At the beginning of the season, Roma looked a shadow of their former selves, seemingly destined for another year of domestic mediocrity. Yet it took the capital club just a matter of weeks to right the ship and begin their steady rise up Serie A.
Today, with the same squad that struggled early season but, tellingly, with a new coach, I Giallorossi are up to second in the standings, prompting FIFA.com to take a closer look at this arresting turnaround.
A year after the death of the club's emblematic chairman Franco Sensi on 17 August 2008, Roma still looked like a club in shock. The team's fortunes were up one week, down the next, both on and off the pitch. The season began with back-to-back defeats by Genoa and Juventus, and after four successful campaigns, coach Luciano Spalletti realised that it was time to move on.
After handing in his notice on 2 September, Rome native Claudio Ranieri was handed the the reins. The new incumbent, who had begun his playing days in the famous red jersey, had been given his marching orders by Juventus back on 18 May 2009, two games before the end of the season and with the Turin giants sitting in third place.
But now he was coming home, to a club he knew inside-out. This particular game of managerial musical chairs has clearly been to the club's advantage.
"We had to start again from scratch," said Ranieri, who took over a squad devoid of team spirit and stuck in the lower reaches of the table despite its indisputable quality. He told his men to get back to basics.
"Forget the beautiful game – I want you to go out their and fight. Give it your all and show what you're made of. Believe in yourselves right to the final whistle," was the credo he instilled in them.
And it worked. Asked to explain a turnaround that was as quick as it was impressive, 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™-winner Simone Perrotta highlighted the "moral strength and spirit not only of the team but of each and every individual who lives and dies for the shirt".
It was a sentiment that Ranieri was also keen to focus on, saying: "If a coach is lucky enough to have a bunch of guys who understand and accept this kind of message, the results are bound to follow."
One of the things which has helped to get the coach's message across has been the unconditional support of his emblematic captain Francesco Totti, without which Ranieri would surely have struggled. During his 18th consecutive season at the club, the iconic No10 has raised his game and been a leader on the pitch and in the dressing room.
Despite a nagging injury to his right knee, he has scored ten goals in the league and no fewer than 11 in the UEFA Europa League this term. He also exacted revenge on behalf of his coach on 16 December, scoring his 240th goal for the club in a 2-1 defeat of Juve. Though Ranieri can only use him sparingly, he is still very much the figurehead.
"Francesco's the captain. He's our captain. I've run out of superlatives to describe him," enthused club chairman Rosella Sensi.
And so it was that the far-from-young Giallorossi squad found the spark that had been missing. The players are chasing down every ball and covering every blade of grass, with the coach also creating competition for places in certain positions, most notably in goal. The real difference, however, has been the manner in which he interacts with his charges - a style that is clearly working.
Beyond Totti's talismanic efforts, it is almost impossible to single out individuals from a team which plays as one, speaks as one and fights as one. "We can't go out and spend millions like Inter, so we need to be a bit more clever and cunning. Of course, if someone offers me Luca Toni on a silver platter, I'm hardly going to turn them down though," Ranieri said recently.
Away to Fiorentina last Sunday, Roma were unquestionably under the cosh for 80 minutes. Then up popped Mirko Vucinic eight minutes from time to steal the points, crowning a lethal counter-attack and showing just how well this team have learned to soak up pressure and capitalise on the slightest opening.
Success obviously breeds confidence, and I Lupi are currently on a 19-match unbeaten run (16 wins and three draws). A UEFA Champions League spot beckons, as does a place in the final of the Coppa Italia after a 2-0 first-leg win over Udinese.
Asked in a recent interview if he had turned Roma into a gritty team, Ranieri replied: "Yes, I accept that. What's important is for the fans to be able to dream again. Not that I want them to get carried away though. We mustn't forget where we've come from, and the title is Inter's to lose."