An American poses for pictures in front of Tuscany’s most famous icons with friends and family. It’s nothing out of the ordinary for a region flush with tourists from around the globe. Shots of Florence’s renowned Duomo and Pisa’s Leaning Tower are amongst those posted to social media. Except their author is no tourist. He resides in the historical city of the Renaissance, enjoying a professional resurgence of his own. It’s Giuseppe Rossi, Fiorentina’s striker who has battled demoralising injury setbacks to rediscover full fitness and happiness the sport can offer.
Sunday’s clash at Atalanta saw Rossi grab his fourth Serie A goal of the season, joining Marek Hamsik atop the scoring charts. Throw in a Europa League strike against Pacos de Ferreira and that’s five goals in six appearances, or just 470 minutes. It equates to a goal every 94 minutes.
Without Mario Gomez, Juan Cuadrado or David Pizarro for the trip to Bergamo, the Viola weren’t too flash yet found the goals required to walk away with maximum points. This was in part thanks to the Italo-American’s sealing strike. “Giuseppe Rossi is in good shape and he’s making the difference,” claimed Vincenzo Montella post-match.
In the build-up Montella was just as complimentary: “He is healthy and in good shape. In these cases there is the risk of a muscular injury, as unconsciously you do try to push harder. We have a tiny fear he’s pushing himself too much, but as for his consistency that has surprised even us.”
Two years ago things were on the up for Rossi. He was becoming a permanent fixture at international level, netting three times for Italy in 2011. Villarreal started 2011-12 poorly, but Pepito notched a decent return of three goals in eight matches – plus two in the Champions League play-off – when disaster struck. Against Real Madrid on 26 October, Rossi snapped the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and would be out for six months.
It didn’t help Cesare Prandelli, who was counting on Rossi for Euro 2012. The tactician said he would wait for Rossi to recover. While on the comeback trail at training in April 2012, Rossi clutched his knee again. Another snap.
A 10-month stint on the sidelines was on the horizon this time around. He showed his mental toughness and refused to throw in the towel. “I’m going to be the player I was. This is just a stumbling block to overcome, but I’m strong mentally and I hope to return soon,” said a defiant Rossi last October.
During that spell, Fiorentina purchased the attacker from the Spanish club. A €10m gamble, but one which has had immediate dividends. It’s reminiscent of Fiorentina’s nursing of Roberto Baggio in the mid 1980s. He too was signed while out injured and repaid the Viola with a hatful of goals.
There was relief and joy on the final day of last season, as Rossi made his Gigliati debut against Pescara. The end of a nightmare he called it. A full pre-season later and Rossi even has Montella shocked.
The goals were instant, as Rossi netted in Week 1 against Catania. “It is a beautiful evening for me,” he said afterwards. “My family were in the stands and that makes me happy. I spent two or three months of my rehabilitation close to them and that was very useful for me.”
His recovery has also thrilled Prandelli. Italy’s CT was in the stands to watch Rossi in Fiorentina’s draw with Cagliari – incidentally, the only League game he has not scored. Rossi was not called to the Italy squad which sealed World Cup qualification, Prandelli allowing for more game-time in Florence before a visit to nearby Coverciano.
Yet with Brazil 2014 now assured, upcoming October fixtures against Denmark and Armenia offer a chance for experimentation. And the chance for Rossi’s return. “We have always tracked Rossi and will continue to do so,” Prandelli said last week. “He is surprising me a great deal with his consistency rather than the goals, seeing as he always knew how to find the net. I am happy for him, as he seems relaxed and motivated.”
Before Rossi can wear the blue shirt again, there is work to be done in the purple. Notably tomorrow night, as the Viola set their sights on Inter at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. Sitting third and fourth, equal on 10 points, both have enjoyed positive starts to the campaign. This is an early test of credentials.
Inter - enjoying a revival under Walter Mazzarri - are Serie A’s top scorers thanks to the mauling of Sassuolo, while miserly at the back, conceding just once. Fiorentina’s numbers don’t quite match, but they’ve not only exhibited their slick passing style, but an ability to suffer and still collect points.
One number which won’t sit well with the Viola is 11 – the number of consecutive San Siro visits to have ended in defeat. You must go back to 1999-2000 for the last Fiorentina win. On that day Enrico Chiesa was the chief destroyer with a brace. Gabriel Batistuta netted his inevitable goal, before Mauro Bressan finished the rout.
A goal to help emulate Chiesa and Co and further propel Fiorentina up the ladder will no doubt strengthen Rossi’s love affair with a club and city which has helped him rediscover his form and zest for football.