Juventus central defender Andrea Barzagli feared his career could be over during an agonising six-month injury lay-off last season, but he has returned stronger than ever.
Barzagli underwent surgery on his right foot in July 2014, which was scheduled to put him out of action for approximately two months.
However, when he attempted to embark upon a comeback in September of that year, it became painfully clear that something was very wrong.
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Scans revealed a stress fracture in his right heel, thus forcing the veteran stopper to reluctantly retreat into the treatment room once again.
The discomfort he endured concerned Barzagli to such a degree that he began to worry over his very future within the sport.
Remarkably, he resumed first-team duty in good time to feature in the 2015 Champions League final, and subsequently helped Juventus back into the Serie A title race following a tough start this term.
DEFYING THE ODDS
Barzagli looked to be heading for obscurity when sitting on the sidelines for more than half of the 2014/15 campaign.
He was in constant pain and found it increasingly difficult to see any light at the end of a tunnel which seemed destined to send him into early retirement.
Mercifully, he returned to the bench in January 2015, before making his first appearance of last season as a substitute against Sassuolo on March 9.
The Italian international slipped seamlessly into the Bianconeri back-line as if he’d never been away, well and truly dispelling any lingering doubts over his ability to perform at the highest level in the process.
Steady, composed and positionally aware, Barzagli became an integral part of Juventus’ enthralling run to the Champions League final in Berlin, having participated from the second leg of the last-16 stage onwards.
A renowned triumvirate alongside Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini – known collectively as ‘BBC’ – formed the cornerstone of an eventual double-winning year domestically.
That decidedly cool, calm and collected approach has since facilitated Barzagli’s continued consistency within 2015-16, contributing largely to a recent Juventus resurgence.
BACK IN BUSINESS
A former German Bundesliga champion with Wolfsburg, the 34-year-old has enjoyed a wonderful career both at home and abroad.
But, after almost five glorious years representing the Old Lady, there was growing anxiety regarding Juve’s chances of retaining their long-held Scudetto when they languished in 12th position in late October.
Fortunately for Barzagli and company, they’ve turned their season around dramatically courtesy of a seven-match winning streak in Serie A, whilst advancing to the Champions League knockout rounds without too much trouble.
Barzagli oozed class during 14 league appearances thus far, plus six European outings, whilst cultivating an 87 per cent passing accuracy that places him within the top ten for Serie A defenders on that count.
He also executed 31 interceptions, 44 clearances and six blocks throughout an impressive campaign individually for the ex-Palermo centre-back.
His presence within Antonio Conte’s Euro 2016 squad – set to be his international swansong – seems assured, while he is in talks with Juventus over a contract extension beyond next summer.
The Florence native is a shining example of exactly what can be achieved due to a high standard of professionalism and steely determination, which are dual attributes that Barzagli was forced to rely upon during several dark days of rehabilitation.
He can now look ahead to yet another Serie A title tilt in pursuit of a fifth consecutive Scudetto, with his club just three points shy of top spot at the short winter break, as well as elongating his playing career in a fashion which he believed to be simply impossible at one stage.