God, how I missed those energetic runs and charges down the flank. In last two games, Hellas Verona and Salzburg, Leonardo Spinazzola turned back the clock and bossed the left side like it was 2021 all over again. Everything that happened in between? Well...
The past two years haven't been too kind to Spinazzola. This is about the remarkable journey of a man on the brink of exclusion. Injured. Left behind. Down but not out.
Remember the (delayed) Euro 2020? Spinazzola made the Team of the Tournament, causing many Roma fans to dream of his electric runs taking Serie A by storm. Spinazzola was arguably Itaý's finest and strongest wing-back, and the Giallorossi were bearing witness to a genuine breakthrough.
Then it happened. Again. Spinazzola suffered a severe injury for the second time in his career following an ACL tear during his short Juventus stint in 2018. This time it was an Achilles tendon injury suffered during the quarterfinals of Euro 2020 against Belgium—an injury that kept him sidelined for nearly a year.
He returned ten months later, in May 2022, but he never looked like the Spinazzola of old. Rusty, unconvincing, unsure, slower. Even after the summer and a whole pre-season, the road for Leonardo was still rough. A kind of odyssey that would even break Joel and Ellie.
In the meantime, Mourinho used Nicola Zalewski, Matias Vina, and even Stephan El Shaarawy as a left wingback in his 3-4-2-1. Still, only one man was right for the job; too bad that man was currently broken. Nothing to do but endure and survive. No matter what, you always keep finding something to fight for.
Like our dear friends from The Last Of Us, Leonardo didn't give up; he pushed through a post-pandemic world and ultimately won his personal battle. A more than decent display against Hellas was followed by a masterclass against Salzburg, including two assists for Belotti and Dybala. This was the Spina we all sorely missed. And a player tailor-made for Mourinho's current 3-4-2-1 lineup.
Next to the healthy Wijnaldum and rejuvenated Belotti, it seems Mourinho has a third power-up available in the race for the top four with this version of Spinazzola. Right on time if you ask me, ready for a crucial period of the season as we're getting into money time soon.
When you're lost in the darkness, look for the light. Leonardo did just that. And he came back possibly stronger than ever.
Well done, kiddo.