“One of the players said to me, ‘President, I’m not enjoying it here anymore and it is becoming a problem’.” These were the words of Claudio Lotito two short weeks ago as he answered a question about how the recent stand-off at Lazio between himself and sections of Biancocelesti fans had created a negative atmosphere around the club.
In the last couple of months, turmoil has reigned supreme at Stadio Olimpico as supporters have lost patience with their beleaguered President and decided to hit him where they think it hurts most – in the wallet by boycotting matches. There is little doubt in Lotito’s mind where the blame lies for this recent turbulence in the stands, which has apparently unsettled more than one Lazio player.
“Imagine the players going through what is going on, it’s not nice,” he added. “If these are the fans who supposedly care about the well-being of Lazio, then fine, carry on. Is it the fans’ fault the players might leave? No-one has spoken about the fans, but about the atmosphere around the club.”
Even for Lotito, these were tactless comments if he has any desire of rebuilding burnt bridges with tifosi disillusioned with how he is running the club. The 56-year-old’s popularity, it is safe to say, has hit an all-time low.
Yet it is times like these that you begin to realise the extent to which football is a results-driven business above all else. All other goings-on at a club have the potential to fade away into relative insignificance so long as the players who cross the white line do the job that is required.
On the pitch, the Biancocelesti have quietly gone about their business to take 16 points from their last eight Serie A matches, winning five of them. It is a run that has put Edy Reja’s side right back in the mix for Europa League qualification, a prospect that seemed unlikely a few short weeks ago. They now sit in seventh place in the League, a position that any realistic Laziale would surely admit is a long way from being a cause for too much complaint.
Lazio’s youngsters have played their part too and this week lifted the club’s first Primavera Cup in 35 years, hinting at a bright future and prompting Lotito to label them as the Stadio Olimpico club’s ‘pride and joy’.
With all of this in mind, any neutral fan could be forgiven for wondering exactly what the problem is. When you also consider the fact it was Lotito who saved the Biancocelesti from financial meltdown in 2004 following years of living beyond their means, the current situation becomes all the more puzzling for the outsider to comprehend.
Yet the fact remains that Lotito does nothing to help himself. As his comments continue to demonstrate he seems unable to accept the possibility that he could be even partially at fault for the divisions that now exist at the club. It does not take a genius to work out why fans would be upset by his decision to, for example, sell star midfielder Hernanes to Inter on transfer deadline day and then not stump up the cash to sign a replacement.
Lotito is also guilty of sending out highly contradicting messages. A month ago he was the voice of realism as he stressed the need for the Biancocelesti to ‘work within the limitations of the club’ and that he would ‘not sell dreams, but reality’. A mere week later however, he stated that his intention was ‘to win the Scudetto’.
While the battle lines have long since been drawn and both Lotito and Lazio Ultras have vigorously argued their cases against each other, the truth is that as with most disputes there is probably blame that can be apportioned to either side. Lotito must stop alienating fans with his public outbursts and be more receptive of their views. After all, it is not only he who has the best interests of the club at heart. Supporters meanwhile should remember where the Biancocelesti ended up the last time they splashed the cash in pursuit of glory, and focus on getting behind the players they do have as opposed to complaining about the ones they don’t. Though it still seems unlikely, reconciliation of sorts could come if Reja’s team can continue doing as they have been recently and win matches. Football is a simple game really.