Stadio delle Aquile.
These three words have tantalised Lazio supporters for 14 years now, since president Claudio Lotito first put together a project for a new club-owned stadium to be built in Rome.
You don’t need to look far in Italy to see the benefits of stadium ownership. Juventus’ seven-year long domination of Serie A, soon to become eight, began when they clinched the Scudetto in 2011/12, the year they moved into their new arena.
It’s not a coincidence that the gap between the Old Lady and the rest has grown in the years since, with Juve getting an extra boost from the revenue generated by their modern, state-of-the-art ground.
The two Milan clubs hope to follow soon with a new €600 million San Siro to be built by 2023, while Roma have finally been given the green light this year for the ground to be broken on the long-awaited Stadio della Roma.
The latter is particularly poignant now, after a week in which Lazio’s plans to construct their own stadium received a new lease of life following a public back-and-forth with Rome mayor Virginia Raggi.
Back in February, when it was announced that work was set to begin on the Stadio della Roma, Lazio spokesman Arturo Diaconale made it clear to Radio Sei that “the two clubs (of Rome) should walk at the same pace”.
On Thursday, Diaconale and Raggi were front and centre of the latest developments and debates over the project, as the mayor guested on the same radio station.
Raggi has been tiptoeing her way down a tightrope between the Lupi and Aquile camps while in the job, doing her best to appear diplomatic and unbiased.
In May 2018, she said she was a “Roma symphatiser”, while in her appearance this week she spoke of going to Lazio’s Curva Nord when she was young and living in a household dominated by her Biancocelesti-supporting husband and son.
She even admitted to celebrations in the Raggi household after the recent 3-0 Derby della Capitale win over Roma.
It wasn’t long before the Stadio delle Aquile came up, and Raggi’s response was to say that she is still waiting for a project to be proposed to her, as Lotito’s first one appeared way back in 2005.
The response from Diaconale was to invite her to the official opening of Lazio’s newly-refurbished Formello training ground, where a new stadium project will be presented to her. “We’re counting on getting the same treatment as Roma,” he reiterated.
Everything appears rosy, then? Well, not quite.
On the one hand, the stadium project is certainly being given more consideration and air time than it has for years, with Lazio seemingly determined to get it off the ground now that Roma have hurdled the logistical obstacles to get their project signed off.
However, the two parties appear to have completely different ideas of how to proceed.
Raggi encouraged the idea of renovating the Stadio Flaminio, the crumbling former national rugby stadium which closed its doors in 2011, saying that Lotito “would become a hero” if he brought the venue back to life.
The Flaminio has often been talked about as a potential Lazio stadium, but never with real conviction. It has sat, forgotten, derelict and covered in weeds, just north of Piazza del Popolo for eight years now without any credible hope of regeneration.
Lazio released a statement on the back of Raggi’s interview which underlined this point, insisting that the Flaminio would be “impossible” to restructure into a modern, functional international-level football stadium, citing “insurmountable logistical and security reasons.”
“It’s not a coincidence that the Flaminio is in a state of abandon for a very long time and all the attempts to put it to use have miserably failed,” they wrote.That’s that, then.
Lazio’s plan is to construct a brand new ground in the Tiberina area north of the city and they underlined that this project was “presented and deposited in 2005” and that they intend to “propose it again with the conviction that the realisation of a Lazio stadium must proceed at the same pace as Roma”.
The problem here is that Raggi insists that, by law, building a new stadium requires old sporting facilities to be demolished or reconstructed first. The fact that Lotito would be building on empty ground doesn’t add up with her statements.
“The law is very clear,” she said. “The sites must already be equipped with a sporting structure to demolish or reconstruct. These are the regulations for a new project.”
This appears to be the crux of the matter. Raggi says a new stadium project must involve reconstruction of demolition of an existing sporting facility, while Lotito’s proposed Tiberina project does not tick these boxes.
Raggi likes the idea of a redeveloped Flaminio, but Lazio believe it is impossible and do not want to take the idea further.
While it can only be good news that the Stadio delle Aquile is on the table again as a point of discussion, there appears to still be a long road ahead and plenty of hurdles to jump over before the club achieves its goal of “walking at the same pace” as Roma on this matter.
Nothing moves particularly quickly in Rome, other than the traffic, as the Giallorossi fans have discovered in their wait for a new arena.
However, the hope is that Lazio have uncorked a dusty, long-forgotten bottle of wine by having such public discussions over their project once again. Now that it’s open, they should finish it.
The fans have been teased and tantalised by drawings, images and occasional comments over a potential new stadium for almost 15 years now.
Achieving it would be the greatest legacy of Lotito’s era as president and give the club a massive step forward in their ambition of becoming a team that is regularly competing in the Champions League. But first, there are some negotiations to have.
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