Alessio Cerci is back in Serie A, but it is not the triumphant return everybody hoped for when he joined Atletico Madrid back in 2014. The then 26-year-old was signed by the Champions League runners-up with the expectation he would become another gem the Liga side would later sell on for a massive profit.
However, fast-forward three years and he has joined newly-promoted Hellas Verona, having seen his Atletico contract terminated on the back of just two appearances last season. His Torino goal twin Ciro Immobile rediscovered his form at Lazio, so you might not bet against Cerci doing the same at the Bentegodi.
So where has it all gone wrong for a player so much was expected of when he made his debut as a 16-year-old?
There was a real buzz about Cerci right from the start. The young winger was nicknamed the 'Thierry Henry of Valmontone' and was given his professional bow by Fabio Capello at Roma in 2003 against Sampdoria, a year before he would be the young star of the club's Under-19 side.
After failing to nail down a first-team place for the Giallorossi, Cerci was loaned out to Brescia in 2006-07, before going to Pisa the following season, where he notched 10 goals, despite suffering a serious knee injury.
His was then sent out on loan for a third consecutive season, joining Atalanta, where injuries restricted him to just 13 appearances. Cerci's chance at Roma finally arrived in 2009-10 at the age of 22, but Claudio Ranieri used him mainly in the Europa League.
At the end of that season, he was sold on to Fiorentina, where he showed glimpses of his talent. His fondness of the Florentine nightlife and regular fines for the illegal parking of his Maserati around the city saw him endure a tetchy relationship with the fans. Despite that, he was playing well and became a target for Manchester City in 2011, with Roberto Mancini a big fan. However, Cerci opted to remain in Florence.
As his performances continued to vary from the sublime to the bizarre and his relationship with the supporters failed to improve, he was sold to Torino in 2012 and it was there that his career really kicked into life. He was reunited with his former Pisa boss, Gian Piero Ventura.
In his first season, Cerci contributed eight goals and as many assists, earning a first call-up to the national side for a friendly against Brazil, before later being included in the FIFA Confederations Cup squad that summer.
Ventura opted to move the then 25-year-old further forward in his second campaign with Torino. He had operated mainly as a winger throughout his career, but would now be deployed as a second striker. The move paid dividends, with Cerci netting 13 times and contributing 11 assists as he enjoyed the best season of his life.
Impressed, Diego Simeone convinced the Atletico board to part with €16m to bring the Italy international to the Vicente Calderon, and in September 2014, he signed a three-year contract to join Atletico.
He struggled to adapt to life outside of Italy and made a swift return to homeland just four months later, joining Milan on an 18-month loan deal, with Fernando Torres going in the opposite direction. Again, he failed to make the grade.
Cerci became the victim of Rossoneri boo-boys after a string of under-par performances, particularly in a 1-0 defeat at Bologna. In January 2016, he joined Genoa on loan, where he scored four goals in 26 appearances.
Cerci returned to Atletico at the end of that season and would eventually play his first Rojiblancos match in over two years when he was selected for a Copa del Rey clash against Guijuelo.
He would make just one more appearance for the La Liga side, but he still had time to cause more controversy as he posted a photo of himself strolling around Madrid during his side's defeat to Barcelona.
At Verona, Cerci will find the man whose career path he appears to have emulated in Cassano. The two child prodigies were expected to shine at Roma, before earning defining moves to La Liga sides where they started to unravel amid controversy off the field.
At a time when Italian football is producing more talented teenagers than ever before, Cerci's incredible downfall is a reminder that having the talent is just half the battle. It takes an incredible dedication to be a true champion. At least Cerci and Cassano can swap regrets and horror stories in the Hellas locker room, acting as a living reminder of how a career can go horribly wrong.
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