Lazio narrowly miss Champions League: anguish and myth
This editorial was originally a Twitter Essay posted by the author. It has been revised and expanded slightly.
Lazio seemed to have everything under control until the 78th minute against Inter in the last game of the season. A single point stood between the biancocelesti and Champions League. Then, inexplicably, unexpectedly, incomprehensibly, another blackout. The game did not slip away. Inter did not snatch it from Lazio. Lazio threw it away. Just like that a series if self-inflicted wounds left Lazio on the outside of the Champions League looking in.
Yes Lazio deserved Champions. Yes Lazio were the victims of some very dubious officiating decisions. But it is also true that Lazio often snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The two games against Napoli, the return leg of the Europa League semi-final in Salzburg, and of course the last game of the season against Inter come to mind. Let us put the disappointment aside for a moment. Since Sunday evening, a narrative has emerged – if not a myth. It suggests that the Champions League would have radically changed everything next season. With Champions League football it seems, Lotito would no longer be Lotito. It is a great story except for the fact that it bears no resemblance to reality. I think we are missing the long-term trends and failing to see the big picture.
Lazio have made Champions League exactly twice in the Lotito era – 2007 and 1015. In neither instance is there any evidence that he radically changed his financial policies or philosophies. Why would this time have been any different? Since taking over the club in 2004 Lotito has repeatedly indicated, in words and deeds, that he intends to introduce a new financial ethic into Italian football. He has railed against the idea that the biggest spender is the biggest winner and shown that he will always go the route of fiscal prudence. Take the “loan with option to buy” method. It’s a Lotito specialty and one that has been adopted more frequently partly because of him. It’s quintessential Lotito. He will only pay once he tastes. He takes a tremendous amount of flak for this prudence – earning himself the nickname “Lotirchio” or the “tightwad” from Laziali fans. And yet a closer look indicated a clear trajectory. What has actually happened is that the club has slowly increased its spending over the last decade since Lotito first took over. In 2007, gross salary spending at Lazio was €28m. This year it was €62m which represents a 21% increase from last season. Compare that to Juve at €164m, Roma at €93m, Milan at €114m, Inter at €82m and Napoli at €80m. That puts Lazio in 6th overall in player salaries. That’s Lotito’s way. He will not engage in reckless financial splurges. The taps will be turned incrementally. This includes transfer money & salaries. They have tended to grow steadily but slowly. Which brings me back to the myth of “the great leap forward” which has emerged from the seething cauldron of disappointment amongst Lazio fans. Anyone who thinks Lotito was going to magically stray from his preferred and declared methodology is not paying attention.
Moreover, some are already lamenting the “irreplaceable” players they anticipate Lazio will surely lose. The Italian press has already ramped up the transfer speculation. Immobile, Milinkovic-Savic, Luis Alberto, and even Inzaghi are all casting wayward glances at the exit it would appear. Evidently, it will be a miracle if Lazio are able to retain the services of ball boys and massage therapists.
Again, have you been watching Igli Tare? Tare has proven to be a rather crafty, cunning director. He has a canny ability to pick out the rough diamonds. He has proven it again and again. Underestimate him at your peril. Yet he gets no credit from Lazio fans. Many seem to doubt his ability to creatively & effectively reinforce the squad. I find it ironic that the same people who now reason that Lazio will surely lose Milinkovic-Savic, Luis Alberto, and Felipe Anderson without Champions League, fail to reason that Lazio did not need the European competitionto get them in the first place. Legitimate as the disappointment is today, perhaps fans might take a page from Lotito’s slow and steady philosophy. This is not Milan, this is not Juve and (thankfully) this is not Roma.
If you expected the Champions League would induce Lotito to deviate from his philosophy, you were only fooling yourself.