Despite eventually finishing 11 points safe of the relegation zone, Lazio spent much of last season’s Serie A campaign precariously close to the foot of the table. The club was plagued by the contractual issues that surrounded Goran Pandev and Cristian Ledesma whilst fans openly expressed their disdain for President Claudio Lotito. This season already looks a lot brighter for the Biancocelesti though as ten points from their first five games puts them joint top of the league alongside big guns Internazionale but what has heralded this impressive turn around that might finally drag Lazio out of the shadow of local rivals Roma?
Well one has to start with changes that have occurred in 2010. The disruptive ‘rebel’, Goran Pandev, has left for Inter whilst Cristian Ledesma has, to the delight of fans, decided to remain at the club and has signed a new contract that goes through to 2015. In the summer transfer window, the eventual sale of Aleksandar Kolarov to Manchester City for £16m was a welcome cash injection which seems to have been spent wisely on prospects such as Álvaro González, Mark Bresciano and Anderson Hernanes.
This is not to say that the Lazio squad were necessarily poor last season but a strengthening in midfield has to be added as a major contributor to the sides’ change of fortunes. Obviously Ledesma taking his place back in the squad is of great importance but so too is the return from injury of Brazilian playmaker Matuzalém. After previously spending more time on the sidelines than on the pitch, the midfielder has worked hard to get fit for this season and ought to fill the gap that exists in the centre. In a similar manner, Hernanes has proved himself to be a real talent and Lazio will be thankful that they beat several other clubs to get his signature. Mark Bresciano will also add some much-needed muscle to the centre of the pitch that was missing last season.
There is even some suggestion that the fans are warming to Lotito. At the start of the season it was thought that the club President could well be an unsettling influence on the pitch as rumours circulated that he clashed with the coach Edy Reja over team selection and fans have registered their own displeasure by not buying season tickets in as great a number which is not a help for a team that could do with raising funds. However, negative rumours surrounding the Reja-Lotito relationship have dissipated and the President is even winning over some of the fans. Before the recent match with Milan, an eagle (the club symbol) flew round the Stadio Olimpico and all observers agree that this generated a certain enthusiasm that hasn’t been seen for quite a while in the Curva Nord. Further to this, Lotito is giving fans the opportunity to name the club mascot. This may not seem like much but is a big gesture that shows the club is warming to the idea of fan inclusion a lot more than in the past.
Credit for the great start must also be given to the Lazio coach Edy Reja. Managerially, Reja seems to have always been the bridesmaid and never the bride. Much of his 30 years of management has been spent stepping in for fellow managers who have got the sack and is seen as specialising in getting teams promoted to Serie A, having done so on four occasions. Now though the 64 year old has been given a great opportunity to drag Lazio out of this lull and so far is doing better than could ever be expected. His flexible formation seems to get the most out of Lazio’s strong midfield and he seems to be thriving under the greater autonomy granted by Lotito.
In sum this could turn out to be a great season for ‘the other Rome side’ who have already confounded pundits with their fantastic start. Clearly things could go wrong: unfortunate injuries, another change of heart by the fickle Lotito or just simply a poor run of form but with a strong squad and a germinating club unity, Europe is not an unrealistic possibility and Lazio may go on to surprise many more before the season is out.
Sep 29, 2010
Flight of the Aquila
By Marcus Cleaver