The last decade hasn’t been the smoothest of rides for the fans of Lazio who have had to endure the gradual disintegration of their 2000 double-winning side as a result of financial problems concerning Sergio Cragnotti, the club’s owner since 1992 who was forced to leave ten years later.
There have been a total of nine managers, and just three trophies, since Sven Goran Eriksson delivered their last Scudetto at the turn of the century. Since then, they have only finished as high as third as the Italian club has seen their place in Serie A, held since 1988, threatened by their involvement in the Calciopioli match-fixing scandal of 2006.
It was Edoardo Reja who managed to transform Lazio’s fortunes from a 12th placed finish in the season before his arrival that saw the club rise to fifth in his first year. Reja then guided them to fourth a year later before his May resignation that went against the wishes of President Claudio Lotito.
The Biancocelesti then took a huge gamble on 49 year old Bosnian Vladimir Petkovic in the summer, a coach most recently of Swiss side Sion and whose only managerial achievement is a promotion from the third tier of Swiss football with Malcantone Agno back in 2003. Incidentally, Petkovic became the club’s first foreign manager since Eriksson.
Reja’s success was based on the revival of Christian Ledesma and Stefano Mauri, as well as signing the likes of Brazilian playmaker Hernanes who has continued his excellent form under Petkovic to the reward of his first call up to his national team for just under a year thanks to the new era of Luis Felipe Scolari.
It is the form of the gifted South American who has hit 8 goals from attacking midfield, as well as 3 assists, that has seen the Reja-guided renaissance built upon remarkably, as Lazio sit third in Serie A, nine points off leaders Juventus, after 23 matches.
Last weekend’s defeat at Genoa, eventually succumbing to a stoppage-time Marco Rigoni header after fighting back from a half-time deficit of 2-0, as well as a defeat at home to Chievo the week before, has all but eradicated their challenge for the title that had been gathering pace via a run of ten games without defeat. Before the 0-1 reversal to Chievo at the Stadio Olimpico, Lazio had lost just four games in 21 matches, sparking talk that Petkovic could deliver the impossible of a first Scudetto for twelve years.
A trophy may still come in the form of the Coppa Italia as a 3-2 aggregate defeat of Juventus ensured they will take their place in the May final at the Olimpico, the stadium in which they hold this season’s best home record, but with a squad that has been assembled on a shoe-string budget, that may be achievement enough.
The Lazio of last year faded away badly under Reja in the second half of a season where they suffered an injury to Miroslav Klose after allowing Djibril Cisse and Giuseppe Sculli to depart without replacement, leaving them short of goals.
That drop in form eventually led to Reja’s resignation as enthusiasm from the fans waned. This time around Petkovic appears to have full-backing from the Curva Nord unlike Reja, despite the Italian’s impressive work in transforming the Rome club.
Not only can Petkovic call on the full support from the stands, but also the superb form of wide-men Antonio Candreva and Senad Lulic who have registered a combined tally of six assists and four goals in support of Klose who produced his ten goals from 31 shots, a strike-rate of 32.26% that gave him the best strike-rate in Europe’s top 5 leagues.
Only Catania have scored less than Lazio’s tally of 34 in the top ten of Serie A, but with the ruthlessness of Klose and the quality of Hernanes, capable of the sublime, supporting him in a usual 4-1-4-1, Petkovic’s side only need a couple of chances to score.
Their £17 million signing Mauro Zarate meanwhile, remains in the cold of the bench having made just one league appearance following a contract dispute. It is suggestive of the quality they have in their attack-line that Lazio have reached as high as third without their rebellious Argentinean who had been so vital to Reja’s success.
Having a solid defence has helped greatly. Marshaled by the consistent excellence of a back four containing the experience of centre-halves Giuseppe Biava and Andre Dias, aged 35 and 33 respectively, they have the third best defensive record in Serie A having shipped just 25 goals.
Stefan Radu and Abadoulay Konko have also been ever-present at full-back as Petkovic has been able to reap the reward of continuity. In front of the back-line, Argentinean Christian Ledesma has offered a solid defensive screen throughout, having missed just one league game so far.
Stefano Mauri, Alvaro Gonzalez and Sergio Floccari have also proved able deputies in midfield while Michael Ciani and Luis Cavanda have filled in effectively at the back when needed, it is that depth in Petkovic’s squad that will serve the Bosnian well as his squad attempts to stay at the higher end of Serie A, as a well as embarking on the latter stages of the Europa League.
Lazio’s revival has been a great story starting with the early days of Edy Reja and is now continuing with this unknown 49 year old who is building a reputation very quickly.
Serie A may be out of reach this year, but it is now a realistic objective for the near future, a thought that would have been obscene just a couple of years ago on the blue side of Rome.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow him on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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