Vladimir Petkovic’s time in charge at Lazio looked to be over before it even began. The Bosnian tactician was plucked from the wilderness and the treacherous peaks of the Valais region in Switzerland by Biancocelesti President Claudio Lotito in late May to replace an over-achieving Edoardo Reja. A disastrous pre-season campaign was marred by in-fighting and culminated with rioting during the club’s friendly with Salernitana. The Doctor was not aiding his cause with questionable practices such as picturing the players naked for in-depth fitness tests, and the Aquile faithful had good reason to be worried.
Lotito looked set to judge Petkovic’s future on their opening match of the 2012-13 season against Atalanta at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia. The likes of Gianfranco Zola and Roberto Di Matteo were being lined up as the 49-year-old’s replacement before a competitive fixture was even played under his tenure. However, the form of a certain Hernanes had gone under the radar amidst the chaos of the summer, and the new boss had struck a chord with the Brazilian playmaker.
Under the guidance of Reja last term, Hernanes was under-utilised and often times played out of position as a trequartista. The 27-year-old lamented the Italian’s lacklustre approach and admitted he preferred to be dispatched in a deeper role as a regista. Petkovic listened to his cries when his predecessor did not, and moved to build the team around the former Sao Paulo man’s creative abilities and protect him by playing destructive outlets such as Cristian Ledesma and Alvaro Gonzalez in the middle of the park.
Hernanes spent no time at all repaying his new boss and netted the winner in a tense opening day in Bergamo before racking up his first assist in a convincing demolition of Palermo and finally scoring a remarkable brace against Chievo. With two man-of-the-match performances and three wins, the club were sent straight into top spot in Serie A. Yet another match-winning performance followed against Genoa, and from the dark abyss Lazio were now being talked about as title contenders.
The Brazilian international’s superb dribbling skills and lethal strike from distance was once again linking him with transfers to the likes of Barcelona and Arsenal. Six goals and four assists in all competitions to date this season have made sure Lazio qualified for the knockout stages of the Europa League and remain in fourth in Serie A, and a dark horse for the title with Juventus, Inter and Napoli leading the way. Even more impressive has been how the Alianca native has taken the initiative and became a leader for the capital club.
Whispers around the peninsula indicate that Lotito and Petkovic will look to wrap Hernanes up in a new contract that would hold him until 2017 before the January transfer window opens. European rivals Tottenham Hotspur are reportedly the front-runners to bag his signature, but Juventus, Inter and Milan look set to have the first say on his next destination should the Biancocelesti decide to cash in on him.
“I am happy in Rome, and the motivation I lacked last year has returned thanks to Petkovic,” asserted the 2008 Brazilian footballer of the year. Lazio host fellow title rivals Inter at the Stadio Olimpico this evening, and a victory could blow the entire contest open. Hernanes will be the man Nerazzurri Coach Andrea Stramaccioni will be most wary of, as his eagerness to repay Petkovic continues to see him flourish.