European Football: Lazio learn the lessons of history
Sunday 05 April 1998
Juve's goalkeeper at the Olympic stadium on that February afternoon 24 years ago was the Italian international Dino Zoff. Now, Zoff is Lazio's president, a symbol of the Rome club's determination to learn from the Juventus school of success.
Today, pupil meets master, and, with Lazio third in Serie A, two-points behind Juventus, the match represents the final test in a long learning curve. Over the past 10 years, a series of managers and directors have defected south from Turin: the team manager, Nello Governati, the deputy coach, Luciano Spinosi, and the director, Enrico Bendoni.
Players have followed, including Pierluigi Casiraghi, the Croat Alen Boksic and the Yugoslav Vladimir Jugovic. And, just as Juventus are underpinned by the industrial might of the car-maker Fiat, so the owner Sergio Cragnotti's food company Cirio now underwrites Lazio.
"There's no doubt about it, Lazio have chosen the Juventus road to success," says Lino Casholi, the historian of Rome football.
They have come a long way. Over the course of their 90-year history, Lazio have rarely risen above their humble beginnings in a tiny restaurant on the banks of the River Tiber.
The 1974 league title and a lone Italian Cup triumph, in 1958, are poor pickings along-side Juventus's record 24 league championships, eight domestic cups and two European Cups.
It was almost fitting that the one season Lazio were eligible for the then European Champions' Cup, they were serving a 12-month ban for crowd trouble in the Uefa Cup. Even when Lazio emerged from the shadow of their illustrious northern rivals to take the league title, Juve took it back the following year.
Over the next two decades, while Juventus were adding to their list of honours, Lazio were twice relegated, once because of a bribery scandal, and only avoided the humiliation of Serie C2 with a play-off victory over Campobasso in 1987.
At the beginning of the 1990s, however, Cragnotti bought the club and started its transformation into Rome's version of Juventus: on and off the field. Juventus's business-like approach has seen them forgo traditional loyalty to long-serving players such as Roberto Baggio in the name of balancing the books; they have set up football schools throughout Italy to sell club merchandise.
Getting it right on the pitch has not been so easy: despite enormous investment in such players as England's Paul Gascoigne, the manager, Zdenek Zeman, and the striker Giuseppe Signori, Lazio have not won a single trophy under Cragnotti.
This season, however, the statistics match even the best Juventus sides: 24 league and cup matches without defeat, Italian Cup finalists and Uefa Cup semi-finals. Like Juventus, Lazio are not resting on their laurels: the latest South American star Marcelo Salas is Lazio-bound next season together with Sampdoria's Yugoslav sweeper Sinisa Mihajlovic.
Win or lose today, there is one subject in which Lazio will never equal Juventus: supporters. Whereas Juventus are the best-supported club in Italy with black-and-white pennants hanging in bars throughout the peninsula, Lazio supporters are more of a hindrance than a help.
Fans' emotions shift dramatically. After a poor start to the season, Lazio's coach, Sven-Goren Eriksson ,was spat upon. Last month, after a 4-0 victory at Sampdoria, 3,000 festive fans turned up at the club's Formello training ground. When the weather is fair the fans flock to watch, when the clouds appear the attendances drop.
"Lazio finally have a team to match Juventus," says Casholi, "if only their fans understood it."
Latest in Sport
Paul Scholes: Manchester United vs Liverpool - I don't understand why Brendan Rodgers was not more attacking against Basel
Jesus Christ plays for Chelsea - that's what one in five children thinks
Transfer Talk: Nemanja Vidic to return to Manchester United; Hazard to leave Chelsea; Sunderland want Radamel Falcao
Frank Warren column: Don't bet on Amir Khan landing pay day against Floyd Mayweather
Manchester United transfer news: Kevin Strootman move edges closer
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...