It is 20 years to the day since Lazio won the Scudetto, as then-President Sergio Cragnotti looks back over an incredible campaign and reveals Paul Gascoigne was ‘a marketing more than football move.’
Current coach Simone Inzaghi was in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s squad when they took the Serie A title on May 14, 2000, their first in 26 years.
“That was the greatest emotion one could feel and totally unexpected, because nobody thought before that game that we’d win the Scudetto,” Cragnotti told the Corriere dello Sport newspaper.
“It seemed easy for Juventus, playing away to Perugia, as if the win was a guarantee. I remember that day: I had just signed the sponsorship contract with Siemens. If I’d waited a couple of days, I could’ve charged them far more as title winners, but I thought the season was over.”
What happened was the infamous ‘rainy day in Perugia,’ when Lazio completed their victory at the Olimpico over Reggina and waited two hours for news to filter through from the Stadio Curi.
After the Juventus game was interrupted due to a freak storm, they came back out and lost 1-0.
“The directors, my wife and our friends were all seated in the Monte Mario section. They were playing the radio coverage of the Juve game over the tannoy system and it was so loud as to echo inside your brain.
“The transmission started when Perugia were already 1-0 up. I remember the anxiety, the fear, the pitch filled with fans milling around. That was the right place to wait and see how it was going to all end. The team was already in the locker room.
“I think it’s part of this club’s history that we have to suffer to the very end and be unpredictable. We would’ve even been happy with a Juve draw, as we felt superior to Juventus and ready to win a Scudetto play-off.”
Cragnotti’s biggest Lazio regrets were throwing away a lead to lose the Serie A title on the final day of the 1998-99 season to Milan and failing to sign Ronaldo.
“It’s a pity, as I really thought we had him in our grasp. Massimo Moratti was smarter, he had the money and was able to close a deal for Inter straight away. We fought hard with our many interests in Brazil.
“Lazio got most of the other targets we really wanted, although we had also come close to Nicolas Anelka, who even visited the Formello training ground. Zdenek Zeman stopped us signing Ciro Ferrara, who went to Juventus, because the coach preferred Jose Chamot from Foggia.
“Getting Roberto Mancini was a real coup, as he gave the team a strong mentality. I wanted him to become a director after Eriksson left, and he had even participated in a few transfer negotiations with me, for instance Christian Vieri to Inter.
“Nobody at the time would’ve said Inzaghi could become a great coach. It was Mancini who wanted Simone at Lazio, as he was playing for Piacenza at the time.
“I like the way he is always standing on the touchline, shouting, calling his players. He had seemed such an introvert as a player, but he has created this Lazio and fully deserves to be there.”
Cragnotti has some mixed memories of Paul Gascoigne’s time at Lazio, which was dominated by injuries.
“More than a football move, that was a fabulous marketing coup, because he took the Lazio name all over the world. Our jerseys appeared in the big English stores. Lazio had not been very well known outside Italy at the time, but suddenly we were front page news.
“It proved to be very difficult to deal with him as a man. It’s a pity that his great talent went up in smoke.”
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