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Totti Today: Can a Training Ground Bust-Up Deliver Great Results?

We go back to a time when Roma crashed out the cup, the coach fought the captain, and yet Roma won the league.

Claudio Villa Archive Claudio Villa Archive

Fabio Capello and I may share little in common (for all I know) but, if there’s one thing we’ve both insisted on in recent years, it’s being the devil’s advocate to remind Roma of their never-ending capacity to be A Terrible Club™. Why do we do it? Well, Capello probably has a lot more compelling reasons than I do.

For one, Fabio has personally been treated like a “deserter” twice in his career. Once as a young man when he was sold off to Turin (the reality is Roma badly needed the money), and repeating the scenes in his middle age when he (once again) took the road north to Turin. (the reality is, once again, Roma badly needed money from Juventus to the point of doing business with Turin behind their own sporting director’s back). So Fabio Capello has seen Roma’s hypocrisy in spades and was probably relieved to be at a club like Juventus—one where people aren’t afraid to be the bad guys.

Show - 2020 Laureus World Sports Awards - Berlin Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for Laureus

My motivation is more for the hell of it; a dose of antagonism, every now and then, soothes my frequent anxiety. I love writing, and I love having a place to draw attention to thoughts I commit to the keyboard; I don’t want to take that for granted. But I also don’t want to be part of anything that encourages delusion, vittimismo, and arrested development. Never a week goes by where being a Roma fan is a concoction within which those three aforementioned drugs are offered in spades.

It’s a banality of evil (to steal a turn of phrase from Hannah Arendt) that hugs Roma like a lambskin jacket at times. So I was relieved to find Fabio Capello back at again, this week when commenting on the handbags between current Roma coach Paulo Fonseca and club captain Edin Dzeko.

September 2000: Roma Found Wanting for Character and Captaincy

“There needs to be [a willingness] to revive the relationship [between the two],” Capello told TMW Radio this week, “if you don’t want to get in your own way and you have [serious] aims. It could be that either the coach or the player has made mistakes, but they both need to clear the air without losing face. If the coach loses face, he no longer has the dressing room in the palm of his hands, and that can’t happen.”

“Lazio brought a certain gameplan to the derby. [Right now], Roma is a team that has a hard time when you press them at high rhythm. Maybe Roma needs a good bust-up, like what I went through during the Scudetto-winning year after Bergamo.”

Football Serie A Roma-Inter Photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Capello saw his window of opportunity to wind people up this week, and took it. What did he mean by “Bergamo?”

I looked it up and found yet another off-field incident in that title-winning year that I’d never heard about until now. I was aware Roma crashed out of the Coppa Italia Round of 16 in September 2000 against Atalanta, but never knew so many people had so many cents to throw into the aftermath at the training ground.

You might be thinking “big deal, so Roma lost to Atalanta”. But the turn of the millenium was a time when Atalanta were a far less competitive club, their team’s fortuns almost entirely revolving around star-midfielder Cristiano Doni (who only played the first leg of that Coppa clash). The Bergamo club were only just freshly promoted from Serie B, so the parallels with Spezia are there, while Roma were dealing with the pressure of expectations and cross-town rivals Lazio being the reigning champions of Italy.

Could big-spending Roma finally make the 2000-2001 season their year to be reckoned with? Getting knocked out of the cup in September by minnows Atalanta said otherwise. There was the manner of the defeat, but far more telling was the Roma meltdown in the week that followed.

“Capello has to go. He’s the ruin of Roma.” That was the reaction from one Roma fan, Gianni, as reported by TifoNet. But way more concerning was the character-less reaction of fans—reportedly all aged no more than between 18 to 35 years of age—throwing objects at the players cars, and racially abusing Assuncao and Cafu on their drive into Trigoria (this incident was so widely reported on several major titles’ archives that it must have been that the racist abuse must have been that evident at the time).

Roma defender Jonathan Zebina was also a witness to this and ready to hand in a report (alongside Cafu), while it was apparently Assuncao that got the worst of the abuse.


Some fans took exception to the fact Fabio Capello had been laughing in the faces of Atalanta fans on the sidelines, during the 4-2 loss, while they were giving stick to the Roma substitutes warming up. To some, it was a sign that Capello didn’t take things seriously enough. Didn’t get angry enough when the team was losing, didn’t give the right reaction... You’ve heard this all before.

It was a theme that Francesco Totti raked hummed and hawed over, in front of the microphones, where the club captain sounded like he was offering a life-raft just as much as he leaving his coach out to sea.

“Capello is the one who has to fire us up with anger and the right mentality? That’s true only up to a certain point,” Totti told the Gazzetta dello Sport (via AS Roma Ultra archives) in 2000. “We’re the ones that go on the pitch. At the end of the day, the responsibility is half and half. He can transmit those emotions but if we don’t take that onto the pitch with us, what more can he do about it?”


What turned Totti’s diplomacy against Capello, however, was a journalist reminding him of Capello’s own comments to the press that week; ones in which Capello spoke of his regret that the match had been “prepared perfectly” but the team has “conceeded the kind of goals that they’d prepared against ahead of time” and that the team going so off-script was something that had “never happened before” in his time on the Roma bench so far.

“That’s neither a serious nor good response to show your team,” Totti openly hit back at Capello via the Gazzetta. “The only who can’t be blamed for this is President Sensi. I say to Capello that it’s to everyone’s credit when we win, and everyone’s fault when we lose. The coach is like a player, he shares the responsibility with all of us. We’re all on the same boat.”

This debate about whether a coach can be blamed for individual mistakes on the pitch was touched upon by Steven on Episode 25 of our podcast Across the Romaverse, and the debate will live on football for many years (if decades or centuries) to come. But look, I think you’ve got the point of our sliding doors trip down memory lane by now.

All the ingredients are there: A club captain who makes sensible points but openly crossing boundaries when it comes to the dressing room hierarchy, a coach who’s drilled the team well but still falling short of personal expectations and club ambitions. And us. The fans. Who do you want to resemble by the end of this story?

AS Roma v Benevento Calcio - Serie A Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

For what it’s worth, Roma went on to defeat Atalanta both home and away in the league, later that same season. Totti and Capello never went onto be friends (far from it, in fact, and Capello claims his only friend in football remains Christian Panucci), nor did player and coach ever build an understanding beyond grudging mutual respect. But they both share the league-winners’ medal to show for that much.

An Everyday Use of the Word “Lampost”

For a bit of levity this week, and still touching upon a Dzeko theme of years gone by, I had to chuckle out loud at “lamppost” being used as a rebuff on dating show Uomini e Donne.

Yeah, you read that right. I have one vice to indulge in (I’m lying, there are two as Turkish dramas have never lost their place in my heart) every weekday and it’s trash-TV presenter Maria De Filippi’s Uomini e Donne; where a select-few contestants go on daytime TV to become reality stars and bear their flaws, fears of rejection and every character limitation in-between for the entire peninsula to see. All in the name of finding true love... and Instagram followers.

This week, the spotlight fell to 19-year-old Sophie Codegoni, whose segments I usually skip because she’s not interesting. But she chose this week to pick a fight with one of her dates for his lack of reaction to her going on a date with another contestant. No signs of jealousy? No fisticuffs? To Sophie, that’s no passion.

“You said if we can only resolve arguments by acting out, then we won’t last more than six days. I say that I only act up like this when I find myself faced with a (lamp)post. That I expect someone by my side who gives me passion, whether it be talking, arguing, or just a look. Instead I find myself standing in front of a (lamp)post.”

It’s the first time I’ve heard palo used specifically in this way, even if it’s used in many different ways in the same context. For example, getting rejected romantically is often referred to in Italy (by both men and women) as the colloquial equivalent of “hitting the post” (prendere un palo). But I’ve never heard of it used as a rebuff to throw at another person’s character.

As the producers of Uomini e Donne themselves asked from the heart of their live studio in Rome: Will these two lovers manage to clear the air? There’s a lot of that going around the Eternal City this week.