When Giuseppe Rossi hit a hat-trick that downed Italian champions Juventus this weekend he completed a comeback two years in the making.
Rewind to October 2011. Villarreal were back in the Champions League after Italian striker Rossi broke the 30-goal barrier the previous season, scoring 18 in La Liga as the Yellow Submarine finished fourth.
His stock was high for both club and country. Rossi seemed hell-bent on proving Manchester United’s decision to sell him four years earlier wrong. And then he injured his ACL in his right knee against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu.
Cesare Prandelli prayed Rossi would recover in time to make Euro 2012 and be on the Azzurri roster. He would not. A recurrence of the injury in training last April set Rossi back another year.
Mario Balotelli may have filled Italy’s star striker void, but nobody saved Villarreal. Defeats to established top six Spanish side Valencia and Atletico Madrid sunk the Yellow Submarine. Their top flight status gone, Rossi could only watch, but could not be sold.
Fiorentina, managed by the diminutive Vincenzo Montella, gambled on Rossi in January. A four-year contract was agreed with Villarreal receiving €10 million for his services.
Rossi spent the spring getting fit, returning to action on the final day of last season’s Serie A against already relegated Pescara. Nobody questioned his desire to make a comeback. Would he rediscover his scoring instinct in the new campaign culminating in the World Cup?
Look whose name tops Italy’s goal chart. Rossi hit the ground running with three goals from the first two games. That became five in five. Prandelli rewarded this fine form with a deserved recall.
An international comeback off the bench came for Rossi in a 2-2 dead rubber against Armenia in the final World Cup qualifier. Italy were already on the plane to Brazil thanks to the efforts of Balotelli and Southampton summer signing Pablo Daniel Osvaldo.
Rossi also has Alberto Gilardino to contend with for a spot in the Azzurri</em< XI. Prandelli is notoriously pragmatic, but barring a rumoured return for Francesco Totti no other names are in the frame for next summer.
All Rossi needed now was to fully announce his return with a match-winning performance. He put that in against Juve as the Old Lady lost in Florence for the first time in 15 years.
Significant defeats in Antonio Conte’s Turin tenure have been rare. Juventus are the reigning Serie A champions and looking for a third straight title. Their hopes were dented by a clinical display for Rossi.
First he tucked away a penalty under international teammate Gigi Buffon and then danced past Paul Pogba before rifling home from the edge of the box.
Joaquin completed Fiorentina’s turnaround as they came from two behind to lead, but it was Rossi who sealed victory finishing a counterattack with aplomb.
Almost two years to the day when his career was in serious jeopardy, Rossi could finally rejoice.