The rise and rise of Roma continues. The Giallorossi are now unbeaten in 18 games in all competitions – a run stretching back to mid-October. Maximum credit must be given to Claudio Ranieri for instigating this turnaround, armed only with a squad of limited strength and depth. Suggestions they may be Inter’s closest challengers for the Scudetto are a bit optimistic, but nevertheless, il Lupi are looking primed for a Champions League slot.
Luciano Spalletti’s poor start to this season cost him his job, but in truth things had been going pear-shaped for the club for some time previous. The side that pushed Inter all the way in 2007 and 2008 were in steady decline, and without the finances to stop the rot, the slide was inevitable. Spalletti missing out on the honey pot of the European Cup last season had implications for this, with funds at a premium to refresh things. Spalletti was unable to spend a cent pre-season and this was compounded by the loss of Christian Panucci, Vincenzo Montella and Alberto Aquilani, yet the fierce expectations of the board and fans remained, and for the welfare of the club, a top four finish and Champions League riches were imperative.
To put things in perspective, no money was spent this summer yet £20m was needed from the sale of Aquilani to keep the books straight. No Champions League next year, and then what? Looking at the squad there are few saleable assets. Philippe Mexes and Daniele De Rossi would have been on their way, and Francesco Totti is getting no younger, and once again, barring an unscheduled injection of cash, reinforcements would have had to have been made on the cheap. Not a good look. So then, what Ranieri has done is not so much resuscitated the club, he’s stopped them from going into a coma.
Unfortunately, partly due to his own eccentricities but largely due to the media’s portrayal of him, Ranieri is still perceived as this buffoonish liability, but the hard facts suggest otherwise. You may care to remember the job he did with a similarly impoverished west London club in 2002. Without a dime to their name, Ranieri guided Chelsea into the Champions league slots, and to the attention of a Russian with a few roubles spare. The rest, they say, is history. Even back on the peninsula, Ranieri was constantly lampooned for his failure to conquer all before him with Juventus, yet looking at their position now – seven points adrift of Roma – it could be argued he did a good enough job.
To the future and il Lupi lie eight points off the summit but have a cosy seven-point buffer in the top four slots. Allied to that, progression in the Europa League, and this week a 2-0 win over Udinese in the Coppa has put them on course for a fifth final in the last six seasons. This weekend they travel to the inconsistent Fiorentina to try to nail down that desperately needed Champions League place. They may have won and qualified for nothing, but as connoisseurs of Roman history and well-worn cliché’s will let you know, it takes more than one day to build Roma.
Favourites to meet Roma in the final will be Jose Mourinho’s Inter who narrowly slipped by Fiorentina in the first leg of their semi thanks to Diego Milito’s goal. However, the biggest talking point from the match is yet another spat between the Special One and his moody teen striker, Mario Balotelli. Mourinho was apoplectic when Balotelli failed to track back during the game, and as a result was immediately hauled off, much to the angst-ridden Azzurrini Ace’s displeasure. Stroppy-Mario threw his gloves down in front of the bench and stormed off down the tunnel to his bedroom, slamming the door shut and putting his music on very loudly. Mourinho defended his decision to sub Balotelli: “He stayed back to look for a contact lens that had fallen out. He could’ve lost an eye as far as I was concerned, but first of all he had to think of the team that was in danger.”
Balo has been handed a £20 000 fine and the incident casts further doubts to his future at the club after numerous disciplinary misdemeanours. He is also unlikely to feature in Sunday’s San Siro clash with Cagliari, in a match which pits Massimiliano Allegri against Mourinho, just days after pipping him to the Panchina d’Oro award.
Milan will look to revive their Scudetto bid away to Bologna, whilst Alberto Zaccheroni will try to get his first Juventus win under his belt away to Livorno, with an ominous warning coming from club President Jean-Claude Blanc: “We have to do everything to qualify for the Champions League. Our objective is to recover as many positions as possible.” Should have kept with Claudio eh Jean-Claude?