It isn’t something that exactly strikes fear into your heart. But on an intellectual level it leaves a bookmark of doubt as you flick through the fixture list. While Serie A delivers plenty of emotive contests throughout the year, this one stands apart with a healthy level of respect. No matter where they sit on the table Udinese never seem to lose at home and always seem capable of clicking into gear and tearing their opponents apart.
The puzzling thing about Udinese is their steadfast refusal to foster a consistent team capable of challenging for the next level on the table. In fact, you may say that the sole reason this bizarrely named team of Zebras exist is to launder money through a complex web of player transfers and to ruin Italy’s coefficient standing in the European leagues.
However, before I go any further it is only right that I declare a small conflict of personal circumstances with this fixture.
Like most men of Italian descent, I have an Uncle Mario. If you want to get technical he is my mother’s, aunt’s husband. I first remember meeting this guy when I was six years old. With a thick Italian accent he insisted I call him, ‘The Godfather’ as he adjusted his thickly rimmed glasses and stereotypical fedora. He also had an old beat up Isuzu ute (utility truck?) in his garage that had a Ferrari sticker slapped prominently on the bumper. “It’s a Ferrari, you know.”
By the end of the day he had me telling everyone I encountered about my new Uncle Mario who was called ‘The Godfather’ and drove a Ferrari.
As I had entered his home that morning with a football (not of the round variety) tucked under my arm, he figured we could bond through sport. He sat me down and played a number of VHS tapes of football matches from the early 90s and late 80s.
Many years later during one of our long distance phone calls, I proudly informed Mario of my infatuation for AS Roma following a stint living in the eternal city. Mario welcomed me to the Serie A addiction and explained that as he was originally from Friuli he would wish Roma well except for when they played Udinese.
Sadly, The Godfather with a Ferrari passed away a few months ago, providing a personal touch to Roma’s foray to the North East.
Alas, the game!
Rudi’s men have been marching throughout the peninsular with impunity and an utter disregard for the natural order. Napoli – cry me a Benitez! Inter – triple cock punch! Lazio – back in your godamn box!
With Totti and an uncannily in form Gervinho on the sidelines, an away trip to Udine should ring bells of concern for any Roma team.
Two minutes in and those bells were loud and clear as Muriel swept forward on a lightening counter and sent a sharp effort past Morgan and into the post. Francesco Guidolin has always been a shrewd tactician and set his side up impressively, defending with more or less five at the back and playing quick vertical balls to wingers who exposed Roma’s velocity-less fullbacks.
This was very effective in the first half as Roma’s midfield trio couldn’t quite put their foot on the throats of the zebras without Totti sucking the defensive line out of shape. Maicon and Balzaretti were getting bulldozed in defence but Mehdi was playing with fire against his old club, crunching his tackles with that little bit extra.
The match struggled to get into full swing thanks largely to that imbecile with the worst mullet in Italian football, Bergonzi. He was flicking cards about like a Vegas dealer with caffeine shakes. Unfortunately for all and sundry watching this match, half of these cautions were completely ill foundered such as Muriel’s accused dive and De Rossi’s legitimate tackle/pass.
Udinese were attacking with intent and with one Toto Di Natale lurking at the tip of their spear they appeared a solid bet for a half time lead. As the Roman defensive left flank was cut open again like a can of tuna, Gabriel Silva chipped the onrushing MDS. But the shot lacked ruthless conviction and Castan managed to hack it off the line with Mehdi doing his best to out-DDR him.
Roma’s best efforts came largely from Adem Ljajic who relished the extra responsibility and Pjanic continued his good form with a solid passing display to justify all of the bullshit in the press about Manchester United wanting to sign him.
And then just before half time, Muriel cynically hacked down Ljajic with a terrible tackle that was so obviously yellow card worthy it represented the best opportunity of the match for Bergonzi to hold aloft his beaming pocket cards like a toddler with a newly opened Christmas gift. Not so. In a complete disregard for the rules of the game and a prime example of why Italian football to this day struggles with credibility, the mulleted maverick elected to keep his cards sheathed in lieu of his earlier bollocks call on Muriel.
So then it was halftime. And for your humble scribe it was just coming on 1am on Sunday night after a rather excessive weekend and time for some introspection. This morning in the cool light of day I was pouring through some of the diatribe I jotted down during the break and a particular paragraph seemed ok enough to put in.
What is this half time feeling? I’ve just seen Roma more or less outplayed and regularly exposed while playing away to Udinese. Why so freaking calm? We shall overcome. We have Rudi on the bench, we also have Bradley jerseys to sell.
That’s right sports fans, this is the new Roma experience. No longer is the default setting one of appalled disgust or imminent doom.
The second half got underway with some notable Rudi tinkers. Maicon began drifting towards the centre and became an extra attacking outlet freeing up pressure from Stroot and Pjanic. What Rudi must have failed to mention to my current favourite Roman Brazilian was not to get sent off in the 65th minute for a worthless challenge in the middle of the park.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.
At the 60th minute Marquinho was brought on for Florenzi and it got me thinking. I’m about 95% sure that if I met Marquinho I would dislike him. He just comes across as a wanker. It doesn’t really have anything to do with his running or football ability. Anyway… the Maicon dismissal sort of made this substitution invalid as Pjanic had to be sacrificed for Toro which more or less left Roma’s attack with Ljajic and Marco.
To put it mildly, whilst we weren’t at panic stations, the 9 wins in a row record was looking a touch unlikely. In fact it spurred one of our learned CDT writers to utter in the dungeon, “if Adem wins this I will get a nutella tattoo.”
According to my smudged notes, in the 77th minute Rudi made his move switching beauty for baldy. Marco for Bradley. The stage was set.
After a sharp one-two with Bradley, DDR fired a laser-guided long ball out to Strootman who took possession and set his cast iron jaw for greatness. Caressing the ball with his left he let the spooked defenders back off as Marquinho made a ripping run into the kill zone. This crucially sucked the centrebacks of forward momentum and spun around the covering midfielder.
Stroot then laid off delicately to the beaming dome of Michael Bradley who only seconds before had been chilling on the halfway line. A lesser man would have given in to adrenaline and pounded the ball with as much fire as he could muster. Sensing the responsibility of converting AC Roma’s ESPN viewing public to the Roma 1927, Bradley coolly side footed Stroots ball into the beckoning net.
Roma’s share price soared in anticipation of the oncoming Bradley shirt sale. The travelling tifosi erupted with delight, households in Rome screamed with euphoria. Left-wing European urbanites began chanting U-S-A! U-S-A! Vladimir Putin bear hugged Barack Obama. And Jonas started humping the American embassy gates in Brussels.
One nil up away to Udinese with five minutes to go. Fingernail ripping tension! Bradley’s goal unleashed the Rudi tiger on every Roma player, substitutes included. They scrambled in defence like men possessed, Torosidis bossed his side of the pitch like a troll at a bridge and Ljajic taking the ball to the corner flag with three defenders around him was poetry in motion.
Morgan plays so much better when Roma is a goal to the good. His demeanour completely changes, he looks like the Duracell bunny, bouncing around and soaring through the sky to secure aerial intrusions. His saves aren’t spectacular, they are necessary.
The final whistle eventually came, after more irrational yellow cards of course.
Nine wins in a row. 0 losses. 23 goals scored and 1 conceded.
Udinese away. Idiotic Ref. Red card in the 65th minute. No Totti. Our striker hasn’t scored all season. 3 points.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is games like these that inscribe names on trophies.
Can you vaguely remember Bradley coming on as a substitution for the USA in the last world cup and scoring with a late run into the edge of the area?
We at Chiesa Di Totti are all Michael Bradley (except for Bren, he is all of us.) We all support Roma for our own bizarre rituals and reasons. None of us have more of a divine right than any other to scream at our small screens and shake our fists to the heavens when that ball crashes into the net. The Disney deals and baseball comparisons might get a little too cheesy and uncomfortable but if there has to be a living breathing mascot to market to the masses, then godamn it I want it to be Michael Bradley. The way I feel inexplicable personal disdain towards Marquinho, I’ve got no doubt MB would be a great guy to hang out with and would offer to buy the first round.
Udinese are a quality side and will probably be kicking around the Europa spots come March, but to beat a side as good as Roma right now you need to take your chances. Don’t we know that all too well!
Meanwhile, Rudi is a soothsayer and once Pallotta takes over the world I’d encourage him to get the Andalucian’s brain cloned. The beast of Roma is alive, kicking and should be striking fear into every team in Italy. This isn’t good form, this is a revolution.
Rome is marching and the tribes to the north and south are right to be afraid.