “After years of unconditional trust and friendship, Franco Baldini has shown he did not understand the sacrifices, the importance and seriousness of the proposed development of our sporting heritage and the business plan attached to it, which guaranteed success to Rome and the city.”

Parting on bitter terms, it almost seemed a fallacy when Baldini’s name was linked to a return to the club, after all, half the ultras would rather have preferred to never see him again, despite giving them a title and returning the Giallorossi to the Champions League after only featuring once in 15 years.

But the new chapter began in October 2011.

Thomas Di Benedetto was the new man at the helm of Trigoria and he knew exactly what he was after in order to rekindle the magic in the squad… Franco Baldini.

Like his debut year with the club, it wasn’t the most memorable of seasons. The Lupi finished a low seventh place under Luis Enrique, but like he stated right for the start, the ‘Roma project’ needed ‘patience’.

As the club undergoes their preseason training, the 51-year-old has been equally active during the transfer market, just like he was a dozen years prior.

His old colleague Zeman has since returned as head coach of the squad, replacing the Spaniard Enrique, while there has been a constant ebb and flow of players leaving and arriving at Trigoria.

“I canassure you we will move well on the market,” the former Real Madrid sporting director addressed the Roma ‘tifosi’. “We are working to accommodate you and the squad will be complete by the beginning of the championship.”

Arguably the busier of the Serie A teams on the transfer market, Baldini once again pulled out all the stops.

José Rodolfo Pires Ribeiro, or better known simply as Dodo, the highly rated left-back admitted that it was Roma’s constant pursuit and belief that convinced him to make the move, despite yet to recover from a knee injury.

 “Roma showed their interest before, during and after – that was decisive for me when I had to make a decision,” divulged the Brazilian.

Baldini’s willingness to meet the players’ needs halfway has always been his greatest bargaining tool and it once again showed with Federico Balzaretti.

A player heavily courted by Milan and several other European giants, the versatile full-back was adamant he would only join a side which could give him the family time he so desired.

With his wife working in Paris and him in Sicily, Palermo afforded him the time to go and see his family during the week, a factor which Baldini has bowed down to.

 As the Giallorossi have no European commitments this season, the Director General convinced the blonde-haired defender to make the move; allowing him a one-year contract to test the waters and providing him with a easy get out card, should he not be happy. It was a feat not even the shrewd Adriano Galliani could manage for Milan.

Baldini’s flexibility also became evident when he managed to easily fill in the void left by the budding fans’ favourite, Fabio Borini.

Undoubtedly one of the hottest prospects in the striking department of Italian football, Borini became reunited with former mentor Brendan Rogers at Liverpool but it caused little stress for transfer guru, as the club swooped up the highly sought after Mattia Destro.

Another talent with clubs lining up to acquire him, Baldini’s willpower and the promise of free flowing attacking football under Zeman, left the 21-year-old convinced.

“I am here because I was convinced by the project at Roma and the desire the club had to sign me,” he admitted in a Press conference.“Roma is a great club and there are many champions in the squad. I wanted to make what would be the best choice for me.”

Although the former-midfielder’s return may have been cast under scrutiny, there is no doubting the Roma official's negotiatiing abilities, with his getting Daniele De Rossi to sign a contract extension a commendable feat.

Baldini once again silently seems to be building a squad reminiscent of the 2001 Scudetto winners, and it wouldn’t be surprising if his second cameo will bring back the ‘Baldo Evolution’ from a decade ago.