Monday Apr 24, 2017  
     
 
  08/01/2015: Player Profile: Santiago Gentiletti
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On 21st August 2014, a little-known Argentine fellow with Italian and Croatian ancestry landed in Rome, signed a three-year deal with an option for a fourth, and S.S. Lazio fans were left unimpressed. Santiago who? Gentiletti?

Lazio had spent the entire summer on the lookout for a left centre-back and a man who shared the last four letters of his surname with the much maligned Diego Novaretti just wouldn't be up to the task. That was the overriding sentiment on social media which is, admittedly, not the best place to look for the gospel.

To make matters even more disappointing, Stefan De Vrij had already been mobbed in Rome a few weeks previous. The 22 year-old was arriving off the back of a successful World Cup campaign with the Netherlands where a British car lube company had done some maths on a calculator and in accordance with FIFA, proclaimed him to be the best defender in the tournament. You can't expect much better than that when you are a team in decline from a league in decline. Can you?

Yet a number of encouraging signings had brought about a new wave of optimism and hope that the next centre-back would be a real leader, a man who could boast success and vast amounts of experience.

Santiago Gentiletti had that profile, the problem was, few had any idea who on earth he was. Buenos Aires-based club San Lorenzo had just followed up the 2013 Inicial success with the 2014 Copa Libertadores, and Gentiletti had a starring role in both campaigns, but they weren't Boca Juniors or River Plate, so he had gone unnoticed.

And there were other signs to suggest Gentiletti could fall into the category of players who are signed on the cheap and end up with access to Formello from 9pm onwards only. Emiliano Alfaro had cracked San Lorenzo's first team not many years prior, and Palermo reject Mauro Cetto was considered good enough to be a part of South America's top team.

Then there was Gentiletti's spell in Ligue 1 with Stade Brestois, or Brest as they are otherwise known so 15 year-old boys spit out their cornflakes in fits of giggles and fall in love with the beautiful game. It was Santiago's first European adventure and it was short-lived as he couldn't secure a spot in the struggling outfit's starting eleven and the unfancied French club saw no reason to make his loan deal permanent.

Scratch beneath the surface though and you'll find things are not always what they seem. Stade Brestois may have only just secured their status as a Ligue 1 side, but they had the best defensive record in the division. Gentiletti was being kept out of the side by in-from club-owned defenders.

Another reason as to why Gentiletti failed to succeed in France may have been his style of play. Described by the BBC's Tim Vickery as 'ponderous' when linked to Bolton Wanderers in January 2011, one could suggest that a defender who is comfortable with the ball at his feet and happy to build from the back is not necessarily the man you need when things become desperate in a relegation battle.

Those 12 months at Stade Brestois, however, made Gentiletti a better all-round defender and ensured he would not be remembered as a mere South American journeyman having turned out for Gimnasia La Plata and Argentinos Juniors in his home country, and Provincial Osorno and O'Higgins of Chile by the age of 25.

Ultimately, the Argentine opted to return home but if media reports are to be believed, there was some interest from Bologna and a man called Stefano Pioli. It was not to be, but Gentiletti remained firmly on Pioli's radar.

Gentiletti needed only two years to make himself a club legend at San Lorenzo, who can call Rome's most famous resident in Pope Francis the club's biggest fan. Widely regarded as one of the best players at the club if not top dog, San Lorenzo fans were sad to see Santiago depart.

It took Gentiletti only one game to establish himself at Lazio. Coming off the back of a disappointing 3-1 opening day defeat to AC Milan in the San Siro, Lazio needed three points and a clean sheet and newly-appointed manager Stefano Pioli turned to Gentiletti. Lazio routed Cesena 3-0 but Gentiletti grabbed the headlines. He oozed confidence as he commanded the backline, dealt with danger with minimum fuss and exuded positivity. He played like he had been here for years, and 90 minutes had already gone some way to convincing fans that he was the real deal.

Sadly, Gentiletti failed to see out another 90 minutes before succumbing to an anterior cruciate ligament injury. Lazio quickly booked him to go under the knife with Dr Stefano Lovati, son of Lazio legend Bob, and the man who appeared to be the natural heir to Giuseppe Biava's throne was now ruled out for a minimum of six months.

ACL injuries have the potential to end careers. Players typically need three-and-a-half months to fully heal after surgery and as I write this on the 115th birthday of S.S. Lazio - and Gentiletti's 30th - the centre-back will be just beyond the recovery period and working hard on strengthening the knee so that his leg can put Totti on his arse come the next derby in May.

Fans are apprehensive. We only got a taste of Gentiletti, but it was sweetness on our tongues. Like a good tiramisu at the end of your meal that has you wanting to come back for more. We hope beyond hope that he returns to be the overwhelming success he suggested he could be.

In 1992, Lazio signed Paul Gascoigne after he spent 16 months recovering from the very same injury. We remember him today such was the impact he had on our club. Realistically, a now 30 year-old Gentiletti probably only has half the time Gazza had to make his mark, but if Santiago could be half the success Gazza was, he can go down in history. That should be his inspiration, and that should inspire us to keep the faith.

Author: Cathal Mullan
 
 
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