A rather curious story has been going around the Eternal City in recent days.
Lazio’s owner Claudio Lotito had apparently told his counterpart at Napoli, Aurelio De Laurentiis, that there was trickery behind Roma’s success this season. He supposedly claimed that their owner James Pallotta had brought in five wizards to work at the club’s Trigoria training ground and at the stadium on match-days.
“You know why you lost [to Roma a fortnight ago]?” it’s claimed Lotito said. “Because Pallotta’s magicians got Diego Maradona [a guest at the match and Napoli talisman] to rise from his seat before the end of the first half and remove his negative energy…” Within seconds of him doing so, Miralem Pjanic gave Roma the lead with a free-kick.
Just like magic.
Do you believe in it? A more pertinent question might be whether you believe Lotito ever suggested as much. If he did – something which Lazio deny – it was probably a joke. But Roma supporters weren’t about to let facts stop them from having a bit of a laugh.
A local radio station Te la do io Tokyo called Lotito. Amusingly its presenters pretended to be a couple of wizards. Lotito hung up. They phoned back and, to be fair to the Lazio president, he was good value making the sort of wisecrack that left the listener with the impression this was radio gold.
More fun was to be had at his expense on Thursday. This time it was organised by Roma. Shortly after referee Sebastiano Peruzzo blew for full-time at the end of their 1-0 win against Chievo on Halloween night, the crowd at the Stadio Olimpico were given a special treat. Out came five wizards. They walked under the Curva Sud in full costume looking like they’d come straight from Hogwarts, disembarking from platform 9 and three-quarters at Termini rather than Kings’ Cross. It’s a night that will live long in the memory.
— Jacopo Sonnino (@JacopoSonnino) October 31, 2013
Marco Borriello’s glancing header made it 10 wins from 10 for Roma this season, the best start ever made by a team in Serie A. “… We have 27 wizards in the dressing room,” said coach Rudi Garcia afterwards, alluding to the number of players in his squad. “We believe in work, not witchcraft,” added Roma’s general manager Mauro Baldissoni.
Peerless in Serie A history, benchmarks for this team’s achievements are now being sought abroad. Thursday’s victory meant Roma matched the start made by Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United to the 1985-86 season. Beat Torino away on Sunday and they will equal that of Bill Nicholson’s double winning Tottenham side in 1960-61.
But 11 in a row has a resonance of its own at Roma. They managed just that under Luciano Spalletti between December 2005 and February 2006, playing arguably the best football in Europe. Remember how it came about? Bereft of strikers, Spalletti had to get creative. So he fielded a team comprising six midfield players with Francesco Totti asked to perform a role as a false nine. On paper it looked like a 4-6-0. So successful was it that soon enough Europe’s elite were trying it. For instance, Manchester United adopted it after their encounters with Roma the following season and it’d be the system that exalted the characteristics of the side that won the Champions League in 2008.
Caught by surprise and unable to get to grips with it, defenders had no reference points and therefore no idea who to pick up. Roma’s run that season was a club record winning streak and a Serie A one too for a time until of course Inter strung together 17 under Roberto Mancini between October 2006 and February 2007.
After last season no one would have anticipated this, just as no one expected Spalletti’s Roma to do what they did. That team deserved a Scudetto. They led the league for an hour on the final day of the 2007-08 season. The hope among Roma supporters is that maybe this will be their year. For now at least whether it be through wizardry or hard work, their team really is living up to the nickname La Maggica.