The Lazio motto in recent years has been La Prima Squadra della Capitale – the first team in the Capital. This refers to the fact they were founded before rivals AS Roma, but have historically always been considered the smaller club, in terms of fanbase, success and influence. However, things are changing in the Eternal City.
Claudio Lotito may be criticised for his hard-line stance on some players, refusal to negotiate with other clubs and harsh communication style, but for all his unpopularity with his own fans, he’s building something truly solid. While Roma wave goodbye to star name after star name, supporters knowing any talent is only passing through until the right bid comes along, Lazio have resisted proposals from bigger clubs, keeping hold of the likes of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Ciro Immobile.
Lazio were practically bankrupt when Lotito took over, but his austerity measures have not just balanced the books, they have also bred success where their neighbours failed. In the last eight years of Juventus domination, nobody has won as many trophies as the Biancocelesti, taking two editions of the Coppa Italia and two Supercoppa Italiana victories.
Roma reached the Champions League semi-final, but promptly sold most of the players who got them there. Is that really a success story or just a way of milking the squad for fresh funds? The Giallorossi have not won a single piece of silverware since James Pallotta took over the club in 2014, whereas in the same period their cousins have lifted the Italian Supercup twice and the Coppa Italia. Most damning of all, Lazio won that Coppa Italia Final against Roma.
They go head-to-head on Sunday evening and it should be a fascinating encounter. Lazio are on a club record run of 11 consecutive Serie A victories, with Immobile the runaway Capocannoniere, so you could take wagers on them making it 12 in the Derby della Capitale.
There is more to comparisons between clubs than simply their results against each other. They have different infrastructures, ambitions, balance sheets and fanbases.
Roma have been pushing to build their own stadium for years now, but Lotito mentioned a new arena a decade ago. Being from the Capital and knowing how things work there, he was smart enough not to plough money into an idea that had little chance of a quick resolution. He kept it relatively vague and is waiting for the right time, when the red tape limiting new sporting projects loosens its grip a little.
There were reports in pre-season that Simone Inzaghi wanted to move on, or that the club was eyeing up other candidates, but they never really seemed close to a separation. Inzaghi is tied in with the Lazio identity, a former player, then youth team coach and eventually the architect of a well-drilled team. While Roma seem oddly desperate to rid themselves of all connections to the beating heart of this club – Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi, no doubt Alessandro Florenzi next – the Aquile try to form a consistent skeleton of the squad.
There are some drawbacks to the Lazio approach, namely their lack of strength in depth, which makes succeeding in more than one tournament improbable. They have always snubbed the Europa League, rotating the squad and doing the bare minimum, only to then blame the referee when losing to frankly inferior sides. If they finally do qualify for the Champions League, then we could really see investment in other options for defence, midfield and attack. Who knows what they’d be capable of then?
Roma still have a much larger fanbase, both within the city limits and all over the world, and that probably will not change anytime soon. However, here too, Lotito deserves credit for taking much-needed action. Banning fans for racist behaviour can only curb behaviour to a degree. The Lazio President sent out individual letters to the 16 supporters identified making those Fascist salutes and demanded they repay the €50,000 in damages from a UEFA fun, the cost of having to play with an empty section of the stands and for the effect the story had on their reputation.
Lotito has been battling the hard-line ultras for years, which is why he is so unpopular with the fanbase, but it’s a fight that needs to be undertaken. If there’s one thing holding the club back now, it’s those few in the stands who are intent on ruining Lazio’s reputation.
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