I've been thinking lately about Giuseppe Rossi, and about the twists and turns that a sports career can take, even for the most promising athletes. If you're a U.S. soccer fan, you know plenty about Rossi, the Italian-American New Jersey native who chose to play for Italy over the U.S. and became a budding star for the Azzurri and Spain's Villarreal (where he scored 32 goals in all competitions in 2010-11).
Now 25, Rossi should be readying to lead Italy at Euro 2012 starting next month. Instead he's in the middle of a catastrophic injury run. Rossi tore his right ACL last October and, just as he was preparing to return, tore it again in training last month. By the time Rossi is scheduled to play again in early 2013, he will have been out for at least 14 months from competitive soccer.
Things don't always turn out as you plan them in sports. I wrote a
In my experience with Giuseppe, he came across as a humble Jersey guy who had set extremely high goals for himself -- let's be honest, it's harder to make Italy's national team than it is the U.S.'s -- and had attained them.
But Rossi's SI mag story never ran. It was all ready to go, but the only thing that could have prevented publication was the most unlikely of results: The U.S. would have to advance from the Confed Cup group stage, which required beating Egypt 3-0 in the final group game while Brazil would have to beat Rossi's Italy 3-0 at the same time. What were the odds of that happening? 100 to 1? 10,000 to 1?
Sure enough, that's exactly what happened. So I pulled an all-nighter in South Africa, wrote an entirely
These days I'm getting a bit more magazine space for soccer, but now Rossi is injured. It's part of the sports media business, I guess. But I also felt badly that Rossi, his father and the others had taken the time to speak to me, and they were probably looking forward to his first significant story in SI -- which for some athletes and their families is an important moment.
Not long ago, I went back and tracked down the Rossi story I had written, the one that wasn't published:
In magazine parlance, we use "TK" and "koming" as place-holders for information that we don't know yet. In this case, those TKs spiked my Rossi story. But several aspects of the article are still pertinent today, from Rossi's personal story to the question SI was asking: When will the U.S. produce its first genuine global soccer superstar? To wit:
There's another reason Giuseppe Rossi has been on my mind lately. Whenever I post anything about him on Twitter, a number of U.S. fans act like they're in a competition to see who can come up with the most outrageously negative responses about Rossi. Many of them are unprintable here, but they include celebrating his ACL injuries and calling Rossi everything from "Judas" to "turncoat" to "Benedict Arnold," all for deciding to play soccer for Italy instead of the United States.
Those people should be embarrassed.
Fans have every right to boo. I get that. But much of the over-the-top Rossi bashing crosses the line. It ignores the fact that the same U.S. fans celebrate the decision of, say, José Torres to play for the U.S. over Mexico. It ignores the fact that a current U.S. player like Jozy Altidore is a close friend of Rossi (his former teammate at Villarreal) and has been extremely supportive of his recovery. And it ignores the basic elements of classy fan behavior.
You may argue that fans are inherently irrational, but the worst of the Rossi behavior has no place in that discussion. "I think some people respect my decision," Rossi told me in 2009. "Of course there are people who don't, but that's not a problem. That's how life is. When a person makes a certain decision there's the positive and the negative side."
"People have to understand that it was a natural thing for Giuseppe to say he wanted to play for Italy," Rossi's father, Fernando, said three years ago. "Why? Because he grew up soccer-wise when he moved there at 12 years old. He went to school with the kids and went through every level in the [Italian] national team. So it's natural to say I want to play in Italy, with no disrespect for where he was born."
"For me, New Jersey is the best place in the world," Giuseppe said. "You have your friends, your family, your house. It's home for me."
The last two years have been tough for Giuseppe Rossi. He missed out on the World Cup. He has dealt with career-threatening injuries. And toughest of all, when Fernando died in February 2010 at age 60, Rossi lost the man who had been the most influential figure in his life and career.
There's a big TK on Giuseppe Rossi's future right now. But if you've spent any time around him, you hope he makes it all the way back in 2013. I'll be looking forward to writing an all-new story about his comeback in SI magazine when that happens.