Sergio Conceição: A Future as Lazio Manager?
In February of 2019, former Lazio player Sérgio Conceição visited the Stadio Olimpico to play against AS Roma for the Champions League clash between the hosts and his team, F.C. Porto. The Portuguese coach was booed by the Giallorossi fans, who still seem to hold some grudge for all the titles that Sergio achieved while playing for Lazio. The now-retired right midfielder never scored against AS Roma during his two seasons in Lazio, nor during his spells in Inter Milan or Parma, but they don’t forget his passage through the rivals. Nonetheless, Sérgio Conceição kept his cool during the booing, although he got quite angry when Roma’s players ignored Yacine Brahimi’s injury, getting into a small altercation with the opponent’s coach Eusebio Di Francesco. Porto ended up losing 2-1, a result that postponed the decision to the following week’s match in the Dragão; they inevitably won 4-3 on aggregate.
Always temperamental, both as a player and as a coach, Sergio left good memories in the Biancocelesti fans’ hearts. During his time in Lazio, Sérgio won the now extinct Cup of Cups, coming as a sub in the final against Mallorca (2-1) and the Supercup in the following year against Manchester United (even though he didn’t leave the bench in the game). He was also pivotal in the last Serie A conquered by the Roman emblem, in 1999-2000.
Sergio is part of a golden era of Lazio, that still brings nostalgic tears to the supporters, playing along with legends like Nedved, Nesta, Mancini, Veron, Stankovic, Simeone, and Salas. This was, of course, before the Serie A become a one-horse race. Nonetheless, Conceição remembers those times with joy and, even before the clash with Lazio’s archenemy, claimed that he still says “Forza Lazio” and will always have the team in his heart.
Is Sérgio Conceição the Manager That Lazio Needs for the Future?
As much as we try to acclaim Simone Inzaghi, in three seasons (as of March 2019) all Lazio has achieved is an Italian Supercup, and the club has been further and further from the top three spots, which would guarantee the return of Champions League football. Lazio has become laid back and accepted playing on Thursdays in UEFA Europa League, where they haven’t even succeeded properly, having just been eliminated in the competition by Sevilla. Currently sitting 6th in Serie A, the situation seems that it is going to repeat itself, and only a possible Coppa Italia win would make this season look a bit more memorable.
Meanwhile, Sergio Conceição is once again leading the Portuguese League, even though just one point away from Benfica and still has a chance to qualify for Champions League quarterfinals. We can agree that the standards in the Liga NOS are pretty low compared to Serie A, but on the other hand, Sérgio might have what it takes to turn things over at Lazio if he decides to take the managerial job in the future. His first job as a coach was in the southern Portuguese city of Olhão, where he picked the modest local club Olhanense and managed to take them to a safe spot, away from the relegation zone. In the following season, Sergio was hired by his home city’s team, Academica de Coimbra, where he once again proved his talent taking the team to a respectable 8thplace finish. Just out of curiosity, in the next years, after Conceição departed, both of these teams were relegated to the second tier of Portuguese football.
Nonetheless, Sergio’s career took a step forward when he signed for Sporting de Braga, considered the insistent underdog in the three-horse race that is the Portuguese league. Although not a giant in European football, Braga is a common presence in Europa League and figures normally in the top 5 of the competition. Under Sergio Conceição the team managed to finish 4th, securing also a place in the Portuguese Cup final. However, they ended up losing to Sporting’s Marco Silva, current Everton coach, in extra time even though the Lisbon team were down to 10 men. After this defeat, Sergio fell apart with Braga’s board and left the club, signing for their rivals Vitoria de Guimarães. He only lasted a season in Vitoria SC, with the team finishing at 10thon the table. In December 2016 he was invited to have his first job abroad, signing a contract with Nantes. With the French team, he did an outstanding job, taking them from the relegation zone to an astounding 7th place, just 8 points away from a Europa League spot. This feat impressed his former club Porto, who were desperate to sign a coach who can win the title. After four seasons of underachieving managers and failed signings, the northern Portuguese insignia wanted to go back on track and stop Benfica from getting the fifth league title in a row. With Porto on a financial crisis, Sergio had no eggs to make omelets, but he still managed to achieve the final goal and conquer the most important national competition once again, ending a five-year “titleless” streak. He was praised especially for the way he brought back players who were on loan and gave them a new life, like the names of Vincent Aboubakar and Moussa Marega.
His defensive consistency might be the reason he might be suitable for Lazio and Serie A. Both last season and during the current one, Porto is the team with the least goals conceded in the league and Sergio himself says he prefers to win 1-0 than 5-2. Furthermore, his strong disciplinary action against players who have wrong attitudes made him already bench legend Iker Casillas for using his cellphone during training. He also recently suspended young starlet Militão for partying on a Wednesday night, since the team had a game two days later.
With so many youngsters breaking through Lazio’s Primavera, including fellow Portuguese youngsters Bruno Jordão and Pedro Neto, Sergio could be the man to make Biancocelesti players understand its history and the need for full commitment to the shirt they wear. If he one day decides to return to the Olimpico and take charge of the team who gives him his best years in Italy, we as Laziali should welcome him with open arms and expect the best.