Identity crisis at Spain-inspired AS Roma

Italian teams will be better off, Ian Hawkey feels, by not imitating Barcelona's style of play.

AC Milan's Alex Pato, left, exposed Barcelona's Victor Valdes in the first minute.
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There are few noises that offend the sensitives of Italian football so much as the sound of Spanish sneering.

The powerhouses of southern Europe have a caustic rivalry, nourished by epic encounters between the Azzurri and La Roja, the blues and reds, and through numerous club collisions.

Barcelona versus AC Milan on Tuesday was another, dressed up in the customary manner: the Spanish team would play an easy-on-the eye game; the Italians, it was assumed – especially by the Spanish – would be crabby and counter-attacking.

So, with these age-old stereotypes applied, it seemed worth asking why, primed for possible ambush by the smash-and-grab specialists from Italy, Barcelona seemed so ill-prepared for the most sudden attack that the opening match day of a Champions League has ever witnessed, when Alex Pato put Milan 1-0 up after 25 seconds; or to defend a classic set-piece, a Thiago Silva header from a corner, that delivered Milan their late equaliser.

A 2-2 draw at Barcelona counts as a fine result, beamed Milan.

And one thing you will not find the Italian champions attempting to do any time soon is trying to copy the Spanish champions.

Massimiliano Allegri, their head coach, said so earlier this month at Uefa's annual, convivial meeting of leading club coaches, where there was a good deal of backslapping towards Pep Guardiola, guide of Barcelona's three Primera Liga titles and two Champions Leagues in the past three years.

Allegri cautioned that "trying to imitate what Barcelona do is presumptuous. You cannot replicate their youth system, and just instil their way of playing."

Someone ought to mention that to Roma. As Roma headed towards defeat at home to Cagliari on their opening match of the Serie A campaign, Luis Enrique, their new, beleaguered Spanish coach who is formerly of Barcelona, could be glimpsed on the touchline explaining diagrams on a clipboard to the puzzled-looking Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi: the image of a culture clash.

De Rossi hinted at that by later saying: "It's not enough just to have lots of possession. We have an identity at this club."

Roma not only lost 2-1, but had new signing Jose Angel sent off on his Serie A debut.

The full-back had played well until then, but will now need to work extra hard to avoid joining the list of talented Spaniards who have found fitting into Italian football a strain, a distinguished list which includes one Guardiola.


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