There is a foreboding sense of vulnerability that comes with a match against Juventus. The Old Lady is Italy’s most successful domestic team, but Lazio have had some success against them. The vulnerability lies elsewhere. Facing Juve means putting out your best. It means players will inevitably amp up their psychological and physical competitiveness to 11 and they’ll likely do it before the eyes of a large crowd and many spectators. Juve has a massive global fan base after all but more disconcertingly they’ll do it in front of the Juve directors. Playing Juve is a bit like flashing your valuables in the subway station. You really don’t know if someone will take a fancy to what you’ve got and help themselves to it.
Lazio Sporting director Igli Tare alluded to this uneasiness in the lead up to the match. “The power of Juventus is threatening… and they have the means to dominate the Italian market for young promising players.”
Teams like Juventus don’t need formal offers to tip the balance of the calciomercato in their favour. The priors are all there; Nedved, Lichtsteiner, Keita… and some we probably don’t even know about. If Juve sends out a feeler, players notice. And it’s enough to start an inexorable magnetic pull, a whirlpool that is hard to break free of. Relations with Juve on the calciomercato happen in the depths – the dark web of the calciomercato.
What happened with Keita may very well be only the latest example. Lazio were only “saved” by employing their own necromancer. A certain Jorge Mendes. And while Lotito managed to do the miraculous and wrench 30 million out of Monaco, they also ended up with Jordao, Neto and Nani. All within the Mendes orbit. Strange bedfellows in the murky world of the calciomercato depths. Some speculate he’s already steering the Milinkovic situation.
It isn’t all adversarial. Luca Caprioti, at calciomercato.com, says that in spite of Lazio’s conscription of the powerful Juve-nemesis Mendes, to counteract Juve’s strength, the two DSs, Tare and Paratici, have a deep mutual respect. The two, he claims, have a tacit agreement; in return for Eastern Europe, Spain and the low countries, Juve gets Italy. It is Italian football’s equivalent of Churchill’s spheres of influence memo. Their contacts happen in the dark, in secret, often without anyone knowing; Caprioti claims. Make no mistake, Italy is Juve’s fiefdom: few young players and few expiring contracts escape their rapacious attention for young talent. Some will point out that Milan managed to pry Bonucci from the grasp of the bianconeri but Bonucci is the exception that proves the rule: so surprising because of its shocking abnormality. Instead think Berrardi, think Portanova, think Keita (almost): the Keita affair had Juve’s fingerprints all over it. The heft of their gravity moved unrelated bodies in their orbit.
Millions will enjoy the Lazio-Juve clash today. But what we see is only the Matrix – the screen for a deeper, darker clash happening in the darkest corners of the calciomercato.