You can drive yourself crazy going down the rabbit holes of “what if?”. This obviously applies to your day to day life, but when it comes to sports we all too often look at this from the perspective of what if my team had signed player X or hired manager Y- think of Juventus choosing Poulsen over Xabi Alonso or Manchester United picking Moyes for life after Sir Alex Ferguson.
But this current Lazio team is the best demonstration that this also applies also to the players and manager who are leading them to success. In fact Sergej Milinkovic Savic who scored the game winner and manager Simone Inzaghi weren’t even supposed to be on this team.
Back in 2015, Milinkovic Savic was a promising midfielder at Genk who had acquired him the year before Vokvodina for less than a half a million euro. The Bosnian midfielder caught the attention of both Fiorentina and Lazio the following summer, Milinkovic Savic visited the biancocelesti’s facilities at Formello and fell in love with the city and the club.
However Fiorentina took the lead in the race and a few weeks later Milinkovic Savic travelled to the club’s headquarters in Tuscany to sign his contract, but this is where he got cold feet and decided to pull a U turn and sign with Lazio who closed the deal with Genk for around 10 million (the Belgian club had retained a percentage on the future sale which Lazio eventually was able to negotiate out of his contract by paying financial considerations upfront).
Once Milinkovic Savic fully broke out at Lazio during the 2017-18 season, it felt almost inevitable he would leave. Lazio had failed to qualify for the Champions League and the upcoming World Cup in Russia was set to be the perfect stage for the Serbian Sergeant to become a huge name on the market. Instead Serbia flamed out, Milinkovic Savic’s performances dropped after his first strong initial game and there were no suitors willing to pay Lazio’s president Lotito’s asking price of 100 million euro.
When the following season Milinkovic Savic failed to play to his previous standards, many wondered if Lazio had asked for way too much for a one season wonder and assumed they would eventually regret the decision. Lazio failed to qualify for the Champions League on the last game of the season and it felt inevitable that Milinkovic Savic would be sold but for far less than the expected 100 million euro return.
In the meantime Lazio gave Milinkovic Savic an extension making him one of the highest paid players on the team, but that didn’t stop clubs like Juventus, Inter, Manchester United and Real Madrid from pursuing him. The bianconeri even agreed to personal terms with Milinkovic Savic, but eventually decided to shoot their load transfer fee wise on Mathijs De Ligt and go with two Bosman signings, Ramsey and Rabiot, to boost their midfield.
This current season has seen a return to form for Milinkovic Savic, who isn’t as flashy now that he plays a more defensive role in Inzaghi;s midfield but has certainly shown an ability to come through in big moments. His poor showing in the last World Cup had helped fuel the story line that Milinkovic Savic crumbled on the biggest stages against top opponents, but this season he has scored the goal that gave Lazio the lead against Juventus last December and the game winner against Inter on Sunday.
Just like Milinkovic Savic, the biancocelesti’s current coach Simone Inzaghi wasn’t supposed to be at the Olimpico on Sunday night. While Pippo’s brother has strong ties to Lazio dating back to his two spells at the club as a player, when he was hired as the first team’s coach back in April of 2016 it was only supposed to be on an interim basis.
Inzaghi was managing Lazio’s Primavera team when Stefano Pioli was sacked before the final stretch of the season. While he achieved very good results by accruing twelve points in the final seven matches of the campaign, Lotito wanted to make a statement signing to keep up with Roma and give his team a jolt.
Lotito was able to convince Marcelo Bielsa to take his flamboyant style to Italy’s capital, everything was set and Lazio even announced his signing and the time for his introductory press conference, Simone Inzaghi was going to continue building his resume at Lotito’s other club Salernitana in Serie B- but then Bielsa bailed and Lazio were found without a manager.
Lotito quickly decided to give Inzaghi the main job at Lazio where he developed the likes of Milinkovic Savic and Luis Alberto. Last summer there was buzz that Rino Gattuso could be Lazio’s new manager because Inzaghi had become a target for both Juventus and Milan- a rumor that made the fanbases of those clubs about as excited as Star Wars superfans seeing Jar Jar Binks show up at Comic Con.
Juventus had shown interest in Simone Inzaghi because of the similarities of his formation and style with Max Allegri and because of his close relationship with the bianconeri’s sporting director Fabio Paratici, while Milan were looking to hire both sporting director Tare and Inzaghi to relaunch the club- instead Juventus hired Sarri while Milan went for Maldini/Boban/Massara and Giampaolo.
Lazio’s triumph on Sunday against Inter is a reminder that sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make or that a decision that was made a few years ago can still pay huge dividends today- it’s not always about the next big acquisition.