Roma-Sassuolo 1-1, the 10th of November 2013. Fast forward to April 4, 2015. Or more than 500 days later. Balzaretti succesfully participated in a Primavera game and made the bench for Napoli on Saturday. Although he did not play, it’s nothing short of amazing, a gigantic achievement by not only the footballer Balzaretti, but also the person Balzaretti. Because not only the muscles have to recover, improve and bulk up, also his head must be in order, focused and fixated on a comeback in a distant future. At all costs, how long the road may be. Calling it a day and cashing in would have been an easy solution. Not for Federico, he chose the hard way. And he made it out alive and kicking.
… Well, alive anyway because he hasn’t kicked on a single ball against Napoli. Yet, it was all so very symbolic. A call-up by Garcia, a place on the bench. Celebrating with Pjanic after his beautiful goal. I can’t imagine the feelings Federico must have felt. Since Sassuolo he has missed more than 70 official games. Not a single sight of Balzaretti, only on training pictures or working in the gymn. Balzaretti and AS Roma, the marriage started so promising. The beginning of season 2013-2014 was magical with the ten consecutive victories. Federico even broke his duck and scored against Lazio, a very intense and emotional moment. Roma finally found its no1 choice at LB. Yes, back then he was already 31 going on 32. But he looked in his prime, a sure starter, ready for a Scudetto battle against his former club Juventus. The stage was set for a great season. How things have changed.
After Federico’s injury people came and people went. Dodo, Cole, Holebas, Romagnoli, Castan, Torosidis,… It hasn’t been the same since Sassuolo. That bloody leftback position… What a pain in the ass it has been for Roma. And the misery is not over yet. Federico must face another tough hurdle along his journey: he needs to earn back his place, not on the bench but on the pitch this time. Via subs or in friendlies in the Summer of 2015. Chances are the management will bring in another LB in the next mercato. Or stick with Holebas as our first choice. But this time the fight for the LB spot will be fair and square: no more injuries, no recovery period, just go out and prove yourself. The best one plays, finito. Who dares to bet it won’t be Balza?
It saddens me to say this but we can’t be blinded by fairy tales and ignore his age. At 33 years, Balzaretti can’t solely rely on his speed or physique anymore. His willpower, brains, class must prolong his career for ideally 2-3 more years at Roma. Just like Francesco did/is doing. Fight against the hands of time. Defy the laws of nature. Push the boundaries and hope everything goes as planned this time. A man can only do so much.
Napoli was just the start. Federico needs to aim higher. Maybe not for this season but with an eye on 2015-2016. He may not be the glorious leftback that brings AS Roma a Scudetto or tenth Coppa Italia, but he’ll be damn worthy of a place on this team. You see, it’s all about unfinished business. Too long we have waited for his comeback. Since 2013 they (whoever it may be) have taken away too much of Balzaretti’s career. Undeserved, unjustifiable, unforgivable.
Well, they look like fools. Because now he’s back. And he’s about to reclaim what is rightfully his. We have missed you, dear Federico. Roma has missed you.