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  • Writer's pictureLazio Stories

2001-02 Overview

Source SS Lazio Museum

The previous season had seen Lazio arrive third. They had started terribly under Sven-Goran Eriksson. The team, probably distracted and upset at the news that Sven was going to be the new England manager at the end of the season, had not played very well, were almost out of the Champions League and most importantly, had seen the rise of Roma who were miles ahead at the top of the table. Eriksson realised that probably he was the problem so he resigned. Dino Zoff took over and the team blossomed, well at least a bit. They moved to a higher position, closed the gap, lost only twice and were five points behind the Giallorossi with three games to go. Knowing that a win could have closed the gap to -3 since Roma had drawn against Milan, Lazio had to play Inter at Bari. The first half finished 1-0 and in the second the Biancocelesti had numerous opportunities to make it two. But Inter equalised in injury time and the gap remained -5. In the next game Roma drew again and the Biancocelesti won, so coming into the final match of the season Roma had 72 points, Juventus 70 and Lazio 69. Final games Roma-Parma, Juve-Atalanta, Lecce-Lazio. Parma basically let Roma win so the Biancocelesti did the same for Lecce.

The summer transfer window had been traumatic. Sergio Cragnotti had to sell Juan Sebastian Veron who wanted to leave following the passport scandal, and Pavel Nedved also left in comical circumstances. Cragnotti needed a coup to appease the fans and the chosen player was Gaizka Mendieta, probably one of the best midfielders in Europa at the time. Lazio paid a very large sum of money for him, probably way too much.

The season started early with the Champions League qualifying round against FC Copenhagen on August 8. Lazio played badly, went 1-0 up with Hernan Crespo but then opened the door to the Danes and lost 2-1. In the return match after a dismal first half, Lazio managed to win 4-1 (Crespo brace, Claudio Lopez and Stefano Fiore) thanks to a suicidal defensive approach from Copenhagen. At least they were through to the group stage.

Serie A commenced on August 26. Awful draw 1-1 against Piacenza (Claudio Lopez the scorer). The next match against Perugia saw the debut of the new signing Jaap Stam. The Dutchman with Alessandro Nesta was probably one of the best defenders in the World. The fans were ecstatic. The game at Perugia was a dull goalless draw. On the fatal 9/11 Lazio were forced to play in an extremely hostile environment in Istanbul against Galatasaray and lost 1-0. Zoff, with the arrival of Stam had decided for a 3-5-2 squad but placing Beppe Pancaro and Beppe Favalli on the wings meant that the team was playing 5-3-2 and hence way too defensive. The next Serie A game against Torino followed the dismal performance at Perugia and with the same dismal result. Players completely out of form, no idea what to do with the ball, limited amount of chances.

Zoff had one final match to save his job. Lazio-Nantes in the Champions League was a catastrophe and the Biancocelesti lost 3-1. 1-0 down almost immediately, Fernando Couto had managed to equalise but in the second half the French scored twice and Lazio were almost out of the Champions League. Dino was sacked and Alberto Zaccheroni took his place.

In his first game Lazio lost in Milan. No big surprise, but the Biancocelesti ended up with four injuries (Favalli, Crespo, Nesta and Dino Baggio) indicating that the summer preparation had been vastly overlooked. In the Champions League match against PSV Eindhoven they lost the game and Diego Simeone through injury. To go through to the next round they would have to win the next three games and even that might not be enough. Another dismal goalless draw in Serie A against Parma despite the arrival of the much needed playmaker, Fabio Liverani.

Chievo Lazio was postponed, so the next game was at home against Atalanta on October 13. Finally a win thanks to Claudio Lopez and Couto so Lazio could now at least leave the relegation zone. But Stam failed an antidoping test and was suspended for five months (reduced to four on appeal). They then beat PSV Eindhoven in Champions League 2-1 (Fiore and Lopez) allowing a minimum hope.

After another dismal goalless draw at Venezia, they beat Galatasaray thanks to Dejan Stankovic hence a win in Nantes could be enough to go through to the next Champions League phase. But then they lost the derby 2-0 with Roma dominating and also lost in France. Goodbye European football for this year.

On November 4, the Biancocelesti finally started to play football and smashed Brescia 5-0 (Crespo hat-trick, Simone Inzaghi and Stankovic). They then beat Siena in the first leg of Coppa Italia 2-1 (Crespo brace) and in Serie A won 4-1 at Udine (Crespo brace, Liverani and Claudio Lopez). Finally the light at the end of the tunnel became even brighter in the next match as Lazio beat Juventus with a Liverani jem and won in Siena in Coppa italia thanks to Crespo. The Biancocelesti were now fifth just six points behind surprise leaders Chievo. Two further wins at Lecce (Inzaghi and Crespo) and at home against Fiorentina (Karel Poborsky, Crespo and Lopez) took Lazio to fourth place in the company of Milan, three behind Roma and Chievo and five off from the top spot occupied by Inter. A new enthusiasm, which vanished quickly. On December 16 Lazio lost 3-1 at Verona (Crespo the scorer), then, after the game at Chievo was postponed due to an icy pitch, the Biancocelesti threw away a victory against Bologna, when they were 2-0 up (Claudio Lopez brace), to close the year and on January 6 drew 0-0 in Milan against Inter. At the end of the first half of the season the Biancocelesti were seventh with one game in hand.

After losing undeservedly against Milan 2-1 in Coppa Italia (Cesar the scorer), we shall quickly turn to game two of the second half of the campionato (Lazio lost the first game against Piacenza 1-0 and got knocked out of Coppa Italia losing 3-2 at home to Milan – Inzaghi and Crespo the scorers).

Lazio crushed Perugia 5-0 with goals from Inzaghi, Fiore, Lopez, Stankovic and Paolo Negro but in the following month the Biancocelesti lost at Torino 1-0, Chievo 3-1 (Lopez) and Parma (1-0) and drew 1-1 at home against Milan (Stankovic) and Chievo (Inzaghi). Ninth place and Campionato seemingly finished. Two wins in a row (Atalanta, 1-0 thanks to Poborsky) and Venezia (4-2, Crespo hattrick plus Pancaro) lead the way to the mother of all debacles.

In the derby, Roma won 5-1 with four Montella goals. Zaccheroni started with a 5-3-2 with Dino Baggio as right back, complete nonsense. Add to this Nesta's worst performance of his career, in complete confusion he  had to be substituted in the interval. Stankovic scored the 1-3 but then there were another two goals by the Giallorossi. Fans were furious, and still are to this day.

In game 27, Lazio threw away a victory at Brescia when Pancaro gave away a penalty in the dying seconds of the match (Lazio had opened the score with Crespo). Seven games to the end of the season and Lazio were seventh. Champions League was 8 points away (Bologna) and UEFA Cup qualification 4 points away (Milan).

In the next five games Lazio put their foot on the accelerator, won four (Udinese at home with goals from Stankovic and Fiore, Lecce at home thanks to Fiore, Fiorentina away thanks to Lucas Castroman, and an absurd 5-4 against Verona – Stankovic brace plus Stam, Lopez and Crespo – especially since with ten minutes to go they were winning 5-1) and drew against Juventus (Lopez). Two games left and the Biancocelesti were one point away from Champions League!!! Amazing, especially since it had been a pretty dismal year. What might have been a trigger was the thought that Roberto Mancini was going to be the new manager. But if the Biancocelesti were to qualify for the Champions League, Zaccheroni might have been confirmed. No problem. The awful Lazio that we had admired on many occasions during the course of the season returned in Bologna for the last away game and Lazio were beaten 2-0.

Final match of the season. Table read Inter 69, Juve 68, Roma 67, Milan and Bologna 52, Chievo 51, Lazio 50. For the scudetto the final games were Lazio-Inter, Udinese-Juventus, Torino-Roma. For the last place in Champions League, Milan-Lecce, Chievo-Atalanta and Brescia-Bologna. Anything could still happen. Even a Roma triumph.

The Olimpico was full, mostly Lazio supporters but also many Inter fans. They all supported the Nerazzurri. Roma must not win the scudetto.

Inter scored early with Christian Vieri thanks to a Peruzzi howler, but Lazio equalised shortly after with Poborsky. Inter went ahead again with Gigi Di Biagio. Since at Udine Juventus had closed the game after just 11 minutes and were winning 2-0, the Lazio fans did not have to worry about Roma anymore. At the close of the first half, the Biancocelesti equalised again with Poborsky. A big psychological blow to Inter. They never recovered. Lazio scored with Simeone and Inzaghi and Inter finished third. Thanks to Brescia beating Bologna, the Biancocelesti qualified for the UEFA Cup salvaging, at least in part, the season.

What went wrong

We can say that there were three main reasons for the mediocre season.

1) It certainly did look as if the summer physical training had been left to a bare minimum. Hence a number of injuries, many of them muscular, did not allow Lazio to have their best players together for even one match. There was always somebody injured. Fortunately the deep squad in terms of numbers was able to fill the gaps, but still, this was a major problem. Plus it took some of the players time to have a decent degree of fitness hence the slow start.

2) Letting go of the midfield “light” (Veron) and stamina (Nedved) in the same session was a mistake. Liverani, a good player by all means, was certainly not Veron, and nobody could substitute Nedved. Zoff had the tendency of letting players get on with the game by themselves, as did Eriksson, but it is one thing to do it with Veron and Nedved, impossible without them.

3) Gaizka Mendita was a complete disappointment. The biggest flop in the history of Lazio. He played well in just a couple of games out of 31. He never fitted in, never adapted to Italian football and was too fragile psychologically. He was not the only one to disappoint. Many players who had done well during the years, disappeared, such as Poborsky, but Mendieta was supposed to guide the team to glory. He did not.

4) Zaccheroni is considered one of the worst managers in the club’s history. The 5-1 defeat in the derby is the main reason (how on earth can you put Dino Baggio as right back?), but the team was shambolic. The rumour that Mancini was going to be the new manager if things went south did not help him, but a lot more was expected from him. Now one can understand why Silvio Berlusconi could not wait to get rid of him despite a scudetto.

Did anything go well?

The only thing to save was the UEFA Cup qualification. Plus the fact that May 5 will haunt the Inter fans for the rest of humanity.


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