METERattia Destro borrowed some moves from a World Cup winner on Sunday. After opening the scoring for Genoa against Crotone, the forward turned to the nearest television camera and swung his arms in a cradling gesture – evoking Iconic celebration of Bebeto during Brazil’s 1994 triumph over the Netherlands.
Some hope that Destro will soon be able to recreate another famous chapter in international soccer history. With eight goals in his last eight appearances, the 29-year-old has surpassed any other Serie A player since December 15. Memories of the 1990 World Cup, when Italy bet on a fit official who did not participate in their qualifying campaign, have returned to the minds of some journalists.
“The door is always open to [Totò] Schillaci of this moment ”, said Roberto Mancini when asked last month the question of whether Destro could appear in the delayed Euro 2020.“ But behind [first-choice strikers Andrea] Belotti and [Ciro] Motionless, like [Francesco] Caputo, [Kevin] Lasagna and [Gianluca] Scamacca, which is growing, is also further up the pecking order. AND [Moise] Kean is doing very well in Paris. “
This was as explicit as the manager of Italy could be without going into a corner; Destro has a lot of competition to overcome. On the other hand, now you at least have a list of names to start crossing out. Scamacca was ahead of him in the pecking order in Genoa as recently as mid-December, but has only started once in the last seven weeks.
For Destro to receive consideration at all is already an extraordinary turn. He came into this season as one of Italian soccer’s lost talents, a player who once had Milan’s Adriano Galliani banging on his door (well, okay, ineffectively banging on the apartment intercom before you give up and touch your cell phone), but whose career had gone horribly off course.
Destro was still a teenager when he made his Serie A debut for Genoa in 2010. A year later, he joined Siena and scored 12 goals as they defied expectations to stay in the top flight. That earned Roma a move, where their 13 goals in 20 appearances during the 2013-14 season helped lead the Giallorossi to second place.
The blow to Destro was always that he lacked variety in his game. He was a poacher: prolific inside the penalty area, but rarely seen to contribute elsewhere on the field. Frankly, he didn’t seem very interested in anything else. When asked by a Sportweek magazine interviewer to name a performance he was proud of, Destro responded: “Every game is incredibly good when I score. If I don’t score, I’ll watch my performance. “
But what was left when the goals dried up? Destro reached double figures only once in his next six seasons in Serie A. Galliani lured him to Milan with a costly loan and then left after six months. Destro went to Bologna, where the headlines imagined him following in the footsteps of Roberto Baggio. The closest he came to recreating any part of Divine Ponytail’s career was firing an infamous shot over the crossbar.
Destro’s failure was one yard, instead of 12. Bolonia were playing away against their Emilian neighbors, SPAL, in Serie A for the first time in 50 years. Trailing 1-0 in second-half injury time, they had one last chance to equalize when a Riccardo Orsolini cross found Destro at the back post. Inexplicably missed the target.
The moment will live forever in derby tradition. The following season, SPAL fans created a gigantic comic strip choreography throughout an entire booth to remind you. It already felt like the cruel epitaph of his career: a story of wasted potential.
Roberto Donadoni tried to convince him to play for Shenzhen in China. Instead, Destro chose to return to the starting point, in Genoa. Zero goals in eight appearances after the move last January suggested he had made the wrong decision. He finally broke his duck in this season’s opener against Crotone, but then contracted Coronavirus in late September and lost his place to Scamacca.
Destro didn’t start again until the match in Milan in December, when he scored twice to give his team an unlikely 2-2 draw. He hasn’t looked back since, attacking Spezia, Lazio, Bologna and Cagliari before Crotone on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Genoa has changed coaches, Davide Ballardini replaced Rolando Maran and immediately transformed their fortunes. A team that had earned seven points in its first 13 games has now won 14 of seven since then.
Ballardini has shown vision with some of his changes, most notably taking Ivan Radovanovic out of midfield to play in the center of all three defenders. He has also been helped by the January signing of Kevin Strootman, who is already seen more at home in Serie A than during most of his time in Ligue 1 with Marseille.
Whether Ballardini can claim credit for Destro’s form is more ambiguous, as it started before he arrived. However, the recent decision to deploy Eldor Shomurodov alongside him appears to be working, as the physically imposing Uzbek draws defenders to him and helps create the spaces that Destro loves to exploit.
Against Crotone, on Sunday, everything was too easy. Destro’s starter was pure opportunism, pouncing on a ball that had come loose after a defender slid to intercept a cross. He later added a volley tap-in from six yards, converting a cross from Miha Zajc. Lennart Czyborra scored a more ingenious goal in the middle, as Genoa sailed to a 3-0 victory.
The road to safety suddenly looks straightforward for a team that have kept a clean sheet in their last four league games, a streak interrupted only by a Coppa Italia loss to Juventus, whom they led into extra time. It’s tempting to wonder how much higher Genoa’s sights could be set if they had simply stuck with Ballardini after he rescued them in 2018, rather than burning six other coaches in the two and a half years since.
For Destro, however, this remains a moment of opportunity. As early as September, before this scoring streak began, he was already looking towards the Eurocup with an optimism that at the time seemed difficult to justify.
“It is not a finished chapter,” he told the Secolo XIX newspaper in response to a question about his time in the national team. “I have played for Italy and I hope, who knows, I can do it again. The European Championship is coming up in June and it is a beautiful opportunity, but it all starts here in Genoa, with what I manage to do, demonstrate on the field ”.
There is still much to prove. Week after week, however, his goal numbers become harder to ignore.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism