Giuseppe Rossi did eventually get to Brazil this summer, just not in the way that he had hoped.
Left out of Italy’s World Cup squad, the Fiorentina striker at first allowed himself a summer holiday, spending time with friends and family in the Bahamas and New Jersey.
But before long it was time to get back to work. The Viola had a grueling preseason schedule planned, the highlight of which was an ambitious tour of South America.
They travelled all over the continent, taking on Estudiantes, Palmeiras and Universitario de Deportes, before flying back to Europe for further friendlies against Malaga and Real Betis. They will face Real Madrid in Warsaw on Saturday.
After that, Rossi might need to get some sleep, if this recent tweet is anything to go by:
He was not really complaining, of course. Rossi is happy to be back playing football after all the frustrations of the last eight months.
He had worked relentlessly to get back into contention for the World Cup after tearing the medial collateral ligament in his right knee this January, only to then be dropped from Italy’s squad during the final round of pre-tournament cuts.
Cesare Prandelli, manager of the Azzurri at the time, defended his decision by arguing that Rossi had still appeared too tentative during the country’s warm-up game against the Republic of Ireland, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport (quotes in Italian).
The player responded angrily to that claim, venting his frustrations in a series of messages on Twitter:
It was easy to sympathise with both parties. Prandelli was only doing what he thought best for Italy’s World Cup chances.
Their early exit makes it tempting to second-guess all the manager’s decisions, but there is no realistic way of knowing whether Rossi would have made a difference. He had played just five times since the injury, and never for more than 70 minutes.
On the other hand, Rossi was long overdue a chance to play at a major international tournament.
One of the most technically gifted strikers of his generation, he was overlooked by Marcello Lippi before the 2010 World Cup and missed out on Euro 2012 after suffering successive cruciate ligament tears while playing for Villarreal.
Bought by Fiorentina in January 2013, he had finally looked back to his best at the start of last season, scoring 14 goals in 18 Serie A games. But then came a clumsy tackle by Livorno’s Leandro Rinaudo in January. Rossi was out for another four months.
Was this just bad luck, or evidence of more fundamental physical flaws? Might Rossi’s body simply not be robust enough to survive the rigours of life as a professional footballer? It is a thought that he refuses to entertain.
During an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport this week, Rossi had it put to him that his knee was “made out of crystal.” He disagreed strongly with the assertion (quotes in Italian). If he believed that, what would have been the point of going through so much painful rehab just to get back to this point?
Still just 27 years old, Rossi remains convinced that happier, healthier days are ahead of him. Fiorentina’s fans want to believe it as well. They caught a glimpse last season of what a special player he can be, even though Rossi argued at the time that he was not yet back to his peak, as reported by ESPN FC's James Horncastle.
He knew that he had been even better at Villarreal in 2010-11, scoring 32 goals in all competitions.
Can he recapture that kind of form in the upcoming campaign? There are reasons to think that he might.
Rossi scored twice in the three league appearances that he made at the end of last season after returning from his injury back in May. He ought to be even sharper now with a full summer of fitness work under his belt.
Assuming that Rossi stays in Florence—and his agent has dismissed speculation regarding a possible move to Liverpool, according to Tutto Mercato Web (h/t ESPNFC)—we can also say with confidence that he will have the tools around him to succeed.
Vincenzo Montella’s Fiorentina finished a comfortable fourth last season, scoring 65 goals.
This despite having to play without both Rossi and Mario Gomez for large chunks of the campaign. The German striker managed just nine league games between his various knocks and sprains.
On paper, Gomez looks like the perfect foil for Rossi—a tall and aggressive target man who can push defenders back and create space for his deeper-lying partner to operate in. They have the potential to become a devastating one-two punch.
Already this summer they have shown that they can be a fearsome combination in at least one setting: around a ping-pong table. Rossi and Gomez each told reporters in separate interviews (quotes, in Italian, here and here) that they had formed a deadly doubles team, and were dominating all comers at Fiorentina’s preseason training camp.
Supporters will be happy to see the two strikers enjoying each other’s company. But most of all they will hope that both players can stay healthy this time around. If it happens then Rossi, Gomez and their team could be in for very good years indeed.