Roma triumph where eagles dare not fly
Defeat in the derby could have pre-empted the end of his tenure, yet instead Claudio Ranieri’s team moved up to seventh spot
Lazio’s eagle, Olimpia, was not allowed to fly before yesterday’s derby, for fear that Roma’s supporters would target her with fireworks or missiles. The Aquile themselves never really got off the ground either. A 2-0 defeat may not have been enough to dislodge them from first place, but it was enough to make their rivals’ weekends. “Where is the pigeon?” was the gleeful demand heard ringing from the Roma supporters’ enclosure in the Curva Sud long after the game had ended.
Down in the press room, Claudio Ranieri was invoking another creature. “I don’t understand these protests,” shrugged the Tinkerman in response to Lazio’s complaints over various refereeing decisions that had gone against them. “The Laziali are too attached to their pipe smoke. It gives us at Roma even more satisfaction, making us celebrate like ricci.”
Godere come i ricci, a popular slang term in Rome, is not the simplest term to translate because even in Italy the phrase’s origin is disputed. Ricci means “hedgehogs” but can also be short for ricci del mare – “sea urchins”. Either way, though, the reference is to the supposed sexual habits of the creature in question.
His words were enough to send the Romanista newspaper – slogan: “The newspaper of the most fanatical fans in the world” – into meltdown. “There was Jesus’s mountain sermon, Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech or Pope Wotyla’s ‘Don’t be afraid’,” wrote Tonino Cagnucci in the paper’s front-page editorial. “But against Claudio Ranieri’s ‘we are celebrating like ricci’, everything pales into insignificance.”
In truth the game hadn’t been much to write home about. The Corriere dello Sport described it as an encounter between “two teams of fire-fighters, not gamebreakers”, neither of whom boasted much dynamism in the final third. Roma were marginally the more expansive, but both their goals came from penalties. Their goalkeeper, Júlio Sérgio only really had one save to make – getting down sharply to deny Hernanes midway through the second half – though Lazio also hit the post through Pasquale Foggia late on, with the score still 1-0.
Lazio could protest that key decisions went against them with a degree of justification. Both penalty awards to Roma were correct, but Júlio Baptista had fouled Stephan Lichsteiner in the build-up to the second. Lazio, meanwhile, had three penalty appeals of varying validity turned down. Fábio Simplicio appeared to handle twice in the area but intent was lacking. The other shout came when John Arne Riise hauled down Stefano Mauri, a clear foul which might also have deserved a red card, but Roma could counter that the flag ought to have already gone up for offside against André Dias.
Roma had grievances of their own, however, most significantly the disallowing of what would have been an opening goal from Leandro Greco in the 40th minute. If Marco Borriello had been offside in the build-up, it was by a matter of millimetres, and the flag went up extremely late.
Not that Claudio Ranieri will be worrying about any of that this morning. Roma had been 14th going into yesterday’s game and the manager has been on the ropes these past few weeks, with many analysts agreed that he would have been out of a job if it the club hadn’t been too busy trying to find new owners. His high-spirited press conference made for a stark contrast with his on-air meltdown in September and also with reports he had been forced to ask his own players if they still had faith in him.
Defeat could have been a tipping point towards the end of his tenure, yet instead Ranieri emerged not only with his team up to seventh, but also in a position to say that he has claimed more points than any other manager in Serie A over the last 25 games (51) going back to last season. Edoardo Reja would have surpassed him with a win.
Ranieri can also take pride in having achieved the victory despite having the captain Francesco Totti, centre-back Juan and winger Rodrigo Taddei unavailable. The midfielders Davide Pizarro and Matteo Brighi also had to start on the bench (and Pizarro wasn’t used) as they sought to regain fitness after injury, while Jérémy Menez limped off after less than 40 minutes.
Some of that may have been a blessing in disguise, of course. Greco played well after coming on while Totti is yet to score in the league this season. In his place Mirko Vucinic was many newspapers’ man of the match. By rights the Montenegrin deserves to start every fixture and Ranieri will once again have a problem on his hands when Totti – who while still capable of being effective, too often lacks the energy and explosiveness required these days – returns from suspension.
That’s one to worry about on another day, though. After a third successive win over Lazio, he can enjoy celebrating like a hedgehog. Or maybe a sea urchin. But certainly not an eagle.
© Paolo Bandini & The Guardian