Bonnie Tyler may still be looking for her hero but Catania fans have certainly found their version. Dave Taylor hails the return of fan-favourite Francesco Lodi.
Stuck at the bottom of the table Catania needed someone to rescue them, a street-wise Hercules to fight the rising odds, a white knight upon a fiery steed. Then out of the Rossoblu, racing in on the thunder came Francesco Lodi to sweep them off their feet.
The Elephants’ white knight may not ride a strident stallion but he is certainly streetwise. Growing up in Napoli’s back alleys, practising his set-pieces by targeting shop signs, while playing football amongst the ‘syringes and muggings’, tends to do that for you.
After his less than impressive four-month spell with Genoa, the homecoming hero was the man of the match in his first game back against Bologna. Playing as a deep lying playmaker between Jaroslav Plasil and Mariano Izco, the 29-year-old helped Catania to just their third win of the season. Inspiring teammates with his all-round ability, he produced an assist, rattled the post with an archetypal free-kick and hit several more before finally scoring with an ultra-classy penalty as they ran out 2-0 winners.
The performance was in complete contrast to his unhappy time in the Port City, where on average he could only muster 1.4 shots per game, compared to his three on Monday. He also recorded a highly impressive four key passes, the most in Serie A, where with the Rossoblu he was only managing an average of 1.3 per game.
Keeping with stats, five of his six goals last season came from set-pieces while the other was a penalty. Likewise in 2011-12 the old-fashioned fantasista scored nine, with seven coming from penalties and two from free kicks. It was these sorts of performances that saw him become one of Serie A’s most feared dead-ball specialists. It also saw him linked with Milan and Inter while many talked about him as a valid alternative to Andrea Pirlo at international level.
Of course this skill is no accident, coming as it does after years of practice copying his own hero, Diego Maradona. “I have DVD’s of Diego and I don’t know how many times I have studied them,” he revealed. “I have taken notice of his nuances and approaches to set pieces and tried to incorporate some of them into my own.”
The silky left-footer even wears the No 10 shirt in homage to his hero and it was the first thing he asked for on his return. “I tried to honour the No 10 shirt for Catania the last time I was here and I will be trying my very best to do that again this season,” he added. “I think of Diego Maradona as the quintessential 10 but I know that I am not on his level and I also play in a different role.”
No matter what role he plays, if he continues honour the shirt as he did on Monday, Lodi may even become Catania’s own heroic Il Pibe.