When the players and head coach of Roma take the field against Chievo this afternoon, at stake is a place in Europe next season. That's the simple part. They will also be playing for their own personal liberty. In an initiative volunteered by the captain, Francesco Totti, and and the vice captain, Daniele de Rossi, they have undertaken to "guarantee" the Roma players' commitment and hard work on the field and, if there are insufficient signs of it, have said they will be willing to go back into the isolated 24/7 imprisonment at the club's training ground at Trigoria to which the Roma squad were sentenced by club president Rosella Sensi last weekend.
In the bizarre end of season that the Italian capital's major club are experiencing, the ultras, the hardcore fans, have also undertaken to devote the first 15 minutes against Chievo to some form of official protest against the team's form. Roma's crisis becomes more surreal and, rendered powerless in the mayhem, the beleaguered head coach, Luciano Spalletti, is inclined to wonder whether today might not be the first of his last three matches at the Stadio Olimpico.
Reports from Trigoria have Spalletti incensed by his loss of authority since Sensi responded to last Saturday's defeat by Fiorentina by ordering the staff into what Italian football calls a "ritiro", a concentrated, isolated stretch together to prepare for a match. Ritiros usually last 24 hours. Sensi's idea was that Roma's squad should be kept at Trigoria, away from their homes, for the remainder of the campaign.
A livid Sensi railed against the professionalism of the footballers, their indiscipline, and, portraying herself as the champion of the ultras, called on the players to honour the loyalty of fans who travelled to watch them. On Wednesday, a sort of probation order was imposed, following a meeting between Totti, De Rossi and Sensi. The players were allowed out, with the footballers' self-appointed spokesmen agreeing their freedom should be subject to how they perform against Chievo. Roma are sixth in Serie A, six points off fourth place, which carries an invitation to the Champions League.
Spalletti, the reports say, had no idea of the negotiations between players and president. He responded furiously to the situation and is now moving closer to the exit door. Speculation grows about his possible successor, and about Juventus or Milan as possible destinations for a coach who is well respected, in spite of Roma's disappointing year. The uncertainty was hardly assuaged by Walter Mazzarri, the current Sampdoria head coach, publically welcoming reports that he would be in charge of Roma come the summer.
"At the of the season, I shall sit down and look at the various options," said Mazzarri. firstname.lastname@example.org Roma v Chievo, KO 9pm Al Jazeera +3