Luciano Spalletti will cross the Tiber with a new set of troops this weekend, as he descends on Rome in anger. His departure was self-inflicted, the Giallorossi would agree, but for different reasons.
The Tuscan has enjoyed a love-hate relationship with the Eternal City, but on reflection it became more the latter. One should never go back, as the saying goes, but there was more to it than this. Not understanding Roma and the City is an easy mistake and an excuse. Knowing it and still falling out is another thing altogether.
Eusebio Di Francesco is a man who also knows Rome, and he hosts the Nerazzurri this weekend. Spalletti will return with a well-drilled, free-flowing Inter squad to face his former club. His time in the city saw him produce some excellent football and one may be excused for thinking he left many fond memories, but perhaps they have been largely overshadowed now.
Speaking to Rome-based journalist and ESPN’s Roma correspondent Terry Daley, I asked about how Spalletti would be received on his return. “Given that the whole stadium booed him after the last game of the season, I think it’s safe to say the fans didn’t take him to their hearts.” The scenes were quite unforgettable, as the Coach had to put up with jeers from the home support, which to many may have been strange, as they finished second in the table.
“His second tenure was so linked to Francesco Totti’s farewell that it’s hard to say if the fans are still hostile to him or not. Too many people in this city are blinded by their love for Totti and his handling of his retirement overshadowed absolutely everything else. This included a record points and goals scored total. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he was heartily jeered again on Saturday.”
The relationship between Totti and the fans was certainly understood by Spalletti, who said “it would be easier to move the Colosseum out of Rome.” It is arguable that any man who tried to navigate Il Capitano’s final season would have been doomed for not playing him more, perhaps any man who tried to interrupt the ongoing love affair between Francesco and his adoring faithful in any manner would always have suffered this fate. Even so, would this relationship have been retrievable? What would Spalletti’s Roma have looked like without the ‘Totti-Party’? We will never know.
Could the handling of the Totti affair be the only reason for the fall out? Tellingly, Spalletti said in November last year that "my relationship with Rome is fantastic because I never take a wrong turn. I only know the way from my home to Trigoria.” Whilst he was referring to the fact that he sees little of Rome, it did seem to symbolise his relationship with the city. He mentioned his children grew up here and that meant he had an intense relationship with the Capital. It was almost like they had been brought together, a passionate affair where the chemistry was incredible, yet they couldn’t get along.
In the interview with UEFA, Spalletti explained that he understood the fans wore the club colours as a second skin and he was aware of the tension and intensity this brought. Perhaps the most telling statement was when he said that whilst understanding the fans, he has the responsibility of translating his love and support on to the pitch, and this was a burden that he felt heavily.
He will return on Saturday and most likely will be booed. The animosity is not because he didn’t understand them or didn’t try to, it is because he knew them only too well. The passion, the venom, the love and the hate, all of the emotion was perhaps just too much and in the end, they parted. Now he returns with a new club and a new loyalty and he will walk out in front of the Curva Sud to whatever reception they decide.