'La dura legge dell'ex' - 'the tough law of the ex' - is the phrase that Italians use when a player scores against his former team or a coach defeats his former employers. Luciano Spalletti's return to Udine yesterday was a classic example of that.
Despite missing several key players - including captain Francesco Totti - AS Roma won 4-1 at Udinese Calcio as Spalletti put Serse Cosmi, his successor at the Friuli stadium, into hot water. Udinese are only eleventh in Serie A, while Roma are sixth after their fifth consecutive win.
Spalletti, who led Udinese to UEFA Champions League qualification last season, left the club in the summer in acrimonious circumstances after Udinese president Giampaolo Pozzo had initially refused to release him from his contract to join the Giallorossi.
"I didn't run away from Udinese," Spalletti said. "It was a decision I pondered over and thought about for a long time. I was happy here, I gave a great deal to this club, so I have nothing to apologise for. The problems with Pozzo are behind me now."
The Udinese fans, however, were less forgiving towards Spalletti and vented their disappointment towards their former coach as they held up a large banner saying 'Welcome $palletti' - a none-too-subtle reference to their belief that he only left Udinese because better wages were on offer at Roma.
"It's normal that fans should be supporting their own team and now I'm just another opponent," Spalletti said yesterday. "However, even if I'm happy about our victory, I'm a bit sad for the players that I used to coach."
Meanwhile, Cosmi, an ardent Roma fan, acknowledged that he is under pressure. "It was not easy for us after [Giampiero] Pinzi was sent off in the first half," he said. "I have made a few mistakes, but people are ganging up on me. This is a squad with 14 players born between 1983 and 1988, so we lack experience.
"I think we did very well in the [UEFA] Champions League, only exiting after a last-gasp loss to [FC] Barcelona. We are still in the UEFA Cup and the Coppa Italia and we still have time to turn our season season around."
Udinese take on French side RC Lens in the last 32 of the UEFA Cup next month while Roma kick off their tie against Belgium's Club Brugge KV. Should both sides continue to make progress, Cosmi and Spalletti could yet meet again in the later stages.
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