Leandro Castan - From life-threatening injury to Torino's rock

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Would you put your life at risk in order to save your football career? Torino’s on-loan centre-back Leandro Castan faced that desperate dilemma two years ago.

Disaster struck out of the blue, just when everything seemed to be going in the right direction. The Brazilian defender enjoyed a brilliant personal season at Roma in 2013-14 and signed an improved contract until 2018 after rejecting a lucrative move to Chelsea. He was considered one of the top players in Serie A in his position and looked forward to fighting it out for the Scudetto.

Castan’s life changed, however, when he felt dizziness during his very first game of the season at Empoli.

He was replaced at half-time and medical checks revealed that he had developed cavernoma – an abnormal swelling of blood vessels in the brain. It could have been worse, of course, and the Brazilian wasn’t dealing with cancer but rather a benign tumor, but the situation was devastating nevertheless. While the condition was not life threatening, Castan was told that he wouldn’t be able to continue playing unless he underwent surgery to remove the tumor from his brain – an operation that was risky.

As the doctor openly explained, the chances of full recovery stood at 80 percent. That might seem high, but not when your very life is at stake. There was a 10 percent he would be paralysed and one of every 100 patients doesn’t survive the surgery.

At first, Castan decided against the operation. He went to Roma Sporting Director Walter Sabatini and asked to cancel the newly signed contract because he was retiring from football at the age of 27. Sabatini tried to persuade the star to change his mind and asked him to give it another thought. It was important advice.

As Castan explained in an interview to Diario de Sao Paulo, he decided to gamble while watching football on TV.

“I was sitting on the couch, and suddenly it struck me,” Castan said. “I have always lived for football, and I could play another six or seven years. I couldn’t give up like that. I immediately called the doctor and scheduled the surgery for the next week. I didn’t want to wait any longer, because I could change my mind yet again.”

Factfile

  • Name: Leandro Castán da Silva
  • DOB: 5 November 1986 (age 29)
  • Height: 1.85 m (6"1')
  • Position: Central Defender

It was natural that he didn’t want to give up. After all, he fought very hard to have a successful career. He was never considered a top prospect and his agent seemed lucky to arrange a move to Helsingborg in 2007. It didn’t work out, and Castan returned to his homeland, joining second division Barueri. It was then that things finally started rolling. The team was promoted and the defender enjoyed an impressive season; by 2010 he had joined his beloved Corinthians, a dream come true.

It took him another year to prove himself at the highest level, but by 2012 he was already one of the best defenders in Brazil. When Roma paid Dhs21 million (€5m) for his services, the legendary Cafu predicted that Castan would be a big success in Italy. “Leandro is a great player”, the former Roma star said – and he was right.

The first season in Serie A was difficult. Under Zdenek Zeman, players worked harder than ever in training, and defenders had a lot of work on their hands in an ultra-attacking lineup. Castan learned a lot, though, and by 2013 he was ready to make another step forward with Rudi Garcia on the bench. His partnership with Medhi Benatia in central defence was phenomenal, and Roma kept 20 clean sheets in the 36 games when Castan was on the pitch.

Little wonder that Jose Mourinho wanted to bring him to Stamford Bridge to replace David Luiz, but Roma didn’t want to sell. Benatia was on his way to Bayern Munich, and Garcia planned to build his defence around Castan. The player himself was excited to stay – he loved living in Italy and dreamed of adding some caps to his two appearances for the national team in 2012. In fact, some pundits thought that Luiz Felipe Scolari should have called him for the World Cup. The future looked bright, but fate decided differently.

After the surgery, Castan spent two months in the hospital. “I had to learn walking again,” he said, his arms and legs not feeling the same for a few weeks. Doctors told him not to worry, though, as the operation was a success, and the road to recovery was straightforward. By the summer of 2015 he was ready to return to football.

The problem was that Roma went in a different direction during the year the Brazilian was absent, and winning back his place in the starting line-up proved an extremely difficult task. Garcia preferred newly signed Kostas Manolas and Antonio Rudiger, while Daniele De Rossi also played in defence from time to time. Castan was limited to just four starts in Serie A, and didn’t play at all in the Champions League. Nothing changed for him when Garcia was replaced by Luciano Spalletti; he understood that a loan move was necessary to get the career back on track.

The script was rather complicated, as Castan was loaned to Sampdoria in July, only to switch to Torino in August without kicking a ball. Sinisa Mihajlovic wanted him, and the Serbian certainly knows about playing in central defence. “I immediately felt loved. There is a great desire to be reborn in a footballing sense,” Castan said in September – and that is exactly what he is doing.

“It is normal that it would take time to get to my previous level because I didn’t play for two years”, Castan remarked, but he is actually improving very fast. Torino’s defence looks stable with him, and the biggest test came against former club Roma a week ago. For Castan it wasn’t a case of revenge – on the contrary, he is grateful to Giallorossi for the way they treated him while he was ill. And yet, he openly talked about the difficult time last season and had a point to prove.

He did so with some aplomb. Torino won 3-1, and Castan didn’t put a foot wrong throughout the 90 minutes. Everyone was happy for him, and even Roma fans wish him well as the 29-year-old is becoming a top star yet again. After everything he has been through, Leandro most certainly deserves it.

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Gallery: Top 10 Totti Serie A strikes

Omar Karmani 15:38 26/09/2016
A look back at Totti’s top 10 Roma goals.

Francesco Totti, already a living legend at Roma, reached the staggering milestone after converting from the penalty spot during his side’s surprise defeat to Torino.

This consolation goal scored meant the 39-year-old has now bagged a total of 250 goals in Serie A since his debut against Brescia back in 1993.

In the spirit of celebration, Sport360 highlights Totti’s top 10 career-defining strikes for the Rome giants.

Do you agree with our selections?

Share with us your thoughts by commenting below, using #360fans on Twitter or getting in touch via Facebook.

10. ROMA 5 – 1 CESENA (2011/12)

The list kicks off with Totti’s goal against Cesena as the Italian carefully controls the ball, backheeled by Lamela, and blasts it past the goalkeeper before taking a deflection from the defender.

9. ROMA 2 – 2 LAZIO (2014/15)

Scoring in a derby has almost become a yearly chore for Totti, who salvaged a hard-earned draw against the Biancocelesti with his acrobatic stretch. However, fans will remember the Roman animatedly gesticulating towards the coaching staff for a mobile phone. What later ensued was Totti highlighting his trend savvy side, seasons after a similar jubilation with the sideline cameras.

8. ROMA 3 – 1 PARMA (2000/01)

In their 89-year history, the red side of the capital has only held the trophy aloft once. Their third and most recent time being in 2001, when goals from Vincenzo Montella, Gabriel Batistuta and of course, Totti, saw Roma eclipse rivals Juventus in a stress-inducing final matchday.

7. ROMA 2 – 1 UDINESE (2000/01)

Following their five-match unbeaten run, the home side hosted Udinese. Argentine great Batistuta first handed Roma the lead in the 30th minute before Cafu sent in a cross with the talisman’s name on it as he lurked unmarked ready to register his name on the scoresheet.

6. ROMA 1 – 0 JUVENTUS (2012-13)

The resurgence of Juventus’ unrivalled domination in Italy began in the 2011/12 season. The team hailing from Turin ended the season triumphant while Roma sat 25 points behind in sixth position. Despite this, Roma were one of five sides able to defeat Juventus that term, with a thunderbolt Totti shot doing the damage.

5. BOLOGNA 0 – 4 ROMA (2003/04)

During this season Roma hadn’t lost a single fixture before Andriy Shevchenko’s double helped would-be champions AC Milan earn a hard-fought victory at the Stadio Olimpico. Roma, runner-ups that year, dismantled Bologna – courtesy of some help from this Totti jewel.

4. ROMA 3 – 3 INTER (2004/05)

The fixture between the Nerazzurri has yield one of the most goal-laden games Serie A aficionados had the pleasure of witnessing. While Inter seemingly looked unstoppable with an in-form Adriano on their side, Totti resolved the precarious matter with a long-ranged precise effort from a free-kick before Daniele De Rossi restored parity.

3. LAZIO 1 – 5 ROMA (2001/02)

Perhaps the proudest goal in the 39-year-old’s career came during the 5-1 trouncing of Lazio. With the result evidently ending with the Giallorossi as the victors, Totti attempted an impudent chip to add salt to the wounds before revealing a touching message inscribed on his vest for his missus – roughly translated: ‘You’re my one and only’.

2. SAMPDORIA 1 – 4 ROMA (2006/07)

Enter a nearby coffee shop in boisterous Rome and pose the simple question: “What’s the best goal Totti has ever scored?” Don’t be surprised if the locals retell the moment where Marco Cassetti picks up a tame ball before launching an equally gentle lob destined for Totti who is no position to have a crack at goal alla Van Basten. But the result remained the same!

1. INTER 2 – 3 ROMA (2005/06)

While the other netted efforts certainly deserve praise, the number spot one is reserved for the time when Roma’s captain had the entire iconic San Siro crowd leap to their feet for applause. Receiving the ball after misplays from Inter’s midfield, Totti controls, evades two men and sends Marco Materazzi sliding into disarray with his sublime chip that Julio Cesar’s fingertips failed to graze.

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How Gattuso became the rock Pisa leans on

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Cancelling routine pre-season friendlies without informing your opponents beforehand is extremely unusual. When Celta Vigo took the field in Pisa in early August, they were astonished to discover that their host’s had failed to appear, and were eventually forced to have a training session instead. But Pisa’s players could hardly be blamed. They were simply unable to leave the team hotel, as entrances were blocked by hundreds of protesting fans.

The ultras demanded the club bring back beloved coach Gennaro Gattuso, who resigned claiming the management made his work impossible. The whole city sided with the man who became a cult hero after leading the club to unlikely promotion to Serie B last term. They were determined to bring him back, and more than 20,000 users joined a special Facebook group opened to instigate Gattuso’s return. Their efforts were not in vain and by the beginning of September, the 38-year-old was officially back at the helm of the club.

It is easy to understand why the Pisa faithful fell in love with Gattuso. One of the most colourful players of his generation, Rino was one of AC Milan’s ultimate symbols throughout his 13 years at the club as a combative defensive midfielder. His passion was incomparable, and he was a key figure in formulating huge achievements for both club and country; including World Cup glory in 2006. And yet, Gattuso’s crazy temperament was apparently unsuitable to management, an arena often requiring totally different characteristics.

Gattuso thought differently, and his choices in the burgeoning stages of his career were just as crazy as his tackles on the field used to be. It seemed as if he took on roles at the most poorly managed clubs by intention, his chances of building long-term projects nonexistent.

Gattuso the manager...

  • Sion - February 2012 to May 2013
  • Palermo - June 2013 to September 2013
  • Crete - June 2014 to December 2014
  • Pisa - August 2015 to Present

It all started at Sion. Gattuso went to Switzerland in order to prolong his playing career upon leaving the San Siro in 2012 and was suitably offered a job as a player-manager in February 2013. Incredibly, he became the team’s fifth coach that season, which is business as usual for the eccentric Sion owner Christian Constantin. It is hardly surprising the Italian was sacked by May.

Think of a president with an even greater penchant for hiring and firing coaches and Palermo’s Maurizio Zamparini should instantly spring to mind. Of course, Gattuso travelled to Sicily immediately after leaving Sion. Palermo were relegated that summer, and the former star hoped to take them back to Serie A. He wasn’t afforded such an opportunity and was duly sacked by September.

That wasn’t enough for Gattuso, who found an even more bizarre adventure in Greece. Arriving to debt-stricken OFI Crete in the summer of 2014 was a move greeted by local journalists immediately speculating when the Italian would leave a club that failed to its pay salaries. Rino is best remembered in Crete for a very emotional press conference, when he shouted at the press in broken English, slammed his fist on the table and adamantly gestured his desire to keep the project going. “I didn’t come here for holiday. One year at OFI is like ten years at another club”, he said. Eventually, he had to give the unpaid players money from his own pocket and left in January, while the team went bankrupt and didn’t finish the season.

By then, Gattuso’s new career was becoming a sort of a joke, and few took his appointment at third division Pisa in the summer of 2015 seriously. In fact, the Tuscan club looked a “logical” next step for Rino after Sion, Palermo and OFI, because it is much less stable than the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. Pisa used to be a respectable Serie A team in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and stars like Dunga and Diego Simeone started their European journeys there. But the last two decades were disastrous. The club went bankrupt twice, was dissolved and refounded in 2009, and has been on the brink ever since.

Pisa changed 13 coaches in six years before Gattuso took over. He looked destined for another disaster, but the reality was totally different. A great motivator, he managed to unite the players. His antics on the touchline were remarkable, he often got in trouble with referees, and on one occasion even hit his own assistant, but that was all part of the show that the fans loved. Pisa won most of their home matches, drew 10 out of 17 away fixtures, and sensationally finished second in their group, qualifying for the playoffs. There, Gattuso masterminded some brilliant performances, and the club was unexpectedly promoted, even though its financial situation continued to be critical.

Gattuso the player...

  • Serie A: 2003–04, 2010–11
  • Coppa Italia: 2002–03
  • UEFA Champions League: 2002–03, 2006–07
  • FIFA World Cup: 2006

The summer has been absolutely chaotic and by the end of July, Gattuso decided that he couldn’t work in such conditions. “Difficulties are part of the job, and I have shown during last season that I am not afraid of obstacles. However, red lines have been crossed, and new problems are arising on daily basis. It is impossible to prepare the team for the league”, he claimed upon resigning.

But the fans simply refused to accept that decision and, as a result, August has been a very emotional month in Pisa. The whole town seemed to be united behind their idol and demanded a resolution that would see his return.

“You can’t even imagine how proud I am thanks to you. The uncertainly is difficult, but your love helps me to deal with the situation”, Gattuso wrote in late August, hinting that the outcome would be positive just days before he was reappointed.

The reaction was truly astonishing. More than 5,000 fans attended Gattuso’s first training session, more than some Serie B sides attract for matches. Pisa is totally in love with Gattuso. They believe anything is possible with him in the city, even though the team are clear favourites to go straight back down.

“I am not a hero. The players are the heroes because they made great sacrifices last season. I am sorry to have been away for a month, but now the enthusiasm is back, and we will give everything we can. Our season starts with the game against Novara”, he said upon returning.

Serie B started before Gattuso returned, but Pisa’s first fixture at Ternana was postponed because of the disastrous earthquake. Thus, hosting Novara became the opening fixture for them, and they won 1-0 in a very spirited performance. Gattuso – still under suspension from last season – sat in the stands and celebrated wildly after the final whistle. The visit to Ternana on Thursday was ruined when Pisa conceded a penalty and remained with ten men after just five minutes, but they still gave a phenomenal fight, and only lost 1-0 while coming close to scoring.

What happens next is anyone’s guess, and Pisa might be bankrupt again before the season is over. And yet, whatever the outcome, Gattuso has proved that he is a capable coach, backed by the unconditional love and respect of his players and fans. If he gets an opportunity at a stable club in the future, the sky could be the limit for him.

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