Bandini: The Italian Drogba?

At least one person’s opinion of Amauri has never changed. “For me he is the Italian [Didier] Drogba,” reiterated the Udinese manager Francesco Guidolin after seeing his team beaten twice by the Parma striker on the way to a 2-0 defeat this weekend. He had made the same comment more than once during his various stints in charge of Palermo between 2006 to 2008, back when the player was leading the line for the Rosanero.

There are those who would take issue with Guidolin’s assessment of the player’s nationality – Amauri might have made his Azzurri debut in London in August, but he was born and raised in Brazil and only obtained an Italian passport last year – but most would be too busy protesting the substance of his claim. Amauri on a level with Drogba? Pull the other one. Drogba has three Premier League titles, five domestic cups, two Premier League golden boots and two African Player of the Year awards to his name. Amauri? He has a big fat nothing.

And yet it is hard to imagine how even Drogba could have made a bigger impact than Amauri has since joining Parma. Saturday’s brace took the striker’s tally to seven in 11 games following his arrival on loan at the end of January. Throw in the odd assist and a knack for holding the ball up to bring team-mates into play and it is easy to see how he has become a key figure in the recent upturn that has helped Parma move away from the relegation places.

Many observers are still struggling to get their heads round it. When Amauri arrived from Juventus in January he did so as a discarded reject – a striker who had not scored in Serie A for almost a year and whose goals-per-game ratio since January 2009 was worse than that of his team’s centre-back Giorgio Chiellini. Juventus hoped only that he might do well enough that they might someone who would take him off their hands permanently in the summer.

Instead, less than three months on, there have been suggestions that the Bianconeri could even take him back. Alessandro Matri – the man ostensibly brought in to replace Amauri – has done almost identically well, scoring seven goals in 12 games, but with Juventus still struggling for consistency some pundits have argued that there could be room for both men in future. In all probability this is just paper talk – scoring has hardly been Juve’s biggest problem in recent weeks – but that such a move could even be countenanced would have been unthinkable not long ago.

Amauri himself told Gazzetta dello Sport that “I am a Juventus player and will talk with them at the end of the year,” but denied deriving any pleasure from seeing the Old Lady struggle without him. “If you want me to say that I feel satisfaction, no that is absolutely not the case,” he said. “I am a Juventus player and I don’t like to see them in this situation in the table.”

There is little, indeed, about the present situation that Amauri would have sought. When he arrived at Juventus he spoke of this being his “last big chance” in football. Three years on and now 30 years old, Parma represents a backwards step in every sense. They were, after all, his first Italian club, signing him at 21 before loaning him out and eventually selling him on before he had even played a game for them.

“It was not easy leaving a great team, it isn’t easy for anyone,” admitted Amauri to Gazzetta. “But I wanted to get playing again and to overcome what has been a difficult period between injuries and arguments. It is a vicious circle: you get injured, you don’t play, and if you don’t play you don’t find form. With my physique, I need continuity.”

That is something he has rarely had. Since beginning his professional career with the Swiss team Belinzona in 2000, his has been a story of one infuriating stop after another. A knee injury limited him to just five games at Belinzona, after which he was released. Then, after moving to Parma the next year, he went on to play for five different Italian clubs in the space of three seasons. Not until 2003 would he find a settled home at Chievo.

In many ways, by that stage, Amauri was already playing catch-up. Unlike the many South American players who arrive in Europe’s top leagues after shooting to fame in their own domestic championships, Amauri had pitched up in Italy not even knowing if he really wanted to pursue a career as a footballer. “I had wound up almost by chance in [my local] small team, Santa Catarina,” he explains. “In 2000 we were invited to the Viarreggio tournament (a famous youth tournament in Italy) , and there I thought that I better start giving it a serious go.”

Tall, powerful and co-ordinated, his physical attributes alone had been enough to persuade Belinzona to take a punt, but his technique and understanding of the game were still some way behind many of his contemporaries. Changing teams, and coaches, so often over the next few years cannot have helped. But by the third year with Chievo, 2005-06, he seemed to have found his feet. For the first time his scoring reached double figures, prompting Palermo to move for him the following summer. There he would enjoy the best two years of his career.

Indeed it is this late start that allows Amauri to believe that there is time yet for another big opportunity. “It all depends on me,” he noted in an interview with the magazine Sportweek. “In June I will be 31, but my career in practice only began at 25: my official age does not correspond to my biological and athletic one.”

But it may also be the reason he is so determined at this late stage of his career to prove his doubters wrong. “To build my career I had to give more than others: more time, more effort,” he says. “One brick at a time, bit by bit. I had to deal with prejudice, mistrust, because I had no past, no titles, no important achievements. Wherever I have been, from Napoli to Chievo, via Parma, Piacenza and Messina, I started in last place and had to earn my place.”

It was this sense of being underestimated that drove him to stay in Italy when potentially lucrative moves to Brazil were offered, as well as to give up his Christmas holidays since 2005 in favour of extra training. “I will not return [to Brazil] defeated, without having proved – to myself as much as anyone else – what I am,” he insists.

Nor will he allow anyone to re-write his own story about his time in Turin. “Steady on,” came the response to Sportweek’s question about why he had “failed” in Turin. “The first year I did better than I had at Palermo, scoring 11 goals in the first four months.” And the second year? “I did badly, also because of all the injuries. I messed up, but I wasn’t the only one, as some people wanted to believe.”

But Amauri knows, too, that the only way to change anyone’s opinion of him is to, in his own words, “let the pitch be the judge”. He might not convince anyone other than Guidolin that he is the second coming of Drogba, but right now he would be happy just for everyone to believe that he’s the same Amauri that Juventus were so keen to sign in the first place.