The stadium announcer at the Olimpico read out the Roma starting XI for their game against Siena on Sunday. After voicing the name of Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, a section of the home fans mainly based in the Curva Sud jeered. They were still whistling after he scored the club’s 4,000th goal in history during a display in which he netted his first Serie A hat-trick.
Osvaldo heard the heckles, taunts and chants, but restrained himself to two minor reactions. He firstly cupped his ear and, later, pointed to his name on the back of his shirt. He then used the club’s own television channel to underline his commitment to the Giallorosso cause.
“I’m happy,” he explained. “I was going through a difficult moment, but now I hope things get better. I’m really attached to this shirt and I look to prove that. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t. I’d like to thank the fans too, even if there is a section who are against me, but 99 per cent of the things said about me are false…”
Osvaldo is, you might say, a bit of a character. At the opposite end of the footballing scale to Javier Zanetti, whose own Sunday afternoon ended in concerned applause as he was stretchered off at Palermo, the 27-year-old is rather unique. Sporting a rockstar look, he’s admitted to having a statue of Mick Jagger in his home, as well as a Mini painted in Argentina’s colours with Diego Maradona’s face on one of the doors. “I can’t use it in Rome as they’re the colours of Lazio…”
Not that there is anything wrong with his individuality. It’s quite refreshing in a sport where footballers are automatically consigned to act as robotic role models. But Osvaldo – sent off three times in 52 League games for the club – has left himself open to criticism from the Roma faithful and beyond since his move in the summer of 2011, especially with his comportment this season.
Despite some mediocre spells with Atalanta, Lecce, Fiorentina and Bologna earlier in his career, the South American was brought back to Italy as part of the Luis Enrique project in the Italian capital. Although he had impressed in Spain with Espanyol, not everyone was convinced that he was really worth the €15m that the Giallorossi agreed to pay for him. Bonus clauses, if activated, would see that fee rise by another €2.5m too.
On the pitch, the man born in Buenos Aires has done a decent job. Eleven goals in 26 League games last term and 15 from the same amount so far this time around. He’s also managed to ripple the net in spectacular fashion. His scissor-kick strike against Lecce last season is a contender for the greatest goal never given after it was wrongly cancelled out by an offside call.
“A gem which it was sacrilege to chalk off,” wrote the Corriere della Sera. “The history of football is full of beautiful goals, but beautiful disallowed goals are much more rare and that is why we remember them.”
Osvaldo vowed to score another one which would be given and did so at the start of the present campaign with a work of art against Catania. This time his joy was not transformed into despair by an erroneous whistle.
So why is there no universal love, not even from his club’s own fans, for the talented centre-forward? Despite his mild case of ‘Why Always Me?’ syndrome, Osvaldo’s apparent non-conformist attitude isn’t readily accepted when it damages the Roma jersey.
Last season, during an away game at Udinese, he punched teammate Erik Lamela after arguing over a pass that never arrived. “The thing with Lamela was just the passion of the moment,” he recalled. “I can be really annoying when it comes to this, as I always want the ball and admit I am as egotistical as most strikers. This incident, though, really was nothing. If I had Lamela’s left foot then I wouldn’t have passed the ball either. It was nothing personal, as it could’ve happened with Francesco Totti too...”
Things have been much more problematic this term. Zdenek Zeman punished him with the bench against Atalanta for a supposed lack of effort in training. Over Christmas, he pulled out of the club’s tour of America by sending them a sick note. In the game at Sampdoria, he hijacked Totti’s penalty duties and subsequently missed the crucial spot-kick. And, while suspended for the derby, he opted to fly to London with his new love Jimena rather than take in the action against the Biancocelesti.
“Osvaldo has potential talent, but he’s always missing something – especially in terms of his character,” said Franco Colomba, his former boss at Bologna. “Football is a team game and that is what comes first unless you are someone who scores two goals a tie.
“Inside of him there is a desire to be a protagonist, so when he’s on the bench there is an aversion towards everybody else. He doesn’t accept that and he pays the consequences. I had Marco Di Vaio, Marcelo Zalayeta, Adailton and him at Bologna. We had to save ourselves so I opted for the concreteness of the others. I recognised his talent, but I needed a team player.”
The player candidly acknowledged his faults earlier this season in an interview with La Repubblica. “I am a bit of a lunatic,” he noted. “One day I feel strong, the other useless. I fight, I score, I react, but I do everything to excess.
“It’s true, I have a horrible personality. But I kind of like being like this. I was forced to grow up, but there’s a part of me that rejects the idea of growing up. I make pointless fouls, but at that moment they seem right. I always want to change and think happiness must be elsewhere…”
Osvaldo is understood to have already held numerous conversations about his future with sporting director Walter Sabatini. The possibility of a summer sale is clearly there for a player who has never spent more than two seasons at the same club, but it will not be easy for the Giallorossi to say goodbye. At least, it shouldn’t be because he won’t be the subject of any indecent financial proposal made to La Magica.
Sure they will have a much more settled Mattia Destro next season, but only three players – Napoli’s Edinson Cavani, Antonio Di Natale of Udinese and Milan’s Stephan El Shaaarawy – have scored more goals than Pablo in the Italian top-flight this season. That can’t be overlooked.
And let us not forget that Osvaldo is also heavily in the thoughts of Italy boss Cesare Prandelli. “He can be a reference point for the future,” the CT said after offering the Argentine the chance to play for the Azzurri. “He’s a modern day striker, one with personality, great physical strength and excellent technical qualities.”
It’s now up to Roma to decide which Osvaldo category that statement falls into – the one per cent truth or the 99 per cent of lies.