“I’m tired, I’m leaving Lazio and this time I won’t change my mind.” Those were the words Edy Reja used to mark his exit from Lazio at the end of the season. The capital club’s hope for new energy for 2012-13 comes in the form of his replacement, Bosnian-born Croat technician Vladimir Petkovic. Arriving off the back of a relegation play-out victory at the helm of Swiss side FC Sion, Petkovic becomes the first foreign Coach at Lazio since the departure of Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2001.
Petkovic played the majority of his career as a midfielder in his home country and Switzerland, winning the 1984-85 Yugoslavian title with FK Sarajevo, before moving into management initially in a player-Coach role at Swiss side Bellinzona in 1997. In 2008 he gained promotion to the top flight and a Swiss Cup runners-up spot with Bellinzona and was lured to Young Boys. After 10 years coaching in the Swiss Second Division, Petkovic was finally allowed a chance to experience top flight football, attaining two second place finishes and another Swiss Cup runners-up place with the Bern club.
In Europe the side ruffled a few feathers when they achieved a 3-2 first leg victory against Tottenham Hotspur in the 2010-11 Champions League play-off round. The Coach can also be proud of similar victories that season against Fenerbahce, Stuttgart, Getafe and Luciano Spalletti’s Zenit St Petersburg. Indeed, Spalletti was very complimentary after his side’s first leg Round of 32 defeat, saying: “Young Boys can win or lose, but Petkovic’s signature is always clear. The side are united, a collective force with interesting individuals.”
Lazio President Claudio Lotito has given the new boss a two-year deal reportedly set to a €600,000 annual salary. However, collecting that pay cheque will be no formality. Reja did an admirable and at times miraculous job by raising Lazio from a relegation battle to consistent European challengers, but spelled out a number of problems as he left.
“I feel I’ve done and given a lot to this environment, but the truth is that there is an excessive amount of criticism that continues,” Reja reflected. One area he was criticised heavily for was the lack of goals in his negative playing style, where he was accused of often over-utilising long passes to build attacks.
Petkovic, nicknamed the Doctor, developed a reputation at Young Boys for looking to impose a style of play rather than reacting to the opposition, often preferring a 3-4-3 or 4-3-3. In the three seasons at Young Boys, Petkovic’s side had scored in excess of 65 goals each term, averaging over two a game, whilst at the other end conceding relatively few.
Last season the Biancocelesti incurred an incredible number of injuries, second only to Milan. The current Lazio squad is large but lacks depth and quality. It needs a great deal of refinement to achieve the cover necessary to challenge in multiple competitions next season. When the upcoming calcioscommesse verdicts are also taken into account, more than a few doses of medicine might be required before the Doctor can achieve his goals.