Coppa Italia: Lazio and Simeone Inzaghi’s time to shine

Since they won their famous millennium title in 1999-2000, the tale of S.S. Lazio has been littered with more false starts than a beaten up Fiat 500.


Lazio's Lucas Biglia, left, with manager Simone Inzaghi Source: Getty Images

With that in mind, it would be folly to declare this iteration of the Biancazzurri as the one to bring the glory back to one of Italian football’s more storied clubs. 

But with a fourth-placed finish all but locked away after an impressive campaign, and the opportunity to win the Coppa Italia against Juventus on Thursday morning (Live on SBS, and streamed online and on The World Game app, 4:45am), there is real optimism in Rome.


That optimism of late in the capital has generally been reserved for AS Roma, with their talented squad matched starting to deliver on the ambition of American owner James Pallotta, who is promising titles and a new stadium.

But Lazio have closed the gap, without the fanfare. And their manager knows exactly what that feels like.

Simone Inzaghi has spent his whole football life out of focus – the lens nearly always reserved for his infinitely more famous brother, the legendary Filippo. 

But their coaching careers do not mirror their playing days. Filippo’s stint at Milan was short and ill-fated - he now manages Venezia in Lega Pro.

Stepping in last July at short notice for Marcelo Bielsa, who quit Lazio after just two days, Simone has taken Lazio from eighth to forth.

They play exciting, free-flowing football – there’s been 15 goals (at either end) in their past two games, and 39 goals in their past seven. Anything but dull. 

Inzaghi spent 11 years as a player at Lazio, but played only 129 games and never managed more than 10 league goals in a season – and only scored two league goals in his final six seasons. It now might be that his biggest contribution comes from the sidelines. 

Speaking of reputations being rebuilt, striker Ciro Immobile is doing exactly that. He’s widely remembered as the failed replacement for Robert Lewandowski at Dortmund, but while the Bundesliga (and then La Liga) never suited him, Serie A certainly does.

He’s scored 22 goals this season and has proven a bargain buy for just $13 million – less than half what what he cost Dortmund. 

The midfield is anchored by the reliable Argentine Lucas Biglia, with two serious talents in the form of Sergej Milinković-Savić and Felipe Anderson. Expect both to be on the radar of free-spending English teams this summer. Keeping them, however, might be the key to rekindling a golden era. 

While those so-called glory days yielded just one Serie A title, who can forget just how big Lazio seemed. When Italian football was at its international zenith in the 1990s, Lazio was a byword for class and power - aided by the seemingly endless wealth of owner Sergio Cragnotti.
If it began with Paul Gascoigne, it soon escalated into Pavel Nedvěd, Christian Vieri, Marcelo Salas, Diego Simeone, Roberto Mancini, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Dejan Stankovic, Matías Almeyda Sérgio Conceição and Juan Sebastián Verón, added to the arrival of Sven-Göran Eriksson in 1997. They even conjured up a world record $60.8 million to land Hernán Crespo in 2000. 

To cut a long story short, you can guess what happened next. Cragnotti was arrested in 2004. The money dried up and there is still an eight-year sentence hanging over his head (although prison time in Italy isn’t usually started until every appeal is exhausted). 

And that was the last we heard of Lazio as one of the big five - freely mentioned in the same breath as Juventus, Milan, Inter and Roma. 

No legitimate title challenge has been offered by the blue half of Rome since. The only time Lazio made the news was for the wrong reasons: racism, fascism or crowd violence.

They were also relegated to Serie B as part of the Calciopoli scandal but ultimately plea-bargained their way back into top flight (albeit with a points deduction). 

The combination of the sanction and the loss of Cragnotti would ultimately take Lazio away from the elite as brilliant players were sold without being adequately replaced.

In the decade since, they’ve finished in the bottom half of the table more times than they’ve made the top four. 

While Victory over Roma in the Coppa Italia in 2012-13 marked a rare moment of civic pride, defeating Juventus – the peerless, unassailable Juventus – would bring a different kind of prestige. 

To be clear, Juve are in their own world right now - their sixth straight league title virtually confirmed, with a place in the UEFA Champions League final already booked. The treble is well and truly on for Massimiliano Allegri’s men. 

Once upon a time, Lazio wouldn't have backed away from this challenge.

If they can channel that belief and emerge triumphant on their home ground, it would trigger an immense source of self-belief on the road back to the top.

The football team, like its manager, would be well and truly out of the shadows.

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5 min read
Published 16 May 2017 at 10:55pm
By Sebastian Hassett