Sven’s Lazio side that deserve their place in football’s history

The phrase ‘dream team’ usually connotes images of Cruyff’s Barcelona or Capello’s Milan – maybe even the Manchester United side that did the Treble in 1999 – but Lazio’s star-studded early 2000s team probably deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.

The genesis of this great side can perhaps be traced to 1992, the year Italian businessman Sergio Cragnotti became the club’s president. Rome’s “other team” had long been in the shadow of their cross city rivals, but the signing of Paul Gascoigne – a huge coup at the time – gave fans belief they could at last challenge Serie A’s established order.

By the end of the 90s, Lazio were more than just a sideshow for the English tabloids. Cragnotti had assembled a group of players capable of challenging on all fronts, including the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Fernando Couto, Diego Simeone, Dejan Stankovic, Pavel Nedved, Juan Sebastian Veron and Hernan Crespo.

It was the appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson in 1997 (no, that isn’t a misprint, Sven really did manage this team of superstars) that turned them into a legitimate European footballing force, and in 2000 he led them to their best ever season, lifting both Serie A and the Coppa Italia.

It began with a trophy, too: Lazio beat Manchester United in the season’s UEFA Super Cup curtain-raiser in Monaco, with Chilean striker Marcelo Salas grabbing the winner late in the first-half. Fergie’s side weren’t at full strength (Raimond van der Gouw was between the sticks, which usually didn’t end well) but three quarters of their famous midfield four were in attendance, all bettered by Veron on the opposing side.

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The win catapulted Sven’s side to an imposing start to their title charge back in Italy, but they struggled to pull away from the chasing pack, and suffered a 4-1 defeat in the season’s first Rome derby in October. Things were never going to go smoothly for the team that once signed Gazza, and it went right down to the wire.

Lazio went into the last round of fixtures trailing Juventus by two points. They needed to win their own game against Reginna and hope that the Old Lady would lose their nerve at Perugia. Sure enough, they had their Aguero moment on the last day of the season, and sealed the title in the dramatic circumstances that befit the club’s profile.

Unfortunately, Cragnotti’s plans to conquer Europe didn’t go according to plan: they finished bottom of the second group phase after being paired with Real Madrid and eventual semi-finalists Leeds. In the years that followed the team was slowly ripped apart by richer clubs from around Europe: Nesta went to Milan, Nedved to Juventus and Veron to United.

Sven headed for England where he could line his pockets, and Lazio have never quite been able to re-capture that early 2000s magic. Ending up with Ravel Morrison on your books – a player who does little besides sound off on Twitter every few weeks – really doesn’t help, though.

They may not have had the staying power, but this team has been cruelly forgotten by the footballing world. Many of these stars now enjoy legendary status in the game, and in their prime, would have walked into the very best sides in Europe today.

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