Marginalised in pre-season, Pablo Daniel Osvaldo is suddenly the main man for club and country. Why? Good luck, individual brilliance and his daughter’s prayers, explains Scott Fleming.
The 2012-13 season looked like being a challenging one for Pablo Daniel Osvaldo. A career defining one, perhaps.
Last year the Buenos Aires born striker was one of the few success stories of Luis Enrique's Roma, hitting 13 Serie A goals on his return to the peninsula after a year and a half in La Liga with Espanyol, and collecting his first senior Italy cap.
But then he got injured. Then his form dipped. Then he failed to make even the preliminary Italy squad for Euro 2012. And then Mattia Destro arrived at Roma. Having zoomed through the fast lane, seemingly en route to achieving everything he had hoped to in his adopted country, Osvaldo was suddenly presented with a series of red lights.
The former Azzurrini forward may have worked with Zdenek Zeman before - at Lecce in 2006 - but that didn't stop him looking like one of the odd ones out in the wake of the Czech's appointment at Roma. In Zeman's trademark 4-3-3 there appeared to be room for just one central forward, and having spent €11.5m on him, that striker would seem to be Destro.
There was more disappointment when Osvaldo failed to make the Italy squad for the England friendly in August, despite Cesare Prandelli selecting a experimental group full of youngsters and lesser lights.
But as luck would have it, when Catania visited the Stadio Olimpico on the opening day of the season three weeks ago, Destro was suspended. Osvaldo started, scored a magnificent overhead kick, and hasn't looked back.
Just seven days later the Giallorossi routed Inter 3-1 at San Siro. It felt like the moment Zeman's Roma truly arrived, and Osvaldo was in the vanguard, scoring the second goal with a chip that was both effortless and extraordinary, and setting up the third with a classy clipped pass.
Then came the opening game of Italy's World Cup qualification campaign last weekend. Thanks to his form - and Mario Balotelli's eye issues - Osvaldo wasn't just back in the squad, but back in the starting line-up and back on the score sheet, netting a brace in the space of four minutes to salvage a point for La Nazionale in Bulgaria.
“Italy have unearthed another centre forward,” declared the Gazzetta dello Sport the following day. “Osvaldo was both convincing and clinical.”
“I usually score beautiful goals and these were somewhat scruffy, but they are worth just as much,” the 26-year-old smiled after his trickling low shot and deflected header in Sofia. “I want to dedicate these goals to my daughter Victoria, who every time she goes to church says a prayer for me and lights a candle, so they are for her.”
Destro's suspension? Balotelli's contact lens problems? Hmm, perhaps someone above has been listening to little Victoria's prayers. Divine intervention or simple good fortune, whatever it is, Osvaldo has certainly made the most of it. And as a result the most challenging season of his career, is looking like it might also prove to be the best.