Thursday, 4 September 2014

Arrivederci Alessio!


When Alessio Cerci signed for Torino two seasons ago, his arrival was marked by jubilant scenes from Toro supporters, with hundreds waiting at the training ground to greet their new arrival.

It is easy to forget now, but before his move to the Granata, there were major concerns over Cerci's attitude due to a number of incidents that marred his spell at Fiorentina. The story about telling a police officer that he would move his car, that had been parked illegally, (but only after he had finished his meal) is well known, but on the field the red card he received for literally kicking Martin Caceres up the arse in a match against Juventus meant his days were always numbered at the Viola.

The opportunity to re-unite with former coach and father figure Giampiero Ventura was too good to turn down for the man affectionately known as 'Winston' and in August 2012 he signed for Torino on a co-ownership deal. For the Granata, this was their one marquee signing ahead of their return to the Italian top flight, whilst for Cerci, this was one final opportunity to fulfil the potential that had been obvious since making his debut as a sixteen year old at Roma.

In his first season at Toro, Cerci made a positive contribution with eight goals and eight assists as the Granata narrowly avoided relegation. The former Roma man also received international recognition and was called up to Italy's Confederations cup squad that summer, despite only making his azzurri debut a few months previously.

However, it was in his second season with the club that the 'Henry of Valmontone' really showed what he was capable of. With coach Giampiero Ventura switching to a 3-5-2 formation, Cerci was moved from his favoured position on the right wing to become a striker.

Despite a slow start, Ventura's decision paid off as Cerci formed a formidable strike partnership with Ciro Immobile (who would also later go on to represent his country). Towards the end of the season, with Toro fighting for a Europa League spot, Cerci had his most memorable moment in a Torino shirt by scoring an injury time winner against Genoa only seconds after Immobile had equalised.

In the final game of the 2013-14 season, Toro needed to beat Cerci's former club Fiorentina in order to guarantee qualification for Europe for the first time in 20 years. Torino's number eleven was instrumental in helping the Granata come from behind on two occasions, and with the score level at 2-2, Toro were awarded a penalty in injury time and the script was written for Cerci to make himself a legend.

However, the unthinkable happened. Fiorentina goalkeeper Antonio Rosati saved his penalty and the game finished 2-2. At the final whistle, Cerci was inconsolable as he fell to the turf and (like many of the supporters) was unable to hold back the tears. Then incredibly, the Toro fans began to sing his name, despite thinking their chances of European football were now over, they were grateful for what he had done for their club over the past two seasons and knew that without his goals and assists they would have had no chance of returning to European football.

However, this story took another dramatic twist after it was revealed that sixth placed Parma had failed to pay their tax bill and were excluded from competing in European competition by the Italian FA. That meant that it was seventh placed Torino who, in rather exceptional circumstances, had qualified for the Europa League.

Perhaps naively, I honestly believe that had Toro not received this reprieve then Alessio Cerci may have chosen to stay for at least one more season to make amends for his missed penalty, and to repay the fans who had supported him in arguably the most difficult moment of his career.

However in hindsight, that missed penalty is now irrelevant, and this summer Cerci asked to be given the opportunity to leave the club. This was granted on the final day of the transfer window as he completed a move to Spanish champions Athletico Madrid.

Whilst as a Torino supporter, I am disappointed that Alessio has left the club, I personally do not begrudge him for leaving, as I understand that the career of a professional footballer is extremely short, and the chance to test himself in the Champions League may not come around again.

The Granata's decision to replace Cerci with Amauri has already come under much criticism, but that is another discussion for another day.

But thank you for the memories Alessio, thank you very much!

Forza Toro

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