Reunited with Garcia, Gervinho thriving at Roma after Arsenal flop
ROME -- Arsenal's Gervinho is unrecognizable from Roma's Gervinho, a caricature of a team hero.
On Wednesday, at Roma's Coppa Italia semifinal victory over Napoli, he deftly scored a tie-breaking goal (his second of the night) in the 88th minute. Curva Sud, the notorious Ultras-section of the stadium, erupted with "Gervinho" chants and pundits filled hours of post-game praising his feats. Such sensation has been the theme of the Ivorian's six months and counting at Roma after a disappointing two-year stint at Arsenal, much of which was spent on the bench.
A fresh start for an athlete can be a catalyst in and of itself, but for Gervinho, there is no secret to his rebirth.
"The fundamental difference between Roma and Arsenal is the coaching. My coach here [Rudi Garcia] gives me confidence, because I know he believes in me," Gervinho says, also crediting his Roma teammates. "When I wake up in the morning, I like coming to work, I look forward to being with these people."
Gervinho maintains that his life in Rome is more or less the same as it's always been: low profile and disciplined. He lives with his wife and two children outside of the city center in Ostia, a seaside province.
"I could sit here and say that [my success at Roma] is because of Italy, but it's not the case. Yes, the people here are great, the city is wonderful, and the passion for soccer is strong, but a lot of these qualities were in England too. Life in Italy is the same it's always been for me: games, training and time with my family."
He does not conceal his resentment toward the management at Arsenal. And in light of his quick turnaround at Roma, Gervinho, who has eight goals in all competitions including four in his last three games, is all the more confident of his criticisms.
"What did I learn at Arsenal? Honestly, not much because you cannot learn much from being on the bench," he said. "I left England because I was not playing. Not enough. The most difficult moment was being on the bench. That was the worst part for me and my confidence."
Garcia, a Frenchman in his first season at Roma, acknowledges that Gervinho's innate talents are unique.
"He has the ability to go deep, and dribble past opponents with devastating speed," Garcia said. "He's unpredictable for defenders."
Surely, the connection between coach and player confidence always matters, but it might be uniquely transformative for a player like Gervinho.
"Gervinho's the type of player who has to feel trusted in order to play well, and it is the coach's job to bring out the best qualities in the player," Garcia said. "In general, it's important for all players to know that their coach trusts them, and they need to know that they can make mistakes. But for Gervinho, in particular, it's critical. I do not lie to him or give him false praise, that's not good coaching. With all my players, when they make mistakes, I am honest with them, but they know I believe in them."
Garcia admits he's had an eye on Gervinho since they worked together on French team Lille several years ago and that their history plays a role in the success at Roma.
"Probably because of our history together, I am even harder on him. He has to work hard and be an example," Garcia said.
Team captain and Roma legend, Francesco Totti, attributes much of Roma's recent success to Gervinho's ferocity.
"He's one of the strongest," Totti said. "He's always ready, he's unpredictable and he can create dangerous situations for our opponents at any moment."
Gervinho's comeback is part of the broader tale of Roma's resurgence this season. The team is now second in Italy's Serie A, it has only had one loss this season and is one win or draw away from the Coppa Italia finals. Sounding not unlike a French Phil Jackson, Garcia emphasizes the importance of a zen attitude toward Roma's -- and Gervinho's -- success.
"My job is to protect the team, and that means maintaining a stable mindset," Garcia said. "I am not the kind of person who gets manically euphoric after a victory or falls into a catastrophic depression after a loss."