Friday March 18 2011
Reaction to Reja

Edy Reja came under fire again this week for failing to deliver in the derby, but James Horncastle believes he has still done a remarkable job at Lazio

Edy Reja was certain that this time it would be different. Each of the lines on the 65-year-old's weathered face told a story, tracing out his childhood in Gorizia supporting the Udinese of Arne Selmosson, or his time playing football with the poet, film maker and writer Pier Paolo Pasolini on the beach at Grado, or when the artist Renato Gattuso wanted to buy one of his wife's paintings.

Not one, however, could speak of a win against Roma. Not one in nine attempts. Indeed, since taking charge of Lazio, he'd lost three. Sooner or later the tide had to change, though, didn't it? That's what Reja kept telling himself. Indeed much like Kent in King Lear, he implored fortune to spin thy wheel. He even made Lazio wear their change strip out of superstition. "It hadn't gone well with the home shirt," Reja sighed.

And yet still, he believed. Talking to journalists last week, Reja said: "There is always a first time and this game would open up extraordinary scenes. Winning it would represent the crowning glory of a splendid season at Lazio. In light of this, I have the sensation that it really could be our time." He was wrong. Roma won their fifth derby in a row in a hot-tempered affair and everything Reja had achieved came under scrutiny again.

It mattered little that despite the bitter 2-0 defeat to their rivals, Lazio still held the high ground in Serie A. Reja's side currently lie in fifth place with a two-point advantage on Roma. The final Champions League spot is but two points away. And to think that this time last year, Lazio were scrambling to avoid relegation. When set in that context, calling Reja into question is surely madness, isn't it?

Not in Rome of course. Asked for an insight into the capital's neuroses, Cristian Ledesma said: "If you draw, Lazio should have won. If you win, Lazio should have played better. If you lose, it is all a disaster." By the same token, the unwritten rule in Rome is that every season comes down to the results in the derby unless one of the two teams wins the Scudetto. This is the case almost every year and the tension naturally increases both on and off the pitch.

Unsurprisingly then, Reja's future was up for discussion on Monday morning with a vocal section of Lazio supporters claiming that Claudio Lotito should withdraw a reported offer to extend his contract in the summer. The veteran's decision to substitute Hernanes and Mauro Zarate was presented as evidence of his not knowing how to exploit the team's fantasia nor the qualities of his strikers. Lazio, they said, were closed up like a hedgehog and for two or three months have played dull, sterile football. As for Reja, he was too old and out of touch.

Perhaps at this juncture it would be worthwhile quoting Claudio Ranieri who recently quipped: "The Laziali are too attached to their pipe smoke." Yes, Reja did get it wrong on Sunday. Lasers and a lack of discipline certainly didn't help. But it bears remembering that Lazio have been firmly established in the top five since September, that their home record is the joint best in Serie A and that with Cesena, Parma, Juventus and Genoa now the only teams left to visit the Olimpico, grist for the mill certainly isn't lacking.

Earlier this season, Reja aligned himself with Giovanni Trapattoni in saying that a Coach counts for "20-25 per cent, nothing more." With that in mind, he should perhaps give himself more credit. Lazio were down in 17th at this stage last season with half as many points [26] and while the hoodoo in the derby remains, the turnaround in the club's fortunes is still worthy of commendation.

Indeed, it's thanks to Reja that Lazio faintly resemble an eagle again and not a pigeon scratching around Saint Peter's for breadcrumbs. But the question in Rome remains - is it enough?

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