By Carlo Garganese
Brazil legend Zico once remarked that a footballer who recklessly fouls an opponent should be banned until his victim returns to the field.
The Flamengo icon, who played in an era where attackers were far less protected by referees than they are today, was a heavily marked man throughout his brilliant career. His tussles with Italian hardman Claudio Gentile during the classic Brazil-Italy clash at the 1982 World Cup are part of footballing folklore - the No.10 having his shirt ripped in half by the no-nonsense Juventus stopper.
|ROSSI'S INJURY NIGHTMARE - A TIMELINE
|ROSSI'S FIRST RUPTURE
||Rossi ruptures ACL in right knee during Villarreal's 3-0 loss to Real Madrid and is out for six months|
|BREAKDOWN IN TRAINING
|APR 2012||Shortly after returning to training, Rossi tears same ACL and is sidelined for another 10 months|
|RETURN TO ACTION AFTER 18 MONTHS
||After joining Fiorentina in January, Rossi finally returns to action as a sub on final day of season|
|FIRST GOAL IN NEARLY TWO YEARS|
||Rossi scores his first goal in 23 months on opening day of season versus Catania|
|DESTROYS JUVE WITH HAT-TRICK
|OCT 2013||Scores brilliant hat-trick as Fiorentina defeat champions Juventus 4-2 in Florence|
|BA STAR FOR ITALY AGAIN
||Dubbed a potential star of the World Cup after scoring on Italy return in friendly against Nigeria|
||Brutally injured in 1-0 win over Livorno by Leandro Rinaudo. Fears of another serious right knee K.O|
After moving to the Italian Serie A the following year to join Udinese, Zico suffered some particularly harsh treatment from defenders. This led to him missing most of the 1984-85 season. Returning to his homeland at the end of that campaign, he barely featured for his beloved Flamengo during the next two years, either, after a vicious tackle by Bangu’s Marcio Nunes. He managed just a cameo role at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
Despite later helping to launch the J-League in his 40th year, Zico’s career as a top-class player had been effectively over from the age of 30 due to the assaults of far less talented defenders whose only objective was to kick him.
Zico’s story deserves to be highlighted following the news that Fiorentina’s Giuseppe Rossi may have suffered a third serious knee injury in just over two years as a result of a deplorable foul by Livorno centre-back Leandro Rinaudo.
With Rossi protecting the ball in the centre of the pitch with his back to play, the 6ft 3in Rinaudo came crashing through the back of the 26-year-old – delivering a stray kick in the process. The defender had been agitated and seemingly frustrated prior to the challenge. There appeared to be no attempt to win the ball or tactical or positional cause to make the foul. “It seemed intentional”, cried Rossi’s coach Vincenzo Montella.
Fiorentina patron Andrea Della Valle also blasted the aggressor after the game: “Rinaudo is a hoodlum. There are so many things I want to say to Rinaudo right now. He should look at the replays and reflect on his behaviour.”
Viola vice president Paolo Panerai added: “This is not sport. Look at Rinaudo’s reaction immediately after the foul. No apology, not even a look at Rossi.”
Former Gigliati striker Christian Vieri described Rinaudo as a "disgusting player".
Fiorentina confirmed on Monday that Rossi had suffered a sprain to the knee that had already been operated on three times. Tests over the coming days will confirm the severity of the damage, but it appears that Rossi has avoided a third ACL tear to his right knee and instead damaged his collateral ligament. An absence of two to four months is likely provided an operation is not required, which would still put the forward's season and World Cup at risk.
It will be a devastating blow to Fiorentina in their quest for Champions League football, to Italy ahead of this summer’s showpiece, but above all else to Rossi himself who – in recent times - has been cursed by misfortune both on and off the pitch.
When Rossi broke down in Villarreal training in April 2012 and tore the same ACL that he had ruptured the previous October against Real Madrid, many feared that we had seen the end of the forward's career.
But the New Jersey-born striker refused to admit defeat and overcame all the odds to return to full fitness. This season he has been in the form of his life, topping the Serie A scorers charts with 14 goals for an exciting Fiorentina side. He even returned to the Italy national team, scoring on his first start since 2011 in November’s friendly draw with Nigeria. This outstanding performance at Fulham’s Craven Cottage suggested he could be one of the stars of the World Cup in Brazil.
|"Rinaudo is a hoodlum. There are so many things I want to say to Rinaudo right now"
- Fiorentina patron Andrea Della Valle
But now, following the clash with Rinaudo, Rossi may once again miss out on a major international tournament and, like Zico 30 years ago, his top-class career could have been placed in doubt. Rinaudo defended his actions saying: “It was a normal foul that can happen in a game, I'm sorry this happened to Rossi.
“I didn't deliberately try and hurt him. I wanted to apologise after the game, but I was surrounded and attacked by Fiorentina’s players and directors and I could not do it."
As Rinaudo was booked for the foul by referee Paolo Tagliavento, he is unlikely to now be punished retrospectively but that does not need to be the case. If there was natural justice, the former Juventus player would, as Zico suggested, only be allowed to resume playing once Rossi himself returns.
Football is a contact sport and injuries are part of the game. Some players are more injury-prone than others, while – as is the case in Sunday League pub football - skilful attackers will naturally take more hits from clumsy and aggressive brutes. But what is entirely out of order is when a player needlessly and recklessly endangers the career of a fellow professional.
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