With the recruitment forum closed, Caesar cannot rely upon reinforcements until the summer months. It is with these men that Rome must look to conquer domestically and further afield, all while remaining strong enough to challenge on the continent in the next campaign.
If there is to be success this year, it will come in short knockout skirmishes, rather than in the attritional, seemingly perennial civil war.1At this point, Rome remain 14 points behind the leaders in the civil war, all but conceding defeat. Only Juventus stand between Rome and the final contest. Pragmatism and discipline will be key in the latest Battle of the delle Alpi, with the legion deployed once more in conservative fashion.
It is not enough to prevent Dybala from pacing away from the ageing De Rossus to fire Juve ahead in the twentieth minute, but El Shaarawian levels soon after with a technically precise finish. Five minutes before the spatium,2Interval. the hostile hosts prey upon the weakness of Davide Santonus, intercepting a poor throw and driving deep into the Roman ranks. Mirantius prevents Cancelo from converting, but the cavalryman’s desperate challenge knocks the ball into the path of Ronaldo not one pace out. The Iberian warlord has thirteen strikes to his name; none could have been easier than his fourteenth.
Neither side makes further incursions, so the tie will be decided at the fortified stronghold of the Olimpico; in six months, only three armies have breached its walls,3AC Mediolanum, Naples and Paris-Saint-Gaul. though even the minnows of SPAL and Caralis have left with stalemates. Emboldened by home advantage, Rome applies relentless pressure from the outset. Seeking the security of his triarius,[Goalkeeper.] Pjanic yields under considerable strain from Cristantius, gifting the latter with the easiest of finishes into an open net.
Hopes of victory are checked not one minute later by Dybala, who claims a valuable away goal for the opposition, but still the men press on. Diego Perottus spurns a glorious opportunity to restore Rome’s advantage and tie the tie on the night, but is denied with triumph in clear sight. It ultimately matters little, as the wideman rapidly repays his debt with a near-post header from the ensuing set piece.
The battle is closely fought between two wholly committed sides, and it is the hosts who make what looks to be a decisive breakthrough from the weaker of the flanks. Perottus shows why Caesar placed his faith in him over El Shaarawian, laying the ball off to marauding decanus Davide Santonus. Attacking from deep, Santonus moves into range and launches Rome into the ascendancy with a fine finish, of which Gaius Marius himself would have been proud.4Gaius Marius was Caesar’s uncle and a general of “considerable acumen”.
The advantage on the battlefield is fleeting, lasting but six short minutes. A determined block from Retsos denies Dybala a clear shot, but the rebound falls into the path of Joao Cancelo, who delivers the sickening blow. Much like Cicero, Cancelo is rarely the primary threat, yet has dented Caesar’s ambitions all the same.
Rome wins the battle, but Juventus edges the war, having inflicted greater losses at the Olimpico than incurred at the Stadio delle Alpi. It is Juve who press on with their quest for domestic dominion, leaving Caesar to count the dead and wounded. He is relieved when the physician relays the news that Panagiotis Retsos, thought to be mortally injured, has only torn his hamstring, ruled out of any form of combat for two months.
Rubbing salt into the plentiful wounds, the final encounter will take place not in Turin or Mediolanum,5Milan. but in the heart of Rome itself. Caesar will ensure that he and his men are elsewhere come the seventh day before the Kalends of Maius.6The final will take place on Saturday 1st June; Caesar will likely winter with his men in northern Italy in order to save face.
Full attention now turns to matters of European conquest. Compared to Rome, Paris-Saint-Gaul is a kingdom in its infancy, with just a smattering of domestic success and one Cup Winners’ Cup triumph to its name prior to 2012. Mirroring the rise of Mamucium City across the Channel, Paris-Saint-Gaul discovered vast riches far beyond the known world,7Caesar knows little of the Middle East, particularly Qatar. and can afford to retain a number of the land’s most highly-sought mercenaries. That they can do so without success outside of their borders – their last triumph was in the Battle of the Intertoto, a minor victory rendered obsolete by the passage of time8They have not won a European competition since the defunct Intertoto Cup back in 2001 AD. The other two victors that year were Aston Villa and Troyes. – is a testament to their financial might.
With the advantage of home terrain, the legion sets up in a manner not seen before during the campaign, with three central decurio9Midfielders. forming an unbroken line in front of the defence. They manfully restrict and frustrate the Gauls in the first period of battle, but the enemy regroups and presses on thereafter. Neymar strikes the woodwork, but it is an unsung warrior – Adrien Rabiot – who breaks the deadlock with twenty minutes remaining.
The herculean effort of the Roman soldiers has pushed Paris-Saint-Gaul to the brink of mental fatigue, and is surely responsible for their lack of concentration seven minutes later. Under no physical pressure from the hosts, who have retreated towards their own camp, Buffon moves possession towards Thiago Silva. The decanus, sensing pressure from Under, sends it back westwards, but it is a suicidal manoeuvre. The ball bobbles beyond the esteemed triarius, whose slowing pace and dexterity plays its part in the grievous error. Against the odds, Rome are back in the battle – and it is an Italian who opened the gates.
Fresh legs are introduced as Caesar attempts to hold firm. Pastorius and young charge Zaniolus join the fray in place of Cristantius and Pellegrinius, who have devoted everything to the cause, while Nzonzi relieves De Rossus and drops into a deeper, more fortified role between decanus and decurio.
When it seems like a hard-earned share of the spoils has been secured, Angel Di Maria curls the ball through a congested area from four paces out,10Approx. twenty yards. affording the Gallic invaders a crucial advantage. It makes Caesar’s return to Gaul all the more troublesome, but victory at the Parc des Princes would be a miracle of Alesian proportions,11Considered to be one of the great underdog victories of the time, Caesar managed to beseige Alesia and fend off an external attacking force all at once, ingeniously constructing (and fighting between) two walls and using battle craft and regular old-fashioned craft to defeat the Gauls. He’ll need more of the same in Paris. and could secure renewed support from the Roman people. Conversely, a defeat three days before the Ides of March could bring forth the dreaded vote of confidence from the Senate.
The Gauls are a formidable but disparate people; a collection of individuals rather than a collective. Had Vercingetorix unified the Gallic armies sooner, Caesar may not have conquered the land.12Vercingetorix only managed to bring together the various Gallic tribes towards the end of Caesar’s conquest. Caesar’s tactics were very much divide and conquer; an earlier alliance would have forced a change of strategy.
Studious philosopher and amateur historian Thomas Tuchel has learned that lesson well. His most talented generals – Neymar, Mbappé, Di Maria, and Italian traitor Verattius – are all in fine form, striking twice before the interval and three more times thereafter. The final blow is delivered by their youngest; Timothy Weah, 19-year-old heir of an African king. Et tu, Timothy?
El Shaarawian claims one scalp for Rome moments before the battle’s conclusion, but it does not alter the course of the crushing defeat. Sensing that the knives are out, Caesar wisely avoids an immediate return to Rome, travelling instead to Sampdoria, where Kostas Manolas secures a creditable draw. The discontent, though not wholly dispelled, is temporarily abated; Caesar lives to rule another day.
These draining engagements begin to take their toll on Rome’s domestic campaign. Between the two Juventus encounters, the legions see off Bologna, but are held to strikeless stalemates at Turin and, worryingly, when hosting the vastly inferior men of Caralis.13Cagliari. That’s right, relegation-threatened Cagliari. A resounding, morale-boosting victory in front of the Roman people is achieved against the Genoese, but the men toil in every other triumph. Kolarov and Pellegrinius are the late saviours of Rome against Empoli and Parma respectively, but the margins of victory are far slimmer than the patterns of battle suggest.
The attacking cohort are notable by their absence on the scoresheet. Not since Santi Mina in late Januarius has a front-foot legionary struck in the name of Rome. Fallen soldier Edin Dzeko is a shadow of the man who thrice stood atop a two-tiered chariot, holding aloft the spoils of war.14Twice he stood on the roof of a double decker lifting the Bundesliga trophy with Wolfsburg, and achieved the same feat twice over with Manchester City. The Thracian has not delivered for Rome since two days before the Nones of Novembris,15The sixth of November. afflicted by a drought spanning twelve battles. Youthful compatriot Patrick Schick has fared worse still, not registering a single kill since masterminding the bloodbath of Athens.
Caesar publicly humiliates and demotes both Dzeko and Schick in front of the troops, dropping them both to the rank of the tirones.16rainee recruits; in other words, the reserves. But not the *actual* Roman reserves, which were filled with the very best troops. The pair are enraged and make their displeasure known, branding their commander-in-chief pathetic in a coordinated attack on his office. Dzeko is the ringleader, demanding an explanation and, later, regular action, this in spite of his twenty-two starts at a 6.9 average.
Caesar has accrued a wealth of experience handling mutineers.17The Tenth Legion mutinied in 47 BC, complaining that they hadn’t received their pay. Caesar’s reverse psychology had them begging to re-enlist for the African campaign. When the Thracian veteran suggests that he may have to leave the legion as a result of his purportedly harsh treatment, the commander calls his bluff, addressing him as ‘citizen’ rather than ‘player’.18This is precisely how Caesar shamed and embarrassed his men, who realised they had been dismissed when they were no longer referred to as soldiers. Dzeko, believing the term to be a reference to his Mamucium days, is initially perplexed, but soon alights on Caesar’s true meaning. The legionary withdraws his threat, throwing himself upon the mercy of his leader, just as the men of Legio X did in 47 BC. After feigning indifference, Caesar finally relents, affording the simpering attacker a return to the legion without penalty or forfeit.19Reportedly, members of the Tenth begged Caesar to decimate the legion to cleanse them of their shame, but Caesar refused to do so; as in 2018/19 AD, he simply can’t spare the men, though that is not the official reason proffered. An old tactic, but effective nonetheless.
Suitably cowed, and with Caesar bereft of alternatives, Dzeko is restored by the month of Martius; Schick is made to pay for his insolence and unrepentant character with an extended stint with the trainee recruits, but rejoins the ranks before the Kalends of Aprilius. Both have proven dishonourable and disloyal, albeit on different levels. And, much like Legio X, neither will be called upon for the following campaign.20The legion was disbanded after the African campaign – though it was resurrected by Mark Antony after Caesar’s death.
Despite their restoration to first-team duties, neither Dzeko nor Schick can find a way past the stubborn defences of S.P.A.L. In the next engagement, the legion falls to a late 2-1 defeat at the Olimpico, Juventus strengthening their grip on the peninsula, but no man of Rome gets his name on the scoresheet; Juve’s only wound is self-inflicted.21Pjanic puts the ball past his own ‘keeper. The gods rarely smile on him when he takes on the Romans.
Belated redemption comes but two weeks later. Both aquiliferi,22Strikers. ably assisted by Alessandro Florenzius, convert headed opportunities en route to a glorious 3-0 triumph over Chievo Verona. The manner of victory eases some of the pressure on Caesar and his men, but his position becomes precarious once more after the fall at Udene.
A perfectly-executed volley from the hosts’ African warrior Seko Fofana gives the Udene the upper hand in a fiercely contested battle, but Schick – emboldened by his leader’s effective man management strategies – draws Rome level with twenty-two minutes remaining.
With no breakthrough in sight, most within the Dacia Arena anticipate a stalemate and subsequent withdrawal, but Rodrigo de Paul finds space to exploit on his left flank. He seeks out Ignacio Pussetto, who is granted the freedom of the field as he strides, unmarked and unchecked, into the heart of Rome’s area. His header changes the course of the battle, and Rome is defeated for the sixth time in the Italian campaign.
The latest defeat sees Rome fall even further behind the opposition – even the Udene, their humble but overachieving conquerors, have usurped them in terms of prestige – and a European campaign later in the calendar year looks out of the question.
Debriefing his generals outside of Venezia, Caesar learns that the Senate are disappointed with his performance as dictator. The whispers of sceptics, schemers and conspirators echo around the chambers. One more disappointing result could seal his fate.
Caesar survived the Ides of Martius; can he make it beyond the Nones of Aprilius?