Life of the Party


"I'm the cow's milk, I'm the bee's knees
I'm the life of the party"
- Little Brother


After 76 minutes of football under a hot, unrelenting sun shining down on the last party for Paolo Maldini, Jeremy Ménez shook Vucinic's hand as they exchanged places. One went out after an afternoon of largely fruitless labor, particularly after the break; one came on to enter play as an almost forgotten figure. Gone were the days of the early winter when he enchanted the fans with mazy dribbles through yellow clad flying donkeys on a frozen solid pitch in Verona; left was the delusion of a promise not delivered on.

Then, in that very moment Ménez and Vucinic crossed the same line, going in different directions, the party was no longer in Maldini's honor. Or perhaps it still was, it was just that this Parisian lanky kid with the Droopy Dog eyes and attitude decided to crash it and make it his own. As Milanese artist Marracash rapped last year, "mettimi T.I. e leva i Coldplay" (put on some T.I. and throw out the Coldplay), and the line feels entirely appropriate for the hip hop head Ménez and my imagination that Coldplay is really something Maldini might listen to.

Fourteen minutes plus another five of added time was enough to make every romanista ask, out loud or inside one's head, 'where have you been hiding?'. His pace, his dribbling and his attitude transformed this game for Roma, his flowing steps and moves adding a directness to the team's play that was much needed. That has been much needed for the entire season, in truth, but here someone delivered it to us. The X-factor if there ever was one.

First he seized on a mistake by Maldini (but don't worry, it changes nothing of how we view you, Paolo) and drove the ball straight at goal, forcing a rare second half save from Dida. Milan and San Siro sighed with relief, having survived the unpleasant scare after the game had developed a script to follow; after the equaliser which they already had secured, they would score again and win. It had to be that way, considering the occasion, surely?

Soon afterwards Ménez is released by a Riise pass, and does the same thing; with a not quite silky, but still enchanting, flow he goes straight for goal. This time the finish is better - it's perfect. Ménez doesn't strike me as the type of player who needs a flashy or strong and powerful finish to be happy with a goal, his satisfaction lies in having gone straight at you with cold murder on his mind, and who cares what you think if you're not impressed? There is a contradiction embedded in that, as most associates dribblers with flashy braggadocio, less interested in the end product and what comes of their time on the ball, than they are in looking good doing it, whatever 'it' happens to be in the end. But in Ménez I see something he shares with Leo Messi - a ruthlessness not visible to everyone. They both go straight at the man standing in their way - and then in the last second sidesteps him seemingly effortlessly - fuelled by an ambition to succeed. Ménez, like Messi, doesn't dribble so much and so often for vain desires to star in the latest Youtube compilation to make the rounds; they do it because it's the most effective weapon they have at their disposal, and they do it as direct as they can. Tutto qui.

After Ménez's goal, and Ambrosini's instant reply and levelling goal, it was Totti who ended the game as the hero, as the man of the hour after a fantastic decisive free kick. But by that time Ménez had gone behind the turntables of the party and it was he who set the stage for Totti to shine; when yet another of his raids into an increasingly frustrated Milan defense ended with him being hacked down, resulting in the very free kick Totti would show no mercy on, it served as a timely reminder of what Geremì can do.

Head kept down, feet kept flowing, head kept cool and this could become something big for both Roma and Ménez.