Vladimir Petkovic was on top of the Eternal City on May 26. When Lazio and Roma clashed in the Coppa Italia Final, it was the blue half of Rome celebrating wildly. The Bosnian will be forever remembered for that unique triumph.
It proved the culmination of a fine debut season. Petkovic arrived at Lazio in June 2012 noted for an attacking reputation. He made an instant impact in Serie A on and off the pitch. The Biancocelesti were Champions League contenders for two thirds of the season – placed as high as second, and in third spot until Round 27. Lazio fought on three fronts – also making the Europa League last eight – with a limited squad. Petkovic was noted for his gentlemanly conduct, a genuine good guy in what can be a murky world.
Come this August though, and the 4-0 Super Cup drubbing against Juventus set the tone. Currently ninth, the capital side have just four wins to their name and are 10 points from the European zone. Continental football has offered a reprieve, with Europa League knockout qualification assured with one match to spare.
Talk surrounding Petkovic of late has been all to do with his future.“You have all talked about my future enough, I will not get anyone into the headlines,” he commented last week. “I certainly have a contract until June and am concentrated only on Lazio.”
Director Igli Tare believes his expiring deal is the cause of the drama. “These rumours are emerging just because his contract is up and it’s normal in these cases for there to be speculation. We don’t go forward with ifs and buts. We have a contract with our Coach and I don’t want to get drawn into speculation.”
Possible replacements have already been speculated. Devis Mangia has been linked with the capital post should a split occur and has responded enthusiastically to a prospective move.
It appears should Petkovic leave, Switzerland’s national team is a potential destination. Current tactician Ottmar Hitzfeld will leave after the World Cup and Petkovic is on the radar. The 50-year-old is no stranger to the country, having played and coached there over a number of years.
For President Claudio Lotito it’s a non-issue. “I don’t know anything about this story. Nothing has been put forward officially.”Lotito has stuck by the multi-lingual tactician even when his future has been called into question, a point he was quick to raise.
So how could the Doctor go from hero to almost zero? Defeat against Napoli means Lazio have won just once in nine League matches. Their quartet of wins have come against sides near the foot of the table, Udinese the highest positioned in 13th. While Petkovic insisted his side deserved more from Monday’s contest, angry fans made their feelings known after the final whistle.
Lazio added to the squad in the summer by signing Lucas Biglia and Felipe Anderson, but fighting on three fronts remains an issue. After defeat to Genoa, Petkovic made note of coming through a period of playing every few days, hinting at depth concerns and the strain a Europa League campaign has on the club.
Especially when losing the likes of Miroslav Klose, amongst others, to injury. The Biancocelesti do not have a reliable replacement for the German. Youngster Brayan Perea is talented, but generally untested. It’s a different Aquile without Klose. A problem that may have been alleviated by netting Burak Yilmaz in August, but as it stands they’ve scored just 19 goals this term. Antonio Candreva is the leading marksman with four. Nor have they got the best out of key players Hernanes and Federico Marchetti.
Petkovic insists the situation is not as bleak as has been made out. Indeed the season has seen some positives, such as the emergence of Keita Balde, the continued improvement of Ogenyi Onazi and their European results.
Lazio need to draw on playing with character and joy – elements according to Petkovic present in their Europa League victory at Legia Warsaw – to get out of this rut. Before Christmas they face tricky trips to Torino and Verona, as well as host Livorno and Trabzonspor.
A good run heading into the break is just what Lazio need. In the demanding environment of the capital, fans are already losing patience. Petkovic was lauded in May, but it’s clear that what happened six months ago may as well be a lifetime ago in the fickle world of Italian football.