Lazio's Lotito: A study in stubbornness

Round here, they would call Lazio owner Claudio Lotito testa dura: hard-headed.

At times he has been applauded, especially for standing up to imitation from elements within the club’s Ultras.

But in other cases his attitude has been more one of downright obstinacy seemingly just for the sake of it.

However, earlier in the week, the Latin-quoting president had to finally accept that his team were heading nowhere apart from down to Serie B as long as Davide Ballardini was in charge.

Edy Reja has been installed and will have to bring every ounce of his experience to bear: Lazio, like their 110th year celebratory kit, have been a pale shadow of the side that lifted the Italian Cup last year under Delio Rossi.

The club has felt embattled all season and a good part of that atmospheric poisoning is down to Lotito’s pig-headedness.

Rossi was well-respected and felt he deserved an improved deal after taking the Biancoceleste to their first trophy in five years.

But in a precursor of things to come Lotito had other ideas, claiming that no one was indispensable – and that included the coach.

After seeing Rossi snubbed, just about everyone wanted out: up and coming full-back Lorenzo de Silvestre jumped ship to Fiorentina, while Goran Pandev had made it clear he would be heading for the exit door as well Lazio didn't increase his annual salary of €450,000.

(Yes, the goal-every-three-games striker earned as much money in a year as John Terry has banked in the last two and half rather interesting weeks).

However, when Zenit St Petersburg tabled a €13 million offer, the striker wouldn't budge.

Christian Ledesma followed suit and refused to sign a new contract extension in the region of €1.5m a year.

Lotito would have gladly sold either player to ensure the club remained on a solid financial footing, but being used to doing things on his own terms the fiery Roman threw a massive moody and banished the “rebels” from the first-team squad when the season got underway.

Pandev demonstrated his resilience over the months and finally won his case to have his contract rescinded at the end of the year, but Ledesma lacked the same fortitude and staying power.

The Argentine’s undoing had been to backtrack and declare he would sign a new deal after it became clear that no one was interested in him.

Lotito, gleefully wringing his hands like a Medici merchant, withdrew the offer.

He had the legal upper hand when the case came to court; claiming that by saying he would accept an extension Ledesma was making himself available for selection but subsequently the coach decided not to not select him ‘on tactical grounds’.

Maybe a stronger-willed coach would have voiced his concerns over what the owner’s single-mindedness was doing to team morale, as the issue certainly seemed to have created resentment within the dressing room.

Ballardini’s acceptance of the status quo did little to protect his job security in the long run; once again it was Lotito’s stubbornness – in sticking by his man – that only exacerbated the situation.

Last weekend’s home defeat to Catania sent the team into the bottom three.

Lotito had to be escorted out of the Olympic Stadium while the fans made their feelings known by attempting to storm the training ground when the players returned for training on Tuesday.

The first-team squad was left to kick a few balls around with no one in charge as Lotito persuaded Reja to extract himself from his contract at Hajduk Split and Ballardini packed his bags.

‘Steady Edy’ will be expected to live up to his name as a stabilising influence, having demonstrated the patience of Job when working for Aurelio de Laurentiis at Napoli.

Oh, and to start with at least a point at Parma this weekend.

Lotito, for his part, will have another day in court and once again it's over a contract wrangle - this time surrounding the case of Eyal Golasa.

Lazio thought they had signed the Israeli midfielder on his first professional contract but the 18-year-old’s club Maccabi Haifa claimed they had the player’s signature on a three-year deal.

There had been unfounded reports that Golasa made a quick U-turn when he found out that Lazio’s more far-right fans had not take too kindly to his arrival.

However, the youngster may still find himself in the Eternal City – although playing in Serie A next season may be not be guaranteed unless Lotito allows Lazio to lighten up a bit. More to read...

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