Cast your mind back to May 2000, Chelsea had won the last ever FA Cup final at the old Wembley, Billie Piper was topping the charts, I was a fresh faced eleven year old and Lazio had just clinched a Serie A and Coppa Italia double. The new decade appeared to herald a golden era for the biancocelesti yet just ten years down the line the Roman club finds itself facing a relegation battle. Just where did it all go wrong?
The noughties certainly started well for Lazio, after winning the last ever Cup Winners Cup in 1999 the biancocelesti then defeated Manchester United to win the European Super Cup. Under the tutelage of Sven Goran Erikkson and with stars such as Alessandro Nesta, Pavel Nedved and Juan Sebastian Veron the club pipped Juventus to the league title on the last day of the 1999/00 season winning only the second Scuddetto in the their history. Inter Milan were then defeated in the Coppa Italia final to complete a memorable double. Not only was the club winning trophies but the they were also spending grotesque amounts of money, a world record £35 million on Hernan Crespo, £18 million on Veron and £29 million on Gaizka Mendieta (remember him?) to name but a few. Despite such lavish spending the club was unable to repeat the successes of 1999/00. Finishing third in 2001 they were forced to look on as bitter rivals Roma captured the Scuddeto and 2002 brought a highly disappointing sixth place finish. To make matters worse it became clear that financially the club had been living well beyond its means and in a similar situation to Leeds United had quite simply been spending money it didn’t have. President Sergio Cragnotti was forced to resign and prize assets Nesta, Crespo and Nedved were sold to rivals Milan, Inter and Juventus.
No longer able to compete for the title Lazio had to make do with fighting for European qualification on a miniscule budget, spending less then £30 million on transfers from 2002 to 2006. Despite this handicap the club still managed to win some silverware defeating Juventus in the 2004 Coppa Italia final. Iconic figure Paulo Di Canio returned for the 2004/05 season but couldn’t prevent the club slipping down into the depths of mid table. This seemingly irreversible cycle of decline continued in the summer of 2006 when Lazio were implicated in the calciocopoli match fixing scandal. Originally relegated to Serie B a successful appeal saw the punishment reduced to a deduction of 11 points. In many ways the scandal seemed to be the final nail in the coffin for the club whose triumphs in 2000 were fast becoming a distant memory. However in the face of adversity the club responded in remarkable fashion achieving a third place finish and a return to the Champions League despite the point’s deduction. Yet any hopes of a biancocelesti revival were soon quashed as the following season saw the club labour to a 12th place finish and drop out of the Champions League at the group stage. 2008/09 bought more mid table mediocrity although another Coppa Italia triumph did provide something of a consolation.
In spite of its promising beginning the noughties was largely a decade to forget for Lazio and the clubs current predicament suggests these woes are set to continue into the next. Despite possessing a squad which looks equipped for an assault on the top six Lazio find themselves in the relegation zone and already out of the Coppa Italia and Europa League. One potential reason for this disastrous turn of form is the conflict between president Claudio Lotito and so called rebels Goran Pandev and Cristian Ledesma. With both players turning down new contracts in the hope of leaving for a bigger club Lotito responded by banishing them from the first team forcing the players to train alone. Why Lotito took this course of action instead of selling the players and using the funds to find replacements is anyone’s guess. As a result Pandev successfully terminated his contract in January (although Lotito did his best to prevent this from happening) and is now in fine form for Inter whom he joined on a free. Meanwhile Ledesma remains and has expressed a willingness to aid the clubs fight against relegation yet such a bizarre situation can only have had a negative impact on the clubs morale.
Earlier this week Lazio sacked coach Davide Ballardini and hired former Napoli manager Edy Reja. The biancocelesti will be hoping this change of management is the spark which will ignite their season otherwise the unthinkable may well occur and just ten years after winning the Scuddeto Lazio could find themselves in Serie B.