The Panzer and the Kitten
Saturday 11 February 2012
As the summer came to a close, Lazio had turned plenty of heads after a fascinating transfer campaign. The biggest losses for the Biancoceleste were talented young goalkeeper Fernando Muslera and tireless wing-back Stephan Lichtsteiner, two integral parts to the success of the previous season. Many were glad to see the back of the enigmatic Mauro Zarate, albeit only on loan, and target man Sergio Floccari followed him out the door. The pressure was very much on sporting director Igli Tare to bring in quality reinforcements.
For less than the €10m received for Lichtsteiner, Lazio managed to sign both a natural replacement for him in Abdoulay Konko, and the versatile Senad Lulic, who is currently making claims to being the bargain of the season. Federico Marchetti, former Italy no.2, was brought in on the cheap after being frozen out of the Cagliari squad for a year. However, the most notable arrivals were undoubtedly the new strike partnership of Miroslav Klose and Djibril Cissé.
Neither player arrived in Italy with previous Serie A experience, making both of their signings an enormous gamble. Klose, although hugely decorated both on the international stage and at club level, had never left Germany. At the age of 33, would he still have enough in the tank to compete in a league with some of the world’s toughest defences? As for Cissé, the Frenchman had been successful in the top leagues of Greece, France and England. With 41 France caps to his name, he was no rookie to the international scene either.
It could even be argued that Cissé seemed more likely to succeed than Klose. Having already played in three European leagues, he had a wider experience of adapting to a new country’s football climate. Three years younger than his German counterpart, it was hoped his legendary turn of pace could shred heavy-footed Serie A defenders, and his ability as a finisher was never in doubt after finishing as the Greek Super League’s top scorer two years in a row.
After the season’s opener, spirits were high amongst the Lazio faithful. Yes, the team had squandered a two goal advantage against reigning champions Milan, but more importantly both Cissé and Klose were on the scoresheet. It seemed this may be the dawn of a great Lazio strike partnership, to compete with the likes of Salas-Vieri and Signori-Casiraghi.
Cissé was never to score a league goal for Lazio again. Meanwhile, Klose has been an utter success. He leads the club’s scoring charts, and is only behind the equally irrepressible Toto Di Natale in goals scored from open play in Serie A this season, with twelve to his name. The German has found himself at the receiving end of the sort of adoration Cissé enjoyed at Panathinaikos, but never earned in Rome. The fans were surprisingly patient with ‘il leone nero’, who was appreciated for his so-called ‘fighting spirit’, a quality that seemed to diminish game by game as the Frenchman’s confidence left him.
An argument for the contrasting fortunes of the two strikers is that Cissé was too often played out of position by Reja, whereas Klose regularly fills the centre-forward spot. It is true that Cissé was tried as a right winger in a 4-2-3-1 formation several times, but more regularly was fielded in tandem with Klose in Reja’s preferred 4-3-1-2, when he would often find himself on the wing trying to find space. From this position he was occasionally effective, as his tally of six assists suggests, but he wasn’t able to utilise his main asset of pace very often. Eventually being dropped to the bench in favour of Tomasso Rocchi, Cissé complained on twitter of it being ‘difficult to make an impression when only on the pitch for 15 minutes’. Soon enough he was speaking openly of his desire to return to France or Italy, and when QPR came knocking Lazio answered. Djibril has gone on to make his mark in England, scoring on his debut before being sent off three days later.
The tragic conclusion to Djibril Cissé’s Italian adventure has only highlighted the extent of Klose’s achievement. Not the most outspoken man in football, the German gets on with his work quietly and has been absolutely pivotal to Lazio’s good form. A last minute winner in the derby always helps to get the fans on your side as well. For this reason, the ‘German Panzer’ is on his way to writing some important pages in Lazio’s history, while the ‘black lion’ will forever be remembered jokingly as the ‘black kitten’.