Another transfer market has opened its greedy gates. The January edition of a Football Market is even greedier with inflated price tags, and high wage demands. As Lazio tries to align itself as to where it fits in this year’s edition, fans from the eternal city along with the region that encompasses it, to its fan population around the world wait with bated breath as to who the next hero to dawn the BiancoCeleste Colours will be. Well this fan, scribbling anxiously as his pen/keyboard tries to keep up with his brains thoughts knows full well the answer to Lazio’s Scudetto dreams does not lie in the January market. No, this fan is more concerned that the future of any reference point to this club is either being taken away as we speak or has ceased to exist for the last decade. Which begs the question does Lazio really have a Bandiera? A Fascia di Capitano? If not when did we last have one? While above all else has anyone noticed that to really win something of significance (League championship or European glory) this Captain has to exist.
The curious case of the imminent departure of Tomasso Rocchi either on Loan or via full ownership to Inter brings out feverish discussions throughout the realm of the First Team of Rome. Had the season come to a close, regardless of SS Lazio’s final standings in the Campionato and Rocchi remained a Lazio player and then decided to hang up his boots, not one fan would bat an eye, nor shout expletives against the man from Veneto who has served this franchise for the last 10 years. Instead he leaves us according to his words: “reluctantly”. Instead, this exit it has done the exact opposite and brought unnecessary negative feelings, thoughts, and words out of all fans alike. It has rehashed old wounds from fans who still to this day believe Alessandro Nesta will return to captain this squad one last time or the fan who never really liked Tomassino from when he came to us from Empoli as a journeyman striker with a receding hair line. It may be hard to believe, but Tomasso Rocchi had his fair share of “haters”. Countless times I can remember arguing with my friend Paolo as to how classy Rocchi was. How he presented himself on and off the pitch, while Paolo always looked on in disgust at his public contract dispute in 2008 when he held out for over a million dollars a season after completing a career high: 19 Goals in all competitions. This arguably also led to the tension between Goran Pandev and the club who also complemented a terrific partnership with Rocchi-Gol and wished to be merited on the same level. We all know where that court case ended up and what team he ironically joined. Regardless, his departure begs the question: “What Happened?” The man I call Capitano Rocchi: 1 goal away from 100 Serie A career goals, 6 months remaining on his contract, and 3 goals shy of 4th Place all Time for Lazio total goals is leaving us. Moreover, he is leaving us to a direct competitor that unlocks our dreams of Champions League football next season. In May of 2011, LazioLand posted an excerpt of an article produced by SKY Calcio that summarized that season with Tommaso and how Lazio ironically were disappointed to have missed out on the 4th spot to represent Italy in the Champions League. The key quote however remains that less than 2 years ago Rocchi was asked about his transfer situation in which he replied:
"I've never done so (requested a transfer), I have two more years left on my contract. I always said I want to end my career here and after the last few games I showed I still have something to give to the team and this is my goal".
So where did it all change or go wrong? Countless seasons passed where a new striker was brought in every season to be our next bomber, our goal scoring machine. Each failed worse than its predecessor and always Rocchi humbly was inserted to clean up the mess. From Bazzani, Makinwa to Julio Cruz, from Rolando Bianchi to Djibril Cisse, to present day Zarate and Floccari…None of these men could grasp the grass of the Olimpico quite like Tommy Gol. So I ask again…Why now? Why Inter? You have been kicked to the curb countless times in favour of someone younger or perhaps someone with more flair. Are you doing this to purposely sabotage this team? The team you will always be remembered for in your legacy. Were you really our Capitan all this time?
Can we say for sure that Tomasso Rocchi will always be remembered like other Bandiera’s of other teams as “Il Capitano.” There are a few arguments that would say no. An argument I hear all the time is: “Alessandro Nesta was my Captain. Our last true captain.” We all know the very public details about how Nesta left the team for what he says was for the good of the team in the face of a financial extinction. Knowing Nesta from firsthand accounts of teammates, he wasn’t always the most lovable character in the dressing room. He always wanted to play and be considered first choice at a top dollar rate. If his current salary with Montreal is any indication, he is making the league maximum to feature in a half a season. A true Roman full of pride and part of Lazio’s history undoubtedly, but let’s wait a minute before we all go and build a statue of #13 in front of the Formello. He refused to be benched in favour of a younger up and comer, nor would he give advice to a young budding Centre Back, someone who looked up to him, someone who could learn from him how to accurately time a sliding challenge. In the end Nesta resembles a similarity to leaving for what was called the good for both parties concerned. Just like the modern day Rocchi.
Tommaso might have worn the red armband when he stepped onto the pitch. Of course this only happened when he was included in the starting XI that day, which was not always assured. Even his best moments for Lazio were marred in a build up that lacked a true figurehead. During the ’08-’09 campaign, because of his injury plagued season he was not preferred to start ahead of Pandev and Zarate in the Coppa Italia final. When you win a piece of silverware the honors of hoisting that award are given to the Captain. It goes without saying. The Captain leads the team out of the tunnel, the Captain shoulders the blame when the team loses, and the Captain meets with disgruntled fans when the ship is sinking. Thus, the Captain is rightfully front-and-centre in times of triumph as well to lift that trophy. Only on this day in May I saw something different. Rocchi did not receive the honour of lifting it to the Olimpico air on his own. No, instead he was joined alongside Cristian Ledesma, Vice Captain. What does that say? We don’t value you enough on your merits alone to award you with the gratification of hoisting this Cup, the first silverware in a post Lazio bankrupt era? It did not sit right with me then, yet less than 3 months later when Lazio defied the odds by beating Mourinho’s Inter by a spectacular volley scored by none other than Rocchi himself, our supposed Captain now had to share the Supercoppa spotlight with Sebastiano Siviglia, who was now promoted to Vice Captain thanks to an off field contract dispute with Ledesma. This was no John Terry-Frank Lampard arrangement of two interchangeable iconic figures for one club. This was a moment that day in China for a person who should have been our Captain or as the song goes “c’e solo un Capitano”. These snubs are just a few in a long line of events that would make one say “We really haven’t had a true captain since…?”
What do Maldini, Javier Zanetti, Del Piero, and regrettably even Totti all have in common? They are all Captains, icons, synonyms with their club beyond the playing pitch. Maldini will always be a respected Captain of Milan and La Nazionale for that matter. Zanetti a foreigner, adopted by the grounds of the Appaino Gentile will always be remembered for the treble winning season. Totti continues to write his King of Rome Autobiography in the mouth of the wolf, while Del Piero remained classy and left Serie A a Champion when he was asked to move on. Is Tomasso Rocchi allowed to be mentioned in these same circles? Is he just another finished product of modern economic football? A way for President Lotito to slash his 1.3 million wage earnings from the clubs books? Will all Lazio fans just watch and give a shrug of the shoulders and remind others “it’s better not to get attached to any one player as the only thing that remains in the end is the club. That is surely an adequate coping mechanism, but the fact remains; Maldini and Baresi will always be Captains of Milan, Del Piero will always be remembered running tounge out for the Old Lady, while Pino Wilson will always be introduced to Laziali as “Capitano, Pino Wilson.” He has earned that right! He lifted Lazio’s first Leauge Championship Title in 1974, while other perhaps more famous names like Chinaglia, D’Amico, Garlaschelli or ReCecchoni looked on.
When I mourn the transfer loss of Tomassino, I’ll miss that bald head of his, the same one I’m proud to say I kissed upon meeting him in Fiuggi. The quiet reserved family man from Veneto, who rarely showed any emotion, unless he was pointing his imaginary hand gun blowing smoke from it after scoring a goal. When you envision a Captain, you see someone being hoisted to the sky on the shoulders of his teammates in celebration in a moment of glory. A moment for example when you score your 100th goal for that particular club. Instead he enjoyed a nice quiet dinner with his family away from the media and fans and celebrated perhaps by playing the guitar instead. Aside from mourning his traits and memories, above all else I will mourn for the identity loss my beloved club continues to have. When will our true bandiera emerge? Where was Rocchi to calm the nerves with each passing derby defeat? When we encountered our 3rd straight defeat to the hated rivals in a single season he was nowhere to be found. Weeks later he wrote an open apology letter on behalf of the squad trying to remind fans that Lazio was still in the thick to qualify for Champions League instead of shouldering the blame he looked for pity instead telling fans that “the dressing room is distraught.’ That is not a man who shoulders the brunt of the blame. A coward looks for excuses. A coward perhaps leaves the team on the brink of a career milestone. A selfish man blames others on the brink of an exit. He might be leaving in a classy reluctant way but his curious exit does nothing to help ease my tensions for the future of where this club goes. In a humorous twist from the sitcom Seinfeld, character George Costanza once said:
“We needed a leader! Someone to lead the way to safety…Because, as the leader...if I die...then all hope is lost! Who would lead? The clown?”
When I think of clown (s) I think it’s a perfect illustration of our current state of Captain affairs. Is Mauri really our Captain? Arrested and embarrassed for a connection into match fixing. Someone who has been on-and off with his icy relationship with fans. Is he the rightfull heir to the throne to hoist our next Cup? Is Ledesma our future Captain? At 30 years old, he has taken on the responsibility countless times, yet is a model for inconsistency and recklessness in big games when a true captain has a cool head that prevails. What about the supposed Captains before them? Zauri, Oddo, Favalli, Peruzzi. Just names in history, short of icons. More like someone masquerading to be that focal point based on caps for the team. Is Rocchi just part of that same aforementioned also rans of place holding Captains? When someone bumps into him on the streets of Campo dei Fiori when he’s fulfilling his much discussed new role with the club when he retires for good, will they all shout out to him: “Ooh che fai Capitano?”. I guess it truly depends how much a Lazio fan will enjoy watching Rocchi-gol score his 100th Serie A tally in Navy Blue and Black in front of 60,000 strangers to him in the Stadio Meazza. Or maybe his title will only be stripped when Inter pip us to the 3rd post of Champions Leauge Qualification on Rocchi’s super sub goal in the 90th minute. Maybe then he just becomes another player of our history like Alessandro Nesta who refused a wage cut and had the audacity to back flip Simone Inzaghi in a WWE wrestling-esque maneuver in his return to the Olimpico where he too once hoisted several silverware trophies of his own.
While every other fan hopes that the disappointment of losing a significant figure in the rebirth of S.S. Lazio will be reciprocated by the clubs bid to sign the next budding superstar in this market. I on the other hand a mere fan from the other north side of the terrace ask my beloved Lazio, it’s Societa, the current roster of players to come together to seek out the player that will give every inch to this shirt, put the club ahead of anything else like a tifoso spending his paycheque on the coach bus to travel to an away game. The man who will lead us out the tunnel in a city derby and then lead the players into the tunnel covered in sweat and spitting blood for this team. An individual who understands the 113 years of history that embodies the tradition of this club that refused to give in to conformity and in the face of it all said: “Non Mollare Mai!”
I’m still waiting for that hero. I am still waiting for my bandiera. My Captain.