It is the eve of battle. Here begins a gruelling nine-month campaign of manoeuvring, fighting and intrigue, as well as a series of engagements against the other Italian provinces. Who will triumph? Who will fall? Who will abandon the cause in January and live to regret it?1See: Pompey, Titus Labienus, Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Cassius Longinus and a few dozen others.
The men still haven’t attained full march fitness, so a pitched encounter on home turf, rather than 327 miles north,2Roman miles; 356 miles in modern terms. is definitely favourable.
Trusted scout Beccacciolus is dispatched to check on the progress of the encroaching army. Internazionale was formed on the basis of inclusivity, recruiting foreign citizens as well as Italians and, controversially, treating them as equals.3This is actually true. Internazionale means ‘international’ in Italian. This wouldn’t go down entirely with the hosts; while non-Roman citizens did serve with the army, they didn’t have the same voting rights during the time of the late Republic. Their current legion reflects this ethos, with just one man of Italian origin lining up alongside Dalmatians, Germanics and the Belgae.
Thankfully, this multicultural, disjointed force has serious issues when facing the oblong square, with plenty of openings available for organised, disciplined opposition.
They still remain a potent threat, and have emerged victorious in eighteen major campaigns throughout their history (though have not tasted outright glory in nine long years). According to Beccacciolus, if Rome can isolate renowned Hispanic general El Nino Del Partido,4Mauro Icardi. He was brought up in Spain from the age of nine; and, since Argentina didn’t officially exist in Caesar’s time, that’s what we’re going with. victory would be a distinct possibility.
Three players are still afflicted with minor wounds from the previous skirmishes – Diego Perottius’ gout is yet to fully clear up, and the returning Stefano Okakus is still being tended to by camp physicians5In these times, most wealthy folk had a Greek physician. The Greeks were pioneers in this field, but in FM19, Greek physiotherapists are garbage. To counteract this, Rome has signed the one Greek physio with a rating higher than 9: 29-year-old Alexandros Stefanakis of Camulodunum (which itself would become the Roman capital of Britain within a century). That said, the token Greek physio is actually working with the Under-18s. – but the biggest blow is the loss of Rome’s leader on the battlefield. Daniele De Rossus suffered a groin laceration in the final warm-up against Niigata Unicorn, and will be out of action for one month, while Javier Pastorius – a new recruit, but one of the more experienced campaigners – will join him in the medical tent.
The threat of rebellion is still fresh in Caesar’s mind. The principal dissenter, Kostas Manolas, will be consigned to humbling bench duty, as will counterpart and potential co-conspirator Federico Fazio. Their fates are still uncertain, though Caesar is traditionally open to the idea of reconciliation.6After the Civil War, Caesar restored most of the opposing senators to their previous positions. He could do the same with Manolas and Fazio, should it be a) to the benefit of the Republic, and b) a means by which to retain power. He entrusts central defensive duties to Ivan Marcano and Juan Jesus in their stead.
The as-yet untested Bryan Cristantius, a recent loan from Atalanta, lines up in the decuriones 7Commanders of the cavalry unit.alongside Lorenzo Pellegrinius, one of the most promising young legionaries in recent times. Stephan El Shaarawian and Cengiz Under will be marshalling the flanks, rather than simply attacking them, and Edin Dzeko has been pardoned for his previous comments against the regime, leading the charge with Bohemian youth Patrick Schick.
As they line up against the approaching enemy, Caesar prepares to give one of his renowned speeches, commanding devotion and loyalty from his troops.8Caesar was a fantastic orator; one of his key strengths was the loyalty he inspired from his army. Remarkably, Caesar didn’t have too many consistent allies in high places within the Senate, but could always rely upon his legions for support. Fabio Micarellius advises him to tell the men to do this for the Republic; Caesar does just that with stirring passion and powerful rhetoric. The players do not respond. Caesar resolves to conceive his own rallying battle speeches in future engagements.
Amidst the cacophony of a packed Olimpico, it is Rome who begin as the aggressors. Dzeko almost draws blood in the first three minutes, drawing a fine stop from Inter chieftain Samir Handanovic, who is called into action again to deny the rampaging Cristantius. It is the central decurio who is pulling the strings, going close to making the breakthrough on another two occasions before the half-time impasse.
Despite failing to gain the upper hand on the scoresheet, Caesar is relatively pleased with his men, having watched them assert their dominance in the first forty-five minutes of battle. He encourages them to keep up their levels of discipline and performance, waiting until the visitors crack under the pressure. It is but a matter of time.
The remainder of the battle does not go according to plan. No man of Rome can get beyond Internazionale’s gloved warrior – even Dzeko, veteran of over 600 battles across the continent, cannot make the decisive first strike. At the other end, only the timely intervention of Marcano prevents El Nino from successfully completing a dangerous Inter counter.
After an hour of tough fighting, and with the stalemate still unbroken, Caesar attempts to implement one of his masterful manoeuvres.9Caesar was also famous for his ability to devise and implement strategies mid-battle in order to secure victory, just as he did at Alesia (52 BC) and Pharsalus (49 BC). The dictator opts for a change in shape, ditching the oblong square and instead deploying the Second Formation.10A higher and more urgent press, with a stronger focus of attacks down the right flank. The disappointing Dzeko is removed from the field, Caesar puts his faith in the young Xadas to exploit gaps between the lines. El Shaarawian and Under are sent further up the flanks, with the latter given particular license to roam forward at will.
The lines push forward and the tempo is quickened, verging on desperate, but the die is cast, and the pattern of battle remains largely unchanged. Cristantius fades, but Nzonzi’s introduction adds little impetus to the attack. Xadas launches a shot over the bar from twenty yards, and Schick is denied by the impenetrable Handanovic, as the visiting army stands firm.
With energy and morale draining with every salvo, the Romans’ last line is almost caught out at the death. Antonio Candreva, thrown into the fray by Antonio Spallettus for the final eighteen minutes, twice goes close with efforts from range. Friisian stopper Robin Olsen, a mere spectator for much of the day, does his duty on both occasions.
The same cannot be said of his compatriots on the front line. Internazionale retreat with their army, honour and territory largely intact. Despite dominating in almost every way, Caesar has to settle for a frustrating (albeit rare) goalless stalemate. Incandescent with rage, the dictator refuses to debrief his men, leaving the task to Micarellius by accident rather than design.11We pressed ‘Continue’ by mistake.
The performance featured many of the elements Caesar would demand of a Roman legion: organisation, teamwork, discipline. However, there was less discipline in the final third: the prevalent focus of attacks was the left rather than the right, even after the tactical shift. Ignorance, wilful or otherwise, will not be tolerated at any great length.
For all the resolve on display, the showing lacked the devastating penetration and clinical edge required to utterly subjugate any opposition. This should come in time – though Caesar erroneously predicted as much at the interval.
There are thirty-seven more opportunities to claim victories, attain glory and restore Rome’s position as the dominant state on the Italian peninsula. Preseason was no picnic,12Picnics in the modern sense weren’t a thing until the 17th century. Roman soldiers would have eaten al fresco an awful lot, but it certainly wasn’t as part of a lovely relaxing summer excursion. but the hard work truly starts here.