In the 83rd minute against Roma, Napoli’s Paolo Cannavaro remained high up the pitch following a set piece which had broken down prematurely. The ball came to him in an unfamiliar role, approaching the opposite byline in the attacking third is alien territory to a stopper centre half.
He delivered a cross into, what is commonly known in the cliché filled footballing world as, the corridor of uncertainty. A narrow channel between the goalkeeper and his defenders, a no man’s land where hesitation is to be found in vast quantities and where a ravenous target man will feed on his staple source of sustenance.
Arriving from deep, bounding like an excited 8-year old, was Edinson Cavani. A goal! 2-0, a match winning strike and a manager’s contract totters towards a possible termination. That manager was none other than Claudio Ranieri.
“The love that lasts longest is the love that is never returned.” ~ Somerset Maugham
Claudio Ranieri is acting out his second choice boyhood dream, assuming his first choice was to be a Roma hero on the pitch, managing his home town club in their top flight and European competition. However, dreams rarely turn out the way you expect. Since taking charge on 1 September 2009 the ship he has been given to steer has traversed some truly stormy waters.
When he took control, he had a club that had been called an ageing wreck and owners, Italpetroli, were unable to summon any funds for him to replenish the squad. The tinkerman was able to squeeze every last drop of ability out of the players he had, pushing them to 2nd place in an amazing second half of the season where they lost just 1 league game.
A poor start to this season led to numerous of dissenting voices, both inside and outside the camp. A humiliating 2-0 defeat away in the Champions League against Bayern was followed by a tempered press conference before the weekend game against Bologna. He lambasted the press for their judgements, all with the benefit of hindsight.
Ranieri will be remembered by many fans in England and Spain for his mild mannered approach to games, often appearing too timid for the challenges that management expects of him. He has in the past been pushed into a corner and almost bullied into leaving by owners. Since becoming Roma boss, he has done away with the bashful exterior and equipped himself with a sharp tongue able to pierce even the thickest of journalist’s scaly epidermis.
He had turned Roma’s fortunes around and has submitted city rivals, Lazio, to 2 derby defeats already in both league and cup. Indeed, his record in derbies remains impeccable having won 4 out of 4 so far in his Roman adventure. Ranieri expressed his delight at the first win this season, almost dying of smugness. “We will enjoy this like hedgehogs” (La godiamo come a i ricci) recounting an Italian proverb which refers quite plainly to the excessive sexual habits of the hedgehogs mentioned.
Big wins against Milan and Inter were also part of a season’s first half which drew mixed emotions from the clubs fans. Going into the weekend’s game against Napoli, Ranieri was under the cosh following a heavy 5-3 defeat against Inter the week before in what was probably the game of the season so far. Napoli had ended a 13 year losing streak Roma at home earlier in the season, so the pressure was on.
Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love. ~ Charles M. Schulz
Defeat to Napoli, 2-0 again, was a incredibly bitter pill for the Roma fans to swallow. Ranieri failed to adapt to the conditions placed in front of him by Napoli’s formation, Roma lacked width and pace and their opponents – or more to the point, Edinson Cavani – put them to the sword. The fans were livid to say the least, and a group of fans were quick to make their point clear the following morning by arriving in protest at Roma’s training ground, Triigoria.
The group of protesters demanded a meeting with, captain, Francesco Totti, and they received it. The fans deemed Totti the only player fit to wear the shirt, the rest of the squad was a disgrace and Ranieri was to step down. Fans asked the players to “run more, for the shirt you are wearing and for the fans who have made sacrifices to come and support you”. Totti responded diplomatically telling the fans “We are the first to be displeased. We will restart from here and raise our game again”
When the draw for the Champions League was made, Roma fans were very happy to have drawn one of the lower ranked sides remaining in the competition. But they will enter the game on the back of 2 demoralising defeats, and Shakhtar could pull off a surprise. Roma will need to find the testicular fortitude that they were lacking earlier this season.
Ranieri will have woken up on Monday morning expecting to see more than a Valentine on his doorstep following the weekend’s furore. His time at Roma has seen him become a victim of the club’s own domestic abuse. The fans constantly on his back, his own players petulance must have irked him and throughout the season countless other coaches have been linked with the job.
Ranieri has been quizzed on numerous occasions about the possibility that he would be replaced by Marcello Lippi, Luciano Spaletti and even Carlo Ancelotti. How frustrating must it be for your potential successor’s name to be thrown in your face on a weekly basis win, lose or draw.
Whether or not Ranieri is shown the door in the next few days or weeks, the penny will soon drop, and he’ll realise that his love is very much unrequited.