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Saturday, 29 September, 2001, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Liverani's Lazio gamble
Lazio fans
Lazio's fans are known for their passion...and politics
By BBC Sport Online's John Sinnott

Fabio Liverani, in signing for Lazio from Perugia for 8m on Friday, has entered the modern equivalent of the lions' den.

First, Liverani joins a far from settled team.

Dino Zoff, the former Italian World Cup winner, has recently been replaced as coach by Alberto Zaccheroni.

Second, the team is struggling in both Serie A and the Champions League.

Fabio Liverani
Liverani: Perugia's most creative player last year

In fact, Liverani has been purchased to pep up a midfield clearly missing Pavel Nedved and Juan Sebastian Veron, who both left during the summer.

And Lazio have yet to see the best of close-season signings Gaizka Mendieta and Stefano Fiore.

But the Rome club's purchase of Liverani, who was born in Rome to a Somalian mother and Italian father, is also hugely symbolic in that the midfielder is black.

Of course, in the 21st century that should no longer be an issue.

But it was only last season that Liverani became the first black player to appear for Italy, when he played in the friendly against South Africa.

And he is set to become only the second black player to take the field for Lazio - a team once supported by Italy's Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Dutch international Aron Winter played for the Rome club between 1992 and 1996.


When (supporters) barrack me, I know they are insulting those they fear
Fabio Liverani

Just before Sven Goran Eriksson left Lazio to manage England he included the 18-year-old Ghanaian centre-back Daniel Ola in one of his squads.

But Ola never made a first team appearance and recently joined Serie A newcomers Chievo on loan.

Lazio, like much of Italian football, have been scarred by racism and extreme politics - a section of the club's support is closely associated with the far-right National Alliance Party.

Winter himself was targeted by Lazio's notorious "ultras" - their hardcore fans.

In early September, those fans boycotted an anti-racism tournament staged in the Olympic Stadium, their home ground.

The "Shalom" Cup - a three-way tournament between Lazio, Israel's Maccabi Haifa and Ivory Coast team Asec Mimosas - had been intended to mark a new beginning for the club.

Lilian Thuram
Thuram decided against joining Lazio

But Lazio's "ultras" stayed away and only a few thousand supporters came along to support the event.

Last season, Lazio were fined a number of times as a result of the supporters' racist chants and banners.

One of those banners, at a derby match against Roma, read "Black team, Jewish supporters".

Lazio's owner Sergio Cragnotti has spoken out against the racists and told them to stay away.

Irriducibili

But Gabriele Marcotti, the author of Paolo Di Canio's recent biography, argues that the problem of racism in Italian football has been oversimplified.

He says that of Lazio's 25,000 season-ticket holders, between 5,000 and 7,000 would see themselves as ultras.

Three groups make up those ultras; the Vikings - the group that Paolo Di Canio belonged to when he was a Lazio fan; the Eagles and the Irriducibili.

There are about 400 Irriducibli - "The Unmoveables" - but Marcotti says it would be wrong to write all of this group off as racists.

Aron Winter
Winter was abused by the home fans at Lazio

During the summer some of the Irriducibili travelled north to Parma to petition Lilian Thuram to join the Roman club. The French international opted to sign for Juventus instead.

Marcotti also points out that after the shooting of Carlo Giuliani during the protests at the recent G8 summit in Genoa, the Irriducibli displayed the banner: "Remember Giuliani. Different politics, same passion."

Liverani himself has spoken eloquently about the abuse - most notably from Verona last season - which he has received from the terraces.

"I have never made a drama out of it. When they barrack me, I know they are insulting those they fear.

"I have suffered more when they insult me in the street.

"I have always had pride in the colour of my skin.

"I underlined that when I was called up for Italy, but I don't think I will have any problems with my new fans."

Fairy tale

The midfielder's rise to prominence is astonishing when you consider he had never played in Serie A before the start of last season.

He began his career at Cagliari when they were in Serie A in 1995 but he never got a game and was soon off-loaded to Serie C Nocerina.

After one season he moved to Viterbese, also in the third division, where he established his reputation as a tough-tackling midfielder who also scored goals.

He moved to Perugia just over a year ago and helped them consolidate a mid-table place and push for a Uefa Cup berth.

He described his ascent from Serie C to the international team as a "fairytale".

Liverani will no doubt be hoping that his "fairytale" is not about to end now that he has joined Lazio.

See also:

26 Sep 01 |  Africa
Italy's happy hunting grounds
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