Whisper it softly if youre among their fans, but Roma and Lazio may have a lot more in common than either would care to admit.
After reasonable success in the 2003-04 season, both now find themselves in troubled times. Both teams have lost their managers, who sensed greater financial clout elsewhere. Both have also lost a key player, have fared badly in Europe Roma in the Champions League, Lazio in the UEFA Cup and both are struggling in the Italian league. Their only consolation is the others misfortune.
So what has gone wrong?
The truth is that problems have been simmering for a while. The daily business paper, Il Sole 24 Ore, reported recently that Roma and Lazio finished last season with debts of 66.8 million and 86.3 million respectively.
A takeover by businessman Claudio Lotito, after Lazios previous owner Sergio Cragnotti was jailed, and later released, as part of a major fraud investigation in February, may have secured Lazios financial future for now. Lotito has pumped 21 million into the club but the money did not come soon enough to convince manager Roberto Mancini that the biancocelesti could compete with the top clubs, and he duly headed for Inter Milan. Former youth coach Domenico Caso stepped in to take charge. Lazios pivotal defender Jaap Stam also left to join AC Milan, claiming his motive was to win more trophies.
An inconsistent start to the league season has followed, along with poor form in the UEFA Cup, where Lazio lost 0-2 to Middlesbrough in England. However, if Lazios troubles read like a hard-luck story, Romas read more like a glossy soap opera bruised egos, temper tantrums and dramatic walkouts included.
Italys fourth-largest bank, Capitalia, agreed in March to take a 49 per cent stake in the giallorossi team. But the move was not enough to keep everyone on board, and in May a debilitating chain of events was set in motion.
First Romas powerful central defender Walter Samuel left for Real Madrid for 25 million. Manager Fabio Capello, long concerned that Roma was without the financial means to compete, jumped ship too to join Juventus where he sensed there was more money to buy good players. Indeed, he was soon back to snap up powerful Brazilian midfielder Ferreira Emerson from Roma.
Three managers were to follow Capello in the space of four months. First in was respected Parma coach Cesare Prandelli, who left after three months for family reasons. Then there was German coach Rudi Vller, a goal-scoring hero as a Roma player in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Vllers success in taking the German team to the World Cup final in 2002, coupled with his aforementioned hero status, was enough to convince Romas president, Francesco Sensi, to give him a one-year contract until Prandellis possible return. However, rumours abounded that he was unable to impose his authority on players and he was out within a month. He didnt leave before aiming a parting shot at the players, claiming they were failing to take enough responsibility for the teams plight.
Roma was damaged still further by violence during a Champions League match against Dinamo Kiev at the Olympic stadium. A coin was hurled at referee Anders Frisk at half-time, and images of him leaving the pitch with blood gushing from a wound were beamed across Europe. As a result Roma was ordered to play its next two home games of the Champions League behind closed doors. Vital revenue from the games has been lost, and fans have been left without a chance to see the superstars of Real Madrid on 8 December. Moreover Roma has insufficient points to qualify for the next stage of the Champions League, and yet another potential source of extra revenue is lost. Now ex-Chievo Verona boss, Luigi Delneri, is trying to get Roma back on track but he, just like his Lazio counterpart, is not helped by player indiscipline.
At both clubs, training ground bust-ups and rows between management and players have further damaged morale and good players have been left out of the teams, which may even lead to more of them heading out of the door.
Both managers continue to test their supporters patience but will be looking ahead to January when, under UEFA rules, they will be allowed to sign new players. Again, money will dictate who they can buy.
Meanwhile, all eyes will be on the Rome derby on 6 January, to see which team is faring better. The only thing the clubs will have in common that day will be wanting to heap even more misery on their rivals.