The oldest football club in Rome, Lazio have enjoyed a chequered history since their foundation in 1900, experiencing numerous highs and lows on and off the pitch. With only two Italian league titles to their name, the Biancocelesti lag some way behind the European elite in terms of silverware. Even so, the Romans have always maintained a high profile, thanks to their remarkable ability to surmount the various crises that have befallen them over the years.
Their long-running duel with city adversaries AS Roma is also one of Italian football's great rivalries, and the fiery derbies between the two regularly light up the Eternal City.
Birth of an institution
Societa Sportiva Lazio was founded at Rome's Piazza della Liberta on 9 January 1900 by nine young men inspired by the sporting ideals of the Athens 1896 Olympic Games. It was for this reason that the founder members, who included the club's first president Luigi Bigiarelli, chose the blue and white of the Greek flag as the new institution's colours, adding the Roman eagle as its symbol.
With teams in no fewer than 37 different disciplines, Lazio is one of the biggest sports associations in Europe. Its football section was created in 1902, and in 1927 the army general Giorgio Vaccaro convinced the National Fascist Party to leave Lazio out of the merger of Roman clubs that led to the creation of AS Roma "a quarter of a century after Lazio", as the blue and white half of the city likes to boast.
Since then, the rivalry with Rome's other club has unleashed passions among both sets of supporters, both of them claiming supremacy in the province of Lazio, where the Italian capital is located. Held at least twice a year, the Olimpico derby is as much a spectacle in the stands as it is on the pitch.
Making of a legend
In the early 1930s club president Remo Zenobi signed the legendary Silvio Piola, who would become one of the greatest players in the history of the Italian game, scoring 274 Serie A goals, 143 of them in the colours of Lazio, where he spent nine seasons in all. Piola scored 21 of those goals in the 1936/37 season to help the Romans into second place, just behind the all-conquering Bologna side.
The Biancocelesti's first trophy finally came in 1958 when they beat Fiorentina 1-0 in the Italian Cup final, but they struggled following the economic boom of the early 1960s, shuttling between Serie A and Serie B. Umberto Lenzini's arrival as president in 1969 ushered in a new era, and his signing of unknown duo Giuseppe Wilson and Giorgio Chinaglia proved a masterstroke, with both youngsters having a big part to play in Lazio's maiden scudetto triumph in 1974.
The previous season, after clambering back into the top flight once more, a young Lazio side, featuring a number of graduates from the club's academy and coached by Tommaso Maestrelli, served notice of their potential by finishing third. Despite the club's parlous financial situation, the Romans pushed on the following year to claim an unexpected title success. Tragedy struck, however, when Maestrelli died in 1976 and playmaker Luciano Re Cecconi was killed in bizarre circumstances a year later.
Lazio's nadir came in 1980 when several of their star players were arrested, among them goalscorer Bruno Giordano, who had replaced Chinaglia after the talismanic striker decided to join Pele at New York Cosmos. Relegated to Serie B along with Milan, Lazio came back up again only to find themselves demoted to Serie C following a disciplinary case. Ultimately, they were readmitted to Serie B, albeit with a nine-point penalty, but the drama continued. On a highly-charged afternoon in July 1987 the Biancocelesti staved off relegation to the third tier with a 1-0 play-off win over Campobasso, eventually hauling themselves back into Serie A again in 1988 under Eugenio Fascetti.
Lazio enjoyed their greatest years in 1990s with Sergio Cragnotti taking over in the boardroom and the controversial but idolised Paolo di Canio making his arrival. Joining him were established stars such as Aron Winter, Paul Gascoigne, Diego Fuser and Giuseppe Signori, and with the exceptional homegrown talent of Alessandro Nesta also emerging, the men in blue and white became a permanent fixture at the top end of the table.
Cragnotti continued to invest heavily, attracting the likes of Christian Vieri, Marcelo Salas, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Dejan Stankovic, Fernando Couto, Juan Sebastian Veron, Roberto Mancini and Pavel Nedved and installing Sven-Goran Eriksson as coach. The recruitment drive paid dividends, and in 1999 Lazio won the last ever UEFA Cup Winners' Cup before landing an Italian league and cup double 12 months later.
Financial problems resurfaced at the turn of the millennium, however, forcing Lazio to curtail their dealings in the transfer market and rely more on the academy and the nous of new coach Mancini to maintain their place in the Italian elite.
Claudio Lotito succeeded Cragnotti and was immediately faced with a serious financial crisis. With the club in debt to the tune of €110m, the new president negotiated a 23-year repayment scheme with the banks, forcing the coaching staff to recruit carefully and nurture the gifted youngsters emerging from the academy. Figuring highly among the latest influx of players is 21-year-old Argentinian front man Mauro Zarate, whose goals have helped Lazio make a flying start to the 2008/09 season, eclipsing their old rivals Roma.
Lazio shares the Stadio Olimpico with the Giallorossi. Situated in the majestic surroundings of the Foro Italico, the Olimpico is owned by the City of Rome and was officially opened on 17 May 1953 for an international between Italy and Hungary. Boasting a capacity of 82,000, it hosted the 1960 Summer Olympic Games and also staged matches at the 1968 and 1980 UEFA European Championships.
It was renovated for the 1987 World Athletics Championships and the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™ and a roof has since been installed over the stands. The Olimpico will host its fourth UEFA Champions League final on 29 May 2009, having also staged the 1977, 1984 and 1996 finals. With that in mind, more work has been carried out at the stadium to ensure it complies with safety regulations, and its capacity has been cut to 72,698.