Under pressure before he's overseen a single competitive game, Scott Fleming asks if Lazio's disastrous pre-season could have dire consequences for new boss Vladimir Petkovic.
Jeers raining down from the stands, fans criticising the Coach, the Coach criticising the players. None of these events are particularly unusual at Lazio. Only...they usually have the good grace to at least wait until the season has started.
This year, with the club's Serie A opener at Atalanta's Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia still 12 days away, new Coach Vladimir Petkovic already has several knives protruding from his back.
Last Saturday's friendly against Getafe was supposed to be a convivial affair, the Eagles’ seasonal debut at the Stadio Olimpico, a relaxing evening in which the fans and players could get reacquainted with each other after the summer recess.
Instead what unfolded was a 1-0 defeat followed by a bout of unseemly in-fighting, with the poor players being savaged first by the fans, then by Petkovic. “We are still tired and lacking the right mentality, this really isn't good enough and some players have to give more,” the Bosnian raged. “I want players who give their heart and soul. We've got to work harder and anyone who doesn't understand that simply won't play.”
To casual observers, the discord may appear peculiar. The idea of any Coach being sacked or put under serious pressure in pre-season might seem absurd, although it’s certainly not unheard of in Italy, as Roberto Donadoni and Stefano Pioli can attest. Moreover, Getafe are an established La Liga side, surely a narrow loss to them doesn't warrant such a fuss?
The problem for Lazio is that it wasn't a one off. Their only pre-season victories have been a 14-0 mauling of minnows Auronzo di Cadore and a 3-0 win over fourth tier club and Claudio Lotito side project Salernitana, a match marred by rioting. Any time the Biancocelesti have come up against decent calibre opposition, they have lost - 3-0 to Torino and 1-0 to Siena, Galatasaray and Getafe.
Of equal concern to the results is the chronic lack of goals. Part of the reason Petkovic was hired was his proclivity for attacking football, yet even with Hernanes, Miroslav Klose, new signing Ederson and a rejuvenated Mauro Zarate at his disposal, Lazio remain mysteriously incapable of hitting a barn door.
Appointing the tactician nicknamed 'The Doctor' ahead of Italian candidates such as Gianfranco Zola back in June was certainly an imaginative choice, but also a risky one. Petkovic did excellent work with Young Boys and Sion in Switzerland, but has never played or coached in Serie A, and the Italian top flight has often proved an inhospitable place for foreign tacticians who haven't worked there before.
The most pertinent example, although Lazio fans won't appreciate the comparison, is Luis Enrique, who never really recovered after getting off to a bad start at Roma this time last year. His first competitive games in charge consisted of an embarrassing defeat to Slovan Bratislava in the Europa League qualifiers. Ironically enough Petkovic's first competitive game as Lazio boss is against another East European outfit - Slovenians ND Mura - in the Europa League play-off round next Thursday.
Win that convincingly and those four pre-season losses will be forgotten, the scepticism surrounding him written off as a manifestation of the fraught and over-pressurised atmosphere which provoked three attempted resignations from predecessor Edy Reja during the course of last season. Win it unconvincingly and the scepticism will persist. Lose it, and the consequences could be grave.
One of Petkovic's radical ideas is reportedly to have the players photographed naked, in order to monitor their fitness and body weight. The next few weeks will tell us if, by hiring the man from Sarajevo instead of one of the safer candidates available, Lazio have wrapped themselves in the Emperor's new clothes.
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