Initially jeered for being a Roma fan, Antonio Candreva now has the Lazio faithful on his side. Antonio Labbate writes.
“My mother came to watch the friendly between Lazio and Chelsea,” recalls Fabio Liverani. “After 10 minutes, she had to put her ear plugs in…” It wasn’t the noise that Mrs Liverani was trying to drown out, it was the insults being hurled at her son by his own fans. Liverani’s crime? Joining Lazio but being a supporter of city rivals Roma.
It’s a situation which Antonio Candreva has found himself in. Coming on as an 88th minute substitute for Hernanes in the February 2-0 win over Milan, he was welcomed by the Stadio Olimpico faithful with a round of heartfelt jeers. The reaction to his arrival was so extreme that he was forced to deny his Giallorossi leanings in a Press conference a week later.
“I have nothing to hide,” he declared. “I’m not a Roma fan, I left home at the age of 14 and I have never been in the Curva Sud. I’m just thinking about playing for Lazio now and honouring this shirt that I have been given.”
Few were convinced at the time. He may have been wearing a Biancocelesti jersey, but, for many Laziali, his heart was tainted with Giallorosso. However, something changed on April 7 with his first goal for the club against Napoli. In a game which the outfit used to remember legend Giorgio Chinaglia following his death, Antonio netted under the Curva Nord which subsequently exploded with joy.
Ending the campaign with three goals in 15 games, the Italian international was signed on a co-ownership basis by Lazio, with Udinese, at a cost of €1.7m. You can criticise the club’s lack of market moves as much as you want, but that piece of business by Claudio Lotito is verging on the inspired.
While Lazio huffed and puffed in pre-season, Candreva impressed after being used in a variety of midfield roles by Vladimir Petkovic. Blessed with speed and technique, the 25-year-old scored the goal of Week 2 with a rocket in the 3-0 win over Palermo at the Olimpico. His form has been so good that there was an argument to suggest that Candreva should have been included in the latest Italy squad.
In reality, the Roman has been promising to deliver consistent performances since he was catapulted into the spotlight by Marcello Lippi in 2009. While on loan at Livorno, he was given two Italian caps. A few months later and he found himself at Juventus. But the temporary move to Turin coincided with a steady decline in form and he subsequently failed to impress during later spells at Parma and then Cesena.
“I’ve played for a lot of clubs and I wasn’t usually given the possibility to settle and stay at the same team for a significant amount of time,” Candreva noted. “It is not easy when you are always sent out on loan. I hope that Lazio believe in me, but I have to give my best in order for that to happen.”
What Lazio have been able to offer him is the opportunity to play regularly in a pretty decent side. His previous four clubs all had their problems while he was there and it didn’t allow Candreva to make the mistakes that youngsters will inevitably indulge in. It’s different at Lazio, especially as their thrifty transfer policy means their side hasn’t been revolutionised over the summer. They’ve pretty much been able to start where they, and the player himself, left off – even under a new tactician.
“I told Candreva that he needed the strength to be seen and admired for what he did on the pitch for Lazio,” Liverani, who eventually won over the fans with some classy midfield displays, added. “It’s hard when somebody accepts such a situation where you have to take on a whole set of fans, but I was convinced that I was in the right place. You can’t relay that with words, you have to demonstrate that with your skills on the pitch.”
That is clearly something that Candreva, six months on, has been able to do.