Pitchside Europe

‘Balotelli of the Bench’ in trouble again


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There are lies, damned lies and then there's the one told by Delio Rossi.

It's Sunday afternoon and we're deep into added time at Marassi. Sampdoria are 3-1 up against Roma. They're seconds away from victory. Sat in the stands, club legend Roberto Mancini is preparing to applaud their players off the pitch, in particular Gianluca Sansone, who marked his debut with a belting free-kick, and Mauro Icardi, who scored yet again.

But for now, play continues beneath him. Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic commits a foul close to the dug-out. It prompts Rossi, the Sampdoria coach, to rise from his bench and launch a protest. Why he wouldn't just let it go when his team were on the verge of a win and there's a referee on the pitch to deal with these matters is a question Roma defender Nicolás Burdisso is presumably asking himself.

"Sit down, d***ead," he's alleged to have shouted. On supposedly hearing this, Rossi quite literally flips in front of everyone. He gives Burdisso the bird.

Now before we get all high and mighty on this, let's reflect on just what a ballsy move Rossi pulled. Wasn't this the Burdisso who was involved in one of the biggest brawls in Champions League history, receiving a broken nose and a six-match ban after the battle of Mestalla between Inter and Valencia six years ago? Yes, the very same. Luckily, a reckless challenge or an ill-timed elbow aside, these days he's a reformed character.

Rossi, on the other hand...

The actions of the former Lazio coach, who famously once celebrated a win in the derby in the middle of December 2006 by stripping off down to his briefs to take a freezing late-night plunge in the capital's Gianicolo fountain, sparked outrage among the Roma players.

Captain Francesco Totti imitated the gesture Rossi made for the referee's benefit. Burdisso did too. And Inevitably Rossi was sent off. As he left, Daniele De Rossi believed he saw the Samp coach motioning to the crowd. A section of the Gradinata Sud clapped. And De Rossi despaired.

"Rossi is always out of line," he said. "I witnessed a pathetic scene. If I were to get to the age 50 or 60 and were like that then I'd seriously ask questions of myself. It's embarrassing to incite the applause of the fans and try to make yourself pass for a champion of justice. You can't always hide behind the heat of the moment and say 'what happens on the pitch stays on the pitch'." Which incidentally is exactly what Rossi did.

Accusations of hypocrisy were later levelled at De Rossi. In an interview on 5 Minuti di Recupero that night Rossi quite pointedly said it was precisely this that he couldn't abide about the game today. It was all very 'Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone'. And, as Brian McBride and Darijo Srna can attest, the Roma and Italy international midfielder has on occasion thrown an elbow.

The issue here, however, is another. Everyone makes mistakes. All that's asked is that we own up to them and take responsibility for our actions. Rossi bewilderingly didn't. Not initially anyway. Miked up in the tunnel at Marassi to talk to the TV studio after the match, Rossi appeared to laugh, pinching the bridge of his nose and looking down, as he was asked about the incident. A body language expert perhaps would have anticipated he was about to lie.

"Nothing happened," Rossi said. "I didn't make any gesture."

As La Repubblica wrote, this was his Bill Clinton moment. Not quite "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" but a fib that raised eyebrows. Because unfortunately for Rossi and inevitably too given it took place in a football ground, there were photos. And since he's now being referred to as the Balotelli of the Bench, people were entitled to ask: "Why always him?"

Surely Rossi would know better by now, right? It's only eight months on from that night in Novara when a moment of madness made him infamous around the world. Then in charge of Fiorentina, his decision to substitute Adem Ljajic was met with a sarcastic remark and clapping from the player. What was said is disputed. What happened next isn't. Rossi of course grabbed Ljajic and began to strike him in the dug-out.

He lamented that it'd taken place in front of the cameras, arguing that if the bust-up had been in the dressing room instead, it would have been considered an act of machismo, not violence. There was remorse. "I'm not Padre Pio," he said. There was irony too in hindsight. "I have never lifted a finger to anyone." Not until Sunday anyway. Fiorentina were left with no option but to sack Delio Rossi for gross misconduct and he was banned for three months by the FIGC.

This time around, his punishment is a two-match ban and a fine, which will be given to a charitable cause, the Giannina Gaslini paediatrics hospital. Rossi released a statement on Samp's website to say: "I regret the gesture at the end of [Sunday's] game because I have said and I repeat: I have always given respect and I expect respect. I will not tolerate insults without motivation."

Roma countered with a "note" of their own to "clarify" that "not one of our players or employees insulted the Sampdoria coach, whose deplorable gesture is not in any way attributable to the behaviour of the players of AS Roma."

In fairness, they weren't totally beyond reproach here. But that's beside the point.

Rossi does deserve respect for what he's done in the game, such as winning the Coppa Italia with Lazio, taking Palermo to within a whisker of qualification of the Champions League and the work he's currently doing to save Sampdoria - to say nothing of his ability to nurture young players from Mirko Vucinic to Javier Pastore and Edi Cavani.

However, it's also true that he perhaps shouldn't expect respect if he continues to act and react like he did on Sunday. Otherwise, his coaching career will forever read like Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

James Horncastle will be blogging for us on all matters Serie A throughout the season. He contributes to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, The Blizzard and Champions magazine amongst others.

Follow @JamesHorncastle

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