Tuesday Apr 20, 2021  
  20/05/2012: "The Andy Murray of Calcio"
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Edy Reja has left Lazio. The manager who is largely responsible for the significant turnaround in Biancocelesti fortunes has handed in his reputed third and final Reja-signation. On this occasion, Lazio President Claudio Lotito has accepted. On Thursday afternoon, Lotito issued a vote of confidence in the manager by reloeasing a club statement denouncing the media speculation that suggested Lazio were looking for the Gorizian tactician's replacement. Hours later, Lotito was confirming Reja's departure.

The stance from the club is clear - they wanted to retain Reja's services, or at least they want it to appear that way. Yet, this is a somewhat inevitable end to a long drawn out saga. Edy Reja chose to announce his decision to leave to the media before inofrming the club, a move highly reminiscent of Delio Rossi who less than acrimoniously split from Lazio in 2009. He announced his decision to the same persons he often chose to deride and he subsequently launched a scathing attack on the local media, citing their pressure as a key factor in his decision to quit. His primary gripe with the media was their blatant refusal to recongise his feats with the club. Absent from his remarks was a thank you to the fans who stood by him through thick and thicker in his 29-month spell in charge.

There can be no doubt that Reja is an excellent manager who guided Lazio to greener pastures. He got the eagles soaring once more, but for a club that prides itself on its tradition in values, it could be argued that the heartbeat of the club - the fans - deserved better. Many fans will empathise with Reja, outlining the club's feable attempts in the January mercato as a defining moment in Reja's Roman journey but I find this an unacceptable conclusion to draw. Reja was always a quick fix, a short-term option for a team lacking in a long-term project. With a long-term project and a long-term manager to boot, the January mercato would have been written off as a minor blip in the masterplan for calcio domination, but when you hire a coach who has amassed 22 different clubs in his career, you are well aware that you are employing someone who couldn't be any further from the epitmoe of stability. Reja knew his time was up, not because of bad results, but because he has taken Lazio as far as he can possibly take the club. He chose to walk out with his head held high, as he has done on countless other occasions, which is why he remains a Serie A tactician despite his loyalty issues. That is also why he pointed his finger at the media. They affect how people think and Reja knows their words resonated with his doubters.

It goes without saying that I am not one of Reja's biggest fans. We have gone from mid-table fodder to contenders for European places but in all honestly, Reja has only taken us where we need to be. We are a Top 6 club - we pay transfer sums like a top 6 club, we pay wages like a top 6 club, we earn like a top 6 club, we have the fanbase of a top 6 club, we pack the Olimpico like a top 6 club. There are other areas where we are from a top 6 club but Reja has managed to eke out the results with his pragmatic approach to the game and I credit him for that. However, we have missed out on the Champions League qualifiers on two occasions now and that has most definitely set alarm bells ringing. Not necessarily because we have fallen short by the slimmest of margins on both occasions, but because we have allowed relative minnows in Udinese to surpass us. Twice. It is worrying because Udinese were in a much, much worse predicament than ourselves when Francesco Guidolin, yet the Udinese manager has taken the Zebrette to another level. Twice.

Edy Reja has affectively turned Lazio into the Andy Murray of calcio. We rack up the wins, but at the end of the day, what do we have to show for it? Like Andy Murray relies on Djokovic, Nadal and Federer to all have off-days to capture silverware, we are constantly hoping for Juventus, AC Milan and Inter to let us into the Scudetto race or the Coppa Italia final. Murray gets the better of all three of his adversaries from time to time but rarely when it counts, and on the rare instance that he does conjure up the goods, a Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or an A-Rod will come out of nowhere and floor him. Can you say Edy Reja's Lazio exhibits anything more? We have beaten both AC and Inter this season but we collapse to Di Natale and Udinese and calcio's equivalent snatches our goal from beneath our noses. We are always looking into the pack to see where Napoli and Udinese are lurking when in an ideal world, our sights would be set firmly on the frontrunners.

Since Reja took over at Lazio, we have seen the decline of calcio's Federer in Inter Milan. Arguably the best team the Italian game has ever seen, and the still show the odd flash of brilliance but ultimately, the motivation is not there, with age, they are tiring up and finding new distractions. As a result, the Nadal (AC Milan) took over briefly but injuries have ravished their hopes of claiming the title as the best team in Serie A. That has allowed the Djokovic figure to emerge in Juventus, they dominate the game in the current period like nobody before them, almost invincible and yet everyone is waiting to pounce at the precise moment it begins to go pearshaped.

One of those in waiting is the Andy Murray in Lazio. We possess all the weapons to win our Grand Slam, but with Edy Reja, we were destined to go the distance without ever claiming the one accolade that we all so desperately want. This year, Andy Murray the tennis player realised that this was going to be his destiny if he did not make a drastic change so he brought on board Ivan Lendl, a guy who has been there and done it all but a guy who spent ages waiting for his moment. Eventually something clicked and he went on to lift eight Grand Slams. Murray's logic was perfectly simple - if he could not achieve his goal by himself, he needed someone by his side who knows exactly what he is going through and knows exactly how to overcome the most difficult of obstacles. This is where Lazio are a this precise moment in time, Reja has taken them so far, but in order to go one step further we need someone in the dressing room who knows what it takes to go that one step further.

The jury is still out on whether Lendl is good for Murray's game. Likewise, I am not sure that the right man for the job can take us any further than Reja and I would not be at all surprised if his fans, of whom there are many, are found saying 'I told you so' within 12 months. However, the point is that we have to do something different. I don't feel we have progressed under Reja. He had a real character that managed to lift everyone's spirits after Davide Ballardini has upset the dynamic but we are still crying out for that individual that we hoped Ballardini would be. Someone young, with fresh ideas. Ballardini failed at Lazio for a variety of reasons, but his overall lack of strength and character weakened those around him. We need a combination of the two, someone who can handle star players like Klose and Hernanes while experimenting with tactics and formations that bring results. Andy Murray may find that there is absolutely nothing he can do to take him to the next level and my fear about life after Reja is that Lazio could find herself in the same situation. The wise move in my honest opinion would have been to let Reja go in the summer of 2010 and establish a long-term vision with a long-term coach and build our way to the top. There is something very false about what Reja has achieved with Lazio and there is no hint of progression lying beyond this point. Therein lies the problem.

This is where Lotito needs to show courage and I genuinely believe he gets it. The best man for the job is the manager who can give 5-10 years to us, rebuilding this club ensuring that the foundations are in place to take us to the next level. He needs to have youth on his side as well as a tactical brain, but perhaps more importantly, he needs to have the mental fortitude to reassure and inspire this particular group of players who had become incredibly attached to Reja. Who is he? I will try to answer that tomorrow...

(Cathal Mullan)
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