Sensible is a not word you would always associate with Italian football’s decision-makers. But amongst the lack of patience and short-term thinking that clouds the judgement of presidents and sporting directors alike, there are a few who work with a realistic and thoughtful outlook.
Lazio owner Claudio Lotito is one of these. Across his nine years at the head of the capital club, the 56 year-old has built a side that can compete at the top end, without spending beyond their means.
Consistency has been key. Lotito has had six different coaches, but only Domenico Caso, Giuseppe Papadopulo – the first two he appointed, and Davide Ballardini, have had less than a season. With the squad, wholesale alterations are avoided, while key players are rarely sold. This strategy has ensured European football for the past three seasons.
Lazio’s showing last term highlighted the potential they now have. Their seventh place finish doesn’t do justice to a campaign that could have yielded so much more. Up until Christmas, the Biancocelesti had seemed capable of securing a top three berth – even threatening a Scudetto challenge, at one stage. Whilst progressing through the Coppa Italia – a competition they would eventually win, defeating city rivals Roma 1-0 in the final, Vladimir Petković’s side also maintained a successful challenge for the Europa League.
As the season entered the crucial months of February and March, however, it all fell apart. Injuries to important players – most notably Miroslav Klose, stretched a small squad fighting on three fronts. Their quest for Champions League qualification began to fade, while they were stopped by Fenerbahçe in the quarter-finals of the Europa League.
The Coppa Italia victory ensured it remained a campaign to remember, but there was frustration and regret at what might have been.
Lazio showed they can compete, but were let down by a lack of depth and cover for key personnel. Lotito recognised this and alongside sporting director Igli Tare, got to work strengthening accordingly. The duo have made six new additions to date. All are necessary recruits, carefully selected to make the squad more competitive and plug gaps that became notable last term.
Three defenders have been brought in. With midfielders Lorik Cana and Alvaro González often forced to cover in the back-line, it was an area that needed adding to. Argentinian Diego Novaretti was picked up on a free transfer from Mexican side Toluca. The 28 year-old had seemed set to join Manchester City, but the move fell through following the departure of coach Roberto Mancini. Novaretti is a tall, strong central defender, who should compliment the similarly built André Dias, Giuseppe Biava and Michaël Ciani. Young Croatian Josip Elez, also a central defender, will add depth, while left full-back Vinicius can provide cover for Ștefan Radu. The additions of Elez and Vinicius have been made with the future in mind. The average age of Lazio’s defence last season was 29.7, with stalwarts Dias and Biava 34 and 36 respectively. They can’t go on forever.
In midfield, there is Lucas Biglia, arguably Lazio’s most notable new addition. The Argentinian international has been linked with many of Europe’s biggest clubs over recent years, after a number of outstanding seasons at Anderlecht. Now 27, he has finally been lured out away from the Belgian champions. Biglia will provide a suitable partner for Cristian Ledesma in central midfield and is an upgrade on Petković’s other options to support the one-time Italian international.
As well as Biglia, Brazilian play-maker Felipe Anderson has been brought in from Santos. The 20 year-old was expected to join in January, but a paperwork issue ensured the deal was left uncompleted, till now. Once again, this is a move to ensure Lazio remain a step ahead. Anderson, an exciting talent, is seen as a long-term successor to captain Stefano Mauri. He may, however, get his chance sooner than expected, as 33 year-old Mauri is likely to be suspended for a minimum of six months, following sporting fraud allegations. Colombian forward Brayan Perea, another intriguing youngster, also arrives from Deportivo Cali.
Lotito and Tare have signed well. Learning from the flaws that surfaced last season, they have built a squad that is arguably just one forward short of been complete. The signings of Perea, Anderson, Elez and Vinicius are forward-thinking. Their early arrival gives them time to bed-in and develop, before they are eventually called upon to step up into first-team regulars, as ageing legs need replacing.
Lotito is understandably pleased with his work: “We have already achieved all the transfer objectives we set out for, albeit with a struggle because the market is not easy thanks to the behaviour of certain figures,” he said.
The fans, however, have not responded so positively. While prudent and shrewd, Lazio’s work in the transfer market lacks marquee signings. Season ticket sales have under-performed as a result.
“I will admit I’m a little disappointed by season ticket sales,” said Lotito.
“I don’t know what else a President can do after winning a trophy and buying very important players.
“I know the fans like names that hit the headlines, but the players we brought in have great potential. The season ticket sales do not match our efforts.”
Never one to shy away from speaking his mind, Lotito’s frustration is understandable. While the likes of Genoa and Inter regularly spend large sums of money with little reward, he is bringing success by building the right way. The tifosi may be disenchanted now, but if the tweaks work and it all clicks together, Lazio can have another campaign to remember.
Sensible decisions can often be underwhelming. But in a country that craves drama and lives off impulse, Lazio’s transfer dealings are refreshingly well thought-out and ensure the club go into the new season well positioned to challenge.