Twenty four minutes into the away game with Fiorentina, Napoli’s talismanic winger, Lorenzo Insigne, was tackled in mid-stride and fell awkwardly on his right leg. A few minutes later the 23-year-old, still wincing in pain, slowly hobbled away with a heavily bandaged right knee.
First reports on the Sunday claimed it was a simple strain and a return inside a fortnight. However, further investigation showed Lorenzo suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament and, following a successful operation yesterday in Rome, the prognosis is he could be out for around six months.
The news is a serious setback, not only for the Neapolitan native but also his club and significantly, the Azzurri. Following his recent magnificent form he had been in line for selection by Coach Antonio Conte for the forthcoming internationals and was looking forward to showing his worth. “Conte is making his choices, but I continue working with Napoli and will always give everything for this jersey,” he said beforehand. “I’ll try to convince the Italy Coach in every game too.”
Insigne had also had to convince the San Paolo after preposterous antagonism towards him from certain fans at the start of this term - happily those jeers had become cheers as the ‘sinner’ turned saint against Torino, when he scored his first goal of the season.
With his precious Partenopei losing 1-0, the diminutive ace headed home a cracking equaliser before absolutely shaking with emotion and crying uncontrollably. Adding to the theatre it was Lorenzo’s pass to Jose Callejon for the winning goal that saw the fairy tale end happily ever after. “It was like a weight off my shoulders,” the hometown hero sighed later. “I feel free.”
From then he had been superb, with Napoli not losing with him in the team and he was subsequently rewarded with an extension to his contract until 2019. Just as significantly, Conte also looked to reward his form with a call-up, with reports suggesting that he was considering Lorenzo in a more central role.
In Coach Rafa Benitez’s 4-2-3-1 system, the player his President Aurelio De Laurentiis calls ‘Napoli’s Totti’, played on the left flank of Napoli’s attacking midfield line, matching ability with determination and durability. “The key for me is his work-rate,” said Benitez. “In football you cannot talk about a player who stands still as they need to help out in defence and also attack and Lorenzo can do that.”
In this formation the wingers need to be able to drop back yet also be decisive when going forward. Unafraid to put in a defensive shift when needed, yet always aware if opportunities opened up in the attacking third ‘il Nano’ was well tuned into this outside role.
However, Conte reportedly felt that he may have been best in a dual role alongside Andrea Pirlo in the centre of the midfield in his 3-5-2 system, a role that he appears perfectly suited for. Certainly the Azzurri have missed this sort of player, someone who can take on defenders, someone reminiscent of the playmaker/fantasista who was once the ubiquitous jewel in the crown of the Italian game.
Today’s Italy needs a player like Lorenzo and he has claimed he prefers operating nearer the action where he was at his omnipresent, goal-scoring best in the centre, behind his good friend and potential future Azzurri teammate Ciro Immobile at Pescara.
His past performances for the Azzurrini have shown that given a free role he would have been the ideal antidote to Italy’s recent jaded performances. His pace, vision, energy and trickery are essential aspects in the latter stages of games and playing with Pirlo could have only meant progress for him and La Nazionale.
So it’s a real shame for Lorenzo, his fans, Napoli and of course the Azzurri that he is no longer available. The city suffers for their only son in the team and is behind him all the way and the superb form he was experiencing should not have ended like this.
Lorenzo gave his heart and soul, even when fans turned against him and he cannot and should not be stopped by this cruel twist of fate. Ultimately he will return and prove that he is even stronger and hopefully his rehabilitation goes smoothly as we wait for the talented il Magnifico to return stronger than ever.