Rome derby tarnished by post-match racism

Il Tempo (Alessandro Austini) If Rudiger’s interview with Il Tempo was supposed to be a provocation, then first Cataldi and then Lulic went straight for the bait. Last Thursday, the German said – apparently without malice – that “I don’t know Lazio very well, and I know even less about their coach. They’ll definitely be fired up, it’s an important game for both teams. It’s a derby with a lot of history, but I’m not worried and I’m not watching to see what Lazio are doing – I’d prefer to focus on our aim, which is to win. That’s all.” On Saturday, Cataldi replied with a tweet (“Who spoke? We don’t know who you are”) and while yesterday should have been the time to replace words with actions, things got worse afterwards when the players were interviewed on television.

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After Roma’s first goal, the Giallorossi’s celebrations went on for longer than they needed to and the Biancocelesti players warming up in front of the dugouts were starting to get annoyed. A few too many words were spoken, Cataldi and Rudiger said a few things to each other, and while the Lazio midfielder was pleading his case to the fourth official Strootman ran past him and squirted him with some water from his water bottle. The Laziale grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, the Dutchman went down, making the contact look worse than it was, and that sparked the scuffle.

There were heated moments between Keita and Baldini, a member of Spalletti’s coaching staff, and nearly everyone was involved in the scuffle, including Iturbe, Totti and Biglia. Strootman got away with a booking, while Cataldi was sent off. After the game had finished, tempers were still high – too high – and in his interview Lulic dropped a bombshell in response to Rudiger: “A couple of years ago he was selling socks and belts in Stuttgart,” he said to Mediaset about the Roma defender, “and now he thinks he’s a phenomenon. It’s not his fault, it’s the people around him who haven’t taught him good manners.” These are serious and quite clearly racist comments, and the authorities are likely to get involved by sanctioning him, either with a fine or a suspension.

People were soon talking about Lulic’s attack on Rudiger, and he went into the mixed zone later on to explain that “I’ve said what I think, that’s all. I don’t want to talk about it any more, maybe things are said in the heat of the moment that shouldn’t be said. Apologise to Rudiger? Let it go. Racism? Even white people sell socks.” If he was trying to patch things up, it didn’t go well. Lazio had to intervene, and their communications director Arturo Diaconale said, “The club regrets this and apologises for it. They were said in the heat of the moment after a defeat in the derby. Lulic’s comments went over the top but were provoked by a Roma player. That’s as far as things should go, we offer our apologies and those of the player. We can’t pretend that players are all politically-correct saints.” Speaking off the record, Lazio’s directors also highlighted the fact that Trump won the US presidency while using similar language. Erm…

Roma and Rudiger preferred to stay silent. The club’s position was summed up by Spalletti: “Lulic’s comments speak for themselves. When people read them, the problem will be about who said them, as saying certain things is more an indication of oneself. I hope that he hasn’t said that, because it will just make certain arguments worse.” Like the pre-game talk of an ‘ethnic war’. De Rossi tried to calm things down after the game. “Losing can cause you to say things that are out of order, like Lulic, or to cause scuffles like Cataldi, who’s actually a great person. We’ve heard talk of war, of support dividing families, classes at school, bars. The derby cannot be a war. I hope that what’s being said afterwards is being evaluated for what it’s worth, people are annoyed and may regret how things come out.” That doesn’t change the fact that, this time, the worst of the derby has come from the players and certainly not the fans.

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