FOX Soccer Exclusive
Boardroom undermines Lazio ambition
Were Sigmund Freud ever to pick a Serie A club to psychoanalyze then, with the possible exception of Inter Milan, a more curious case could not be found than Lazio's. Even at the best of times, understanding what exactly goes through this club’s head is a challenge. Just open their file and turn to last Wednesday's events at the Stadio Olimpico, for an example. It makes for an interesting read.
Without their injured top scorer and star player (Miro ‘the Hero’ Klose), Lazio were expected to lose heavily to reigning champions Milan, just as they had done in the Coppa Italia quarterfinals a week earlier. Instead, they won 2-0, and deservedly so. Goals from the exceptional Hernanes and captain Tommaso Rocchi capped one of Lazio's best performances this season.
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Lazio hadn’t beaten Milan in Serie A since February 8, 1998, and there was added satisfaction to be had by taking a cursory glance at the league table. They were now only two points behind Udinese, who occupy the third and final Champions League spot. Normally a club would be celebrating, but while some plaudits were taken, Lazio did not appear to enjoy their success.
Where there should have been smiles and compliments, there was anger and insults. This was the “latest paradox” in the “mad mad world of Lazio,” wrote Giulio Cardone in La Repubblica. Throughout the game, the ultras in the Curva Nord had sang songs demanding that President Claudio Lotito and his “servant” the director of sport Igli Tare leave the club.
Historically, of course, it doesn’t take much to ruffle the feathers of this particular section of Aquile supporters. But on this occasion, they weren’t a noisy and unruly minority either, as even the more reserved fans in the Monte Mario and Tevere stands lent their voices to the protest. But what had provoked the unrest?
Issue was taken with Lazio’s dealings in the January transfer window, and dissent was not confined to the fans. Coach Edy Reja was furious, too. He had asked for a holding midfielder and a winger to reinforce his side for the run-in, identifying Sampdoria’s Angelo Palombo and Juventus’s Milos Krasic for each position. Did the club listen to Reja? No.
After taking a punt on the relatively unknown striker Emiliano Alfaro from Liverpool Montevideo (who has since been left out of Lazio’s Europa League squad), Lotito and Tare distracted themselves with the prospect of landing a much bigger fish. The player in question was CSKA Moscow’s exciting Japan international Keisuke Honda. With the exception of the Milan clubs courting Carlos Tévez, this was undoubtedly the biggest story of the transfer window in Italy.
For a time, it looked like it would happen. Honda arrived in Rome looking every bit the superstar, snappily dressed with a watch on each wrist. He discussed personal terms and spoke of his enthusiasm at playing for Lazio. Anticipation grew, evoking the hysteria Hidetoshi Nakata provoked on joining Perugia in 1998. Lazio weren’t just about to sign a very good player but a marketing phenomenon.
Then, with barely 24 hours remaining until the transfer window closed, negotiations for Honda stalled before collapsing entirely. CSKA claimed Lazio’s offer, believed to be €13m plus goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo in exchange, lacked respect for the club and the player. An attempt was made to bring in Nilmar from Villarreal. But Lazio, it seemed, had left things too late.
If Lotito and Tare hadn’t already lost face among the club’s supporters then what happened next truly beggared belief. With 12 seconds to spare before the deadline, Lazio announced they had agreed to take Antonio Candreva on loan until the end of the season from Cesena. This bit of news didn’t go down well, to put it lightly. In 2008, Candreva had revealed to La Gazzetta dello Sport that his model player was Daniele De Rossi, his idol was Francesco Totti and that, yes (if it wasn’t already clear), he was a big Roma fan.
Before the Milan game, Reja got into a heated argument with Tare. Lazio hadn’t come out of the January transfer window stronger. The overwhelming sensation was that they were weaker. When center back André Dias went off injured in the second-half, the sale of Guglielmo Stendardo to Atalanta rankled. So too did those of back-up strikers Giuseppe Sculli and Djibril Cissé. The latter even scored that night on his debut for QPR, further rubbing salt into Lazio’s wounds.
This created a problem for Reja. Deprived of options up front, he now felt he had to rush Klose back from injury. Grit your teeth, he apparently said, but the 33-year-old center forward refused. Reports suggested that Tare then got involved and voices were raised, but the club and Klose’s agent Alexander Schutt have since released statements denying any rift.
The whole thing is an unfortunate mess. Lotito and Tare have tried to spin their version of events to the players as, “we didn’t buy anyone because we believe in you. You can still reach the Champions League.” But not everyone’s buying it.
“There’s a little bitterness because the fans and I wanted something more,” Reja sighed. “Five players were sold and only Candreva was bought.
"We have to look ahead with this squad. I’m not complaining. I only hope that the lads hold up. It was a good year to realize objectives, but I don’t know if we’ll manage them now.”
Sunday’s 3-2 defeat away to Genoa would appear to indicate as much, even if it was to be expected, considering the circumstances. Lazio had called for the game to be postponed on account of the bad weather in Rome, which had made their trip a logistical nightmare. Unable to train for two days, the club had to pick up players one-by-one because they were snowed in at home. Modibo Diakité even had to walk then hitchhike to a rendezvous point while Lotito’s personal chauffeur drove five of his teammates to the airport for a plane that was then delayed for two hours.
Is it any wonder then that a tired and ill-prepared Lazio found themselves 3-0 down inside an hour? Fresh from not playing in midweek and with Hernanes hurting himself in the warm up, Genoa were at an immediate advantage. But Rodrigo Palacio’s opener, a wonderfully executed flicked back-heel from a corner that looped up and over Lazio goalkeeper Federico Marchetti, deserved to win any game, if not the goal of the season award in Serie A.
Lazio fought back spiritedly in the second-half but with their mountain to climb made even higher by Diakité’s sending off, the result was beyond them. Reja chose not to talk to the press after the game out of protest. He has a lot to ponder. Undermined by the club, the job of keeping Lazio in the top six (let alone in contention for Champions League qualification) will prove tough.
Il Corriere dello Sport even went so far as to make a joke about it. Lazio, they claim, will have to be Rejalistic.
James Horncastle is a European soccer writer with articles published in The Blizzard, Champions magazine and FourFourTwo.