Matías Viña is set to join Roma, but Richard Hall explains why Leonardo Spinazzola will earn his starting spot back once he recovers from his Achilles tendon injury.
Leonardo Spinazzola has gone from a reluctant full-back to the country’s sweetheart and he has managed to do this whilst missing a proportion of UEFA Euro 2020. The injury he sustained was felt by the Azzurri, as his contribution to the team early on had been extraordinary. His teammates felt the loss and they went out of their way to make him feel as included as they could in the celebrations. In some respect, it was his tournament and on his return to Serie A, he will hope to come back in good form for Roma.
Perhaps what is so fascinating about Spinazzola’s EURO 2020 tournament was that it came unexpectedly. Let us be clear, he was certainly known about before, at 28 years of age, he had represented some of Italy’s biggest clubs and yet at the end of the season, nobody was talking about him being a difference-maker for the Azzurri. This was not a ‘Toto’ Schillaci story, Spinazzola did not leap out of the shadows, blow the doors off the tournament and then would be likely to disappear into obscurity. Instead, this was a seasoned professional who decided to up his game on at a major tournament.
Spinazzola had not grown up thinking about being a full back, far from it. Growing up watching Italian Football in the 1990’s he looked up to Ronaldo and Gabriel Batistuta and he was intent on becoming a centre forward. His dreams of this looked like they could have been dashed when at Siena a coach told him he would have to play as a full-back if he wanted to move his career to the next level.
With power, pace and good delivery, this position seemed ideal, although Spinazzola may not have agreed at the time. Even today, the love of getting forward has not gone away, and his game’s offensive nature is notable. This is not the first time in his career that things have not gone according to plan and it is when looking at his time in football, one can really empathise with his plight and feel both happy and sad for what happened at EURO 2020.
His first big break came when Juventus signed him on a co-ownership deal with Siena in 2010. Whilst he had joined one of the biggest clubs in Italy, he would have to work his way through a plethora of loan spells at Empoli, Lanciano, Siena, Atalanta, Vicenza, Perugia and Atalanta again. Here he would get game time before returning to Juventus in 2018. In 2014 ‘The Old Lady’ had purchased him outright (for free) after Siena went bankrupt. When he joined the Bianconeri, he had a chance to prove himself, but it never felt like he was wanted in Turin.
This certainly became the case when in 2019, he was sold to Roma in a swap deal with Luca Pellegrini. It had been a long time to wait in Turin and after all that, he could never really have time to establish himself. Not being wanted may have been a situation that was getting even more common as the Giallorossi were willing to sell him to Inter in January 2020, but this part-exchange deal fell apart as his medicals did not convince the Nerazzurri.
As EURO 2020 came on the horizon, perhaps Spinazzola saw this as a time to prove some people wrong. Maybe some in Turin or Rome. Maybe his old coach. He had many who had failed to have ultimate faith in him. Perhaps, his teammates knew this and as the country watched on the offensive full-back became Italy’s secret weapon, he was an integral part of the attack and was also recorded as exhibiting the fastest speed in the tournament, 21mph.
When he was stretchered off against Belgium, clutching his left Achilles tendon, his teammates could see his anguish. Was this just one more time where it seemed Spinazzola had made it to the top, but they would have it all taken away from him? The respect the country and his teammates showed him saw that this would not be the case and the fact that Italy won the tournament even amplified his efforts. Finally, the full-back will get the respect he deserves and, once he recovers, will be a vital part of Roma and Italy’s starting elevens.