It wasn’t wearing the great Omar Palma’s no.10. Nor was it being asked to lead a giant back to Argentina’s elite so soon after three miserable years in the second division.
It wasn’t reigniting the feud with Newell’s Old Boys in the clasico de Rosario, perhaps the country’s most fierce local rivalry, either.
For a 20-year-old Franco Cervi, it was merely the day-to-day impact of his sudden rise that proved the biggest obstacle to what promised to be a glittering career.
“Now I’m on TV, everywhere I go people stop and ask me for a photo. That has really struck me, it’s really been crazy,” he told El Grafico in 2015. “It’s been a very big change.”
Little ‘Chucky’ from Rosario has had to get used to it, fast. From Angel di Maria, Ever Banega, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Mauro Icardi, Max Rodriguez and Ezequiel Garay to Lionel Messi, the pint-size Cervi is just the latest of a prolific footballing production line in Argentina’s second city.
He joined Central at six years of age and spent 13 years with the club before making his debut in 2014, when coach Miguel Angel Russo had been impressed by a short but prolific spell in the reserves.
“He just wanted to play,” Russo told O Jogo. “He’s the sort of player who is really bothered when he’s not playing.”
He wouldn’t have to wait long. The following season Eduardo Coudet was suitably impressed by the 5’7” forward’s dynamism, guile and eye for goal to make him the club’s starting no.10.
Selected as one of Goal’s 50 Rising Stars of FUT, Cervi formed an instant kinship with fellow dynamic youngster Giovani Lo Celso, and together they fashioned the bullets that returning forward Marco Ruben used to fire the club back from the abyss, leading them to a Copa Argentina final and back into the Copa Libertadores, as well as putting up a solid title fight.
Having established himself and impressed, a quick exit quickly became an inevitability in a country that, long after losing its very best, can now no longer even hold onto any of its better players.
Benfica came calling in September 2015, agreeing a deal that took Cervi to Lisbon in May of the following year and that made him the second biggest sale in Central history, falling slightly short of the fee the Portuguese club paid for Di Maria eight years earlier.
And this past weekend Cervi ensured his first season in Europe ended with a title that had eluded him at Central, as he opened the scoring for Benfica in their 5-0 demolition of Vitoria Guimaraes that sealed the Liga NOS championship.
The 22-year-old’s maiden campaign brought 26 league appearances and six starts in the UEFA Champions League, where he grabbed two goals to help the Eagles to the round of 16.
Coach Rui Vitoria labelled his first six months with the club “fantastic” and, as the club prepare to lose the likes of Victor Lindelof this summer, Cervi looks set for a breakout season next year.
The little man has hit the big time. And he’ll no doubt be posing for many more photos over the next decade as he continues to grow in stature.