AS Roma

25 Apr

19 March 2011

TIM Coppa Italia Semi Final First Leg

AS Roma 0  v  Internazionale 1 (att 23979)

Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Team talk. OK, one last blast  from Italy. This time from one of the grand old sides of the Serie A: AS Roma.

Like most of the big Italian sides, Roma started off this year with the intriguing prospect being a genuine title contender. Not through any great expertise but because no  single team was considered to be the dominant force in Serie A. Arguably, Inter still had the best squad although without the genius of Jose Mourinho, they were no sure thing. Milan looked old at the back and crowded upfront and Juve remain an anomaly ever since the authorities had decided that bribing referees was something to be frowned upon.

This would mean that the original Tinkerman himself, Claudio Ranieri would have a real shot at guiding Roma out of the pack and towards their first Scudetto since 2001.

As things turned out, it was Napoli who would take on the challenge and they look on course to play Champions League football for the first time, probably as Serie A runners up to an again united and disciplined AC Milan who have (quite surprisingly) landed a talent in manager Massimiliano Allegri.

As for poor old Ranieri, Roma relieved him from his post in February after a disappointing run of results. His replacement, by popular demand, was Roma icon Vincenzo Montella, who played 194 time for the Giallorossi. If he hadn’t been faced with the indignity of being loaned to Fulham in 2007, he may have broken the 200 game mark for Roma. As it is, he doesn’t seem to care (or hasn’t realised) and certainly didn’t hold a grudge when Roma asked him to step up and take become manager until at least the end of the season.

Vincenzo Montella arrives at Fulham (please note: this is not a statue)

After nearly 2 months at the helm, he’s steadied the ship and has given Roma an outside chance of a Champions League berth as well guiding them to the cup semi final. However, the less we talk about his recent exploits in this season’s Champions League, the better.

The cup semi marked the start of an interesting chapter in Roma’s history, if not of the entire Italian game. As of last weekend, Roma became the first team in Serie A to fall into foreign ownership after Thomas DiBenedetto (or Tommaso DiBenedetto as his publicists etc are avidly promoting) took control of the club. DiBenedetto is a partner in John Henry’s NESV group who currently boast oft-bridesmaids Boston Red Sox and Liverpool in their portfolio so it’s no wonder he’s looking the part, saying all the right things and adding yet another of sport’s nearly men to the collection. Certainly from what I saw, he was being welcomed with open (yet understandably cautious) arms by most of the supports, with a few Star-spangled banners making an appearance in the terraces.

Roma’s opponents on this night were current league, cup and European champions, Inter. Like Roma, Inter’s season hinged on a managerial switch, after the walking car-crash Rafa Benitez was sacked in December. After inheriting greatness in Valencia (let’s just pause for a moment to think about Hector Cuper’s pant-wettingly good, yet desperately unlucky Valencia side….), the Spaniard thought he’d try and do the same with Mourinho’s Inter. Sadly for him, lightening doesn’t strike twice and Inter moved swiftly to appoint Leonardo, a man previously considered to be AC Milan to his core, representing them both as player and more recently as manager.

A warm welcome for the visiting support

Park the bus. Getting to the Olimpico is a piece of cake. Take the number 2 tram from Flaminio metro station and you’re there in 15 minutes. Tickets can be bought in advance from one of Roma’s numerous city centre club shops. Interestingly, girls get a 20% discount. Whether this is to encourage them to attend or because of some outmoded sexism, it’s hard to tell, but Mrs M (reluctantly attending her first game as a Pigeon Stander) seemed happy enough.

Home advantage.  First thing to consider when visiting the Olimpico is that the stadium was built on the orders of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and remains one of very few reminders of his grim part in Italy’s history. It’s not subtle either: Upon crossing the Tiber from the tram station, you’re instantly greeted by a 10 metre obelisk inscribed with the words “Mussolini Dux”.

Benito's big column...sorry

Walk a little further and you’ll find yourself staring at a walkway decorated in ornate faux-Roman mosaics with “Duce Duce Duce Duce” and a series of giant “M”s. Whilst a lot of this pleasing ode to early Modernist design (albeit with an odd nod towards Roman Classicism), it’s hard to forget why it’s there and what a hateful thing it represents.  Upon approaching the stadium, my eye was drawn to the training pitches next door, here stands the Stadio dei Marmi, the Stadium of Marble, where 50 faux-classical marble men surround a running track and pitch, all striking preposterous homo-erotic poses. It’s quite a sight when sat alongside the comparatively contemporary Stadio Olimpico of 2011 and is yet another enduring image of the original Faro Mussolini sports complex.

Prawn sandwiches. Not much to write home about at the shop. Although after Viareggio, I wasn’t expecting much. There was the offer of pizza or something which at some point in time may have resembled a burger, but I chose to pass on both. Interestingly, there was a flurry of vendors walking up and down the stands selling pop, beer and ice creams. I like the idea of in-terrace vendors, I’m sure some larger British clubs must be doing the same thing but I’ve never encountered it before. Surely it’s worth someone looking into it…that and the booze-laden espressos.

…and the game.  Being a cup game (albeit a semi final) the attendance was unsurprisingly small, only around a third of the seats in 70,000 capacity stadium were taken. Luckily for us, we were sat in the corner next to the ever-present and ever-vocal Curva Sud Ultras.

I was massively impressed by their enthusiasm and vim from beginning to end. It might have lacked spontaneity, with the crowd lead in song by conductors at the front of the stand but it certainly provided the quintessential Italian football atmosphere.

I’ve never really bought into the argument that stadia with running tracks make it hard to generate atmosphere. Most large grounds I’ve been to aren’t exactly brimming with energy anyway and unless you’re sitting in the first 10 rows or so, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll feel part of the action, so what does it matter if there’s a running track?? I’d agree that viewing angles aren’t nearly as good and it can be quite distant, but as someone who’s had the misfortune of sitting in the West End at Hampden Park, I can assure you, that running tracks are just one way to present supporters with distant views.

The Curva also made a suitable mockery of the pre-match decision to have a Police marching band play the national anthem pre-match (something to do with the 150 anniversary of the unification of Italy) by booing the boys in blue before launching into another chorus of the team’s anthem, a rather gushy number more suited to a Burlesconi’s cruise ship cabaret than the terraces but still better than any marching band in my opinion.

The game itself was pleasant enough. Italian football gets a lot of stick, particularly from UK media outlets but this was a reasonably good advert for the game. Whilst obviously slower in pace, two teams (both at virtually full strength) played the game with a definitive attacking spirit. Inter looked far superior throughout much of the first half and deserved their goal on the stroke of the interval. What a goal it was too: This tasty strike from aged bad guy, Dejan Stankovic.

Disappointingly Roma’s only line of attack in the second half came via the right channel with no less than 8 bungled crosses landing in front of Inter’s first man or way over in the near-empty Tribuna Tevere Stand. On the whole, it was the right result on the night and we may be edging closer to another Milan derby showdown in the final. I’m sure Leonardo will be looking forward to see what AC Milan’s support come up with this time.

Man of the match. Short, sweet and milk curdlingly soppy. My man of the match for this one was my good lady wife who not only let me slip off for the Viareggio match last week but put set aside her general contempt for the beautiful game to accompany me to the Olimpico on this night. I’m sure the 20% discount made it all the more enjoyable for her, even if there was a near death encounter with a scooter after the game. Nice one Mrs M.

Post game rub down. A trip to Olimpico should be on most football fans’ itineraries for a trip to Rome. It’s one of only 18 venues to host a World Cup Final (the 5th I’ve visited) and its place in history makes it unique if not slightly uncomfortable. Roma have recently announced their intentions to look for a move away and with the national side playing most of its games away from Rome, one has to question how much longer the stadium will be there.

It was also nice to see two players I’ve grown up watching on TV, battle it out in the dugout. Both coaches still seem to be finding their feet at the moment but may well come out all guns blazing at the start of next season. I suspect that might be exactly what they’ll need to do if they’re to compete with this current Milan side who in my opinion are just 3 young(er) players away from once again becoming a major pan-European threat.

As for the team, Roma are an entertaining yet frustrating team to watch. My intolerance of misfit 5-4-1 formations was tested to its fullest thanks to their one-dimensional line of attack which was far better suited to a 4-4-2. Nevertheless, I was glad to get to watch some action in the Olimpico (the free matchday programme was also a nice touch) and the Curva Sud certainly gave the night a fun burst of sound and colour.

That’s about it from Italy. I hope the past couple of dispatches have kept you lot satisfied and I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that next time we’ll be back to blogging from our homelands of South London.

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One Response to “AS Roma”

  1. Lucinda loving 9 September 2011 at 9:03 am #

    If you have a relative Paul Masini please contact me on lilyloving@ymail.com. It’s regarding a family tree.

    Kind regards lily

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