ITALIAN FOOTBALL IS GOING THROUGH somewhat of a transitional phase, with both Milan sides failing to qualify for Europe for the first time in 60 years. At the other end of the scale minnows Carpi and Frosinone, with average crowds of 2,991 and 5,087 respectively, will be competing in Serie A next season, joining Empoli and Sassuolo who also operate on limited budgets.
This brought about a furious reaction from Lazio president Claudio Lotito, who was worried about the repercussions historically “smaller” teams competing in Italy’s top division would have in relation to the sale of television rights.
While Lotito might be irate about matters off the field, he can have few complaints about the way his side performed on the pitch. I Biancocelesti supporters can look back with pride this season after a 3rd place finish, their highest in eight years.
Back in 2006 Lazio were emerging, relatively unscathed, out of the shadows of the Calciopoli scandal. Initially facing relegation to Serie B, successful appeals saw Lazio’s punishment limited to a three-point deduction and removal from the UEFA Cup.
The Biancocelesti went on to have their best season since 2001, with the attacking trio of Tommaso Rocchi, Stefano Mauri and Goran Pandev influential in a 3rd place finish under the stewardship of Delio Rossi.
The following years saw Lazio drop as low as 12th as they struggled to match the pace set by Milan, Inter, Roma, Napoli, Juventus and Udinese.
Rossi was succeeded by Davide Ballardini, Edoardo Reja – who took the managerial role twice – and Vladimir Petković, but it has only been since Stefano Pioli took up the reigns in June 2014 that the club look capable of challenging at the top of Serie A once again.
Pioli’s success can be largely attributed to a more focused approach in the transfer market, in which Lazio had previously been very hit and miss.
Lazio balanced the books by selling major players, including Aleksandar Kolorav, who joined Manchester City for just under £20 million, and Stephan Lichtsteiner, who joined Juventus for £9 million. There seemed to be no real philosophy when bringing replacements in, however, with the likes of Abdoulay Konko, Djibril Cissé and Giuseppe Sculli failing to make an impression at the Stadio Olimpico.
However, the last two seasons have seen a great improvement in the success of Lazio’s signings, while Hernanes’ departure to Inter has been the only major loss.
In the 2013 summer transfer window Lazio signed Andrea Candreva on an outright deal, with the Italian international costing £9 million. Often overlooked when discussing the best players in Serie A, Candreva operates from an inside right position and has become a firm favourite with supporters.
Felipe Anderson, a £6.5 million signing from Santos, joined Candreva at Lazio. The signing was meant to take place in January but was delayed due to paperwork issues. When the move eventually went through in June the initial response was one of dismay at the protracted negotiations and third party ownership that had caused repeated breakdowns in the transfer.
Initially Anderson failed to settle in Italy, playing just 529 minutes as he struggled to cope with a new language, environment and culture. He infamously put on a large amount of weight; supposedly due to struggles with the Italian language that led to him eating vast amounts of spaghetti carbonara, the only food he knew how to order.
However his second season at Lazio has been a complete revelation. A highly versatile attacker, Anderson’s 10 goals and seven assists, mainly from a wide left position, have seen him linked with a £30 million transfer to Manchester United.
The Mouse from Rome, as he has been nicknamed by Lazio supporters, has been compared to Cristiano Ronaldo as well as compatriot and friend Neymar which, although hasty, shows how far the Brazilian international’s game has improved.
A contract extension to 2020 should hold off potential suitors for at least a season but if and when Anderson does leave the Stadio Olimpico Lotito is guaranteed a major profit on the transfer fee.
The third influential arrival in the 2013 transfer window was Argentine midfielder Lucas Biglia, a £7 million signing from Anderlecht. The defensive midfielder had long been tipped for a move to one of Europe’s major leagues following spells at Argentinos Juniors, Independiente and Anderlecht but no club had taken the plunge, potentially put off by his relatively small stature for a defensive midfielder.
The 29-year-old has gone from strength-to-strength in Italy, where his positional sense and ability to shield the defence are perfectly suited to the rigours of Serie A.
The 2014 summer window saw Lazio reinforce their squad once again rather than sell key players. Only Tommaso Ceccarelli left the club for a transfer fee, with all other departures either on free transfers or loans.
Following an impressive World Cup showing with the Netherlands Stefan de Vrij signed from Feyenoord for a fee of £6 million. De Vrij’s ability to play centrally in either a three-man or four-man defence made him an ideal addition. Only Juventus and Roma, who finished first and second respectively, conceded fewer than Lazio’s tally of 38 goals, with De Vrij instrumental in the defensive effort.
Another shrewd piece of business by Lazio was signing Marco Parolo from Parma for £5 million. Although typically an offensive minded player, Parolo found himself alongside Biglia in Lazio’s engine room for the majority of the season.
With Candreva and Anderson playing on either flank in Pioli’s favoured 4-3-3 formation, Parolo and Biglia have been vital in affording Lazio’s full-backs protection. Despite the need for tactical discipline Parolo has also aided the cause offensively this season, scoring ten goals in Serie A.
Serbian international Dusan Basta signed from Udinese and, while he has had to curb his attacking intent, the 30-year-old looked solid throughout the campaign, chipping in with two assists.
Lazio now have a fantastic platform to build on, especially with youngsters like Danilo Cataldi and Keita Baldé progressing through the youth academy into first-team football.
The rumoured arrivals of Dutch international pair Jordy Clasie and Robin van Persie are exactly the type of signings Lazio should be looking to make, either experienced players with know-how of winning honours, or hungry young players with undoubted potential.
While it doesn’t look likely that van Persie will be heading to the Stadio Olimpico, given sporting director Igli Tare’s comments that the 31-year-old is outside of their financial grasp, signing Clasie would be another shrew piece of business.
The same can be said of Florian Thauvin, the 22-year-old Marseille winger who Lazio are rumoured to have made a £7 million bid for.
However, any arrival must not be at the expense of Anderson leaving, or else Lazio will face the same problem that has held them back over the last decade and stopped them from mounting a true challenge at the top of Serie A.
The last Lazio side to lift the scudetto boasted the mercurial talents of Pavel Nedvěd, Juan Sebastián Verón and Marcelo Salas among others, so if Lazio and Lotito want to push back towards the top of Serie A on a consistent basis it is imperative they hold onto their best players and continue to operate smartly in the transfer market.
By James Robinson. Follow @JvmesJournalist