On Sunday night, Lazio won the derby. It was the first win for the blue side in Rome in a long while, having lost the last 5 – a fact that the Roma fans took great pleasure in announcing with countless banners reading “Roma 5-0 Lazio”. It was a hard fought victory for a Lazio side who conceded sloppily in the first 6 minutes. Their equaliser arrived in an incident that would condition the rest of the game when Simon Kjaer was sent off for a tug on Christian Brocchi. Then just when Roma looked like escaping with a point, Miroslav Klose popped up and slotted the ball into the bottom corner with almost the last kick of the game.
Sun Tzu wrote that “all war is based on deception” and in the week leading up to the derby it seemed as if both camps were playing mind games of their own. The deception in question for Lazio was whether Miroslav Klose would be fit and ready for the game after having to leave the National team early due to injury. Klose, though, made it onto the pitch on Sunday night while Francesco Totti was unable to do so.
Many – including myself – viewed the transfer of the 33-year-old German as a risk when he joined the side this summer, but Reja prophesied the coming of big things from Klose two weeks ago when he said “Klose is amazing, he will be at his best during the derby”
Klose has been a model of professionalism thus far by keeping quiet and letting his goals do the talking, his record thus far is a comforting 5 goals from 7 games. Even if he was to go without scoring another goal this season his name would remain ingrained in Lazio’s history. The post-derby fallout has seen him dubbed Mito (meaning great) Klose and Christmas had clearly come early for one fan who commented: “Santa Klose has given us a huge gift”. Their words of affection were backed up in action as well yesterday when over 2,000 fans turned up at Lazio’s training ground to cheer on and thank the players and staff.
Whether or not that was his final goal of the season, the Kloses are set to stay. Miroslav re-affirmed his intention to “play for Lazio until the 2014″ before hanging up his boots in an interview with Kicker magazine. He and his wife have been learning Italian, and his progress has been such that he was able to attend his first press conference in Italian yesterday – coincidentally arriving after the derby. The fates are certainly aligning in his favour thus far.
The plaudits though – for the moment Hernanes re-announced himself to Rome, for Klose’s ice cold finish at the death and for the astonishing rejuvenation of 35-year-old Cristian Brocchi – must go to the coach Edy Reja. His rotten form against Roma allowed their talisman, Francesco Totti, to mock the 66-year-old referring to Reja as a “lucky charm” for Roma. Reja dealt with this by calling for an “end to talk” before dismissing Totti saying “He is classy, when he plays.”
Dealing with the enemy is easy enough, but since arriving at Lazio Reja has had his own teams fans on his back for a variety of reasons. Reja guided the side to safety from a relegation place in the 2009/10 season and then to within a few goals distance of Champions League play-off qualification. Yet without a victory in the derby, the fans remained restless and unsatisfied – famished even.
In Rome title victories are rare, so the derby is given even more emphasis than in Milan or Turin. The euphoric scenes at the end of the game are comparable to title or cup winning matches – except that it is still October. The Lazio president, Claudio Lotito, recognised this when he said the victory was “worth four wins” echoing the hunger that Laziali had experienced.
As Reja roared with joy under the Curva Nord, his face ever-reddening as he released the tension, as he over-enthusiastically embracing the man responsible for looking after the Lazio eagle, he will have pondered how the win affects his relationship with the Laziali. He later said that the win “was liberating” and that he had “waited years for this coronation” of his efforts.
Reja admitted that “We finally won a derby, I hope this will help reconcile me with our fans”. As the side gains balance and fluidity the coach can see the light at the end of the tunnel, still hoping that it isn’t a false dawn.