In the fiery cauldron of a clash against bitter rivals Juventus, Facundo Roncaglia confirmed his fine opening to life at Fiorentina with another notable display. Given it was not the marauding Juve of recent matches he did not have the most strenuous of evenings. Yet what Roncaglia did do was completed to a high level.
Signed by Viola sporting director Daniele Prade on a free transfer in July, he joined the Vincenzo Montella-led Florentine revolution. Evidence from the first four matches suggested this Fiorentina is far removed from the problem-riddled outfit of 2011-12. How they took to the match against the Bianconeri was further proof.
As a child, the Chajari native was a striker who idolised Gabriel Batistuta – offering a first glimpse at Florence – but says it did not work out smoothly. “I dreamed of becoming like Batistuta. I liked how he moved in the middle of the area and every time I tried to emulate him on the pitch. It was complicated and I could never score. Then, I was asked to move to defence and begin all over again, I have not looked back since.”
While not Roncaglia’s first European experience – he featured for Espanyol in 2009-10 – the Argentine has immediately flourished in Florence. Fielded on the right side of Montella’s defensive trio, the player is adept in possession and the defender most likely to stride forward confidently. Versus Juve, only David Pizarro and Borja Valero saw more of the ball.
Nicknamed El Torito – the little bull – he defensively combines a ‘take no prisoners’ approach to tackling with impeccable reading of the game. On Tuesday, Roncaglia brought these two strengths to the fore. He claimed more interceptions than anybody on the pitch, while level with Juan Cuadrado for tackles made.
Whether up against Fabio Quagliarella, Sebastian Giovinco or Mirko Vucinic, Roncaglia formed an unmovable purple wall. Fiorentina were disappointed not to turn chances at the other end into a victory, with Montella claiming his side deserved to win. Before the interval Stevan Jovetic struck the crossbar and Adem Ljajic dragged an effort across goal, while Roncaglia was one of several to see second half opportunities go agonisingly wide.
So far this season Roncaglia has not missed a minute of action, with the Gigliati conceding only four goals. Just as the tactician figures him an integral part of the team, so too has Roncaglia found favour with the Viola faithful. Something of a cult hero, an online fan club – yes there is one already established – compares him favourably to other illustrious men of steel such as Superman and Chuck Norris.
Following a cracking debut Serie A goal at Parma last Saturday, the defender of Italian origin declared he would like to wear the Azzurri shirt. “I am happy that Cesare Prandelli is following my progress. This gives me further motivation to work hard and hope to one day have a chance to play for Italy.” As Prandelli searches for defensive options and his best system, the man with Neapolitan ancestors could well shoot to the top of the list.
It is fair to say he will never have the same impact in front of goal as Batistuta at the Artemio Franchi. Yet Florence’s answer to Chuck Norris will now try to take the affections gained from the Curva Fiesole and spread it to nearby Coverciano, as he seeks to win over Prandelli.