From utter despair to potential stardom in just a few months, Nicolo Fagioli is the leftfield Euro 2024 pick now looking to emulate one of Italy’s greatest players.

The midfielder has recently completed a seven-month suspension for breaching betting rules and with so little action under his belt, his chances of making the tournament seemed remote.

Yet there is a precedent here. In 1982, then-Italy coach Enzo Bearzot called up Juventus striker Paolo Rossi for the World Cup even though he had only just finished a two-year ban for his involvement in a match-fixing scandal. Italy won the tournament and Rossi – who always maintained his innocence – scored six goals.

Though Fagioli is not at Rossi’s level, he has a committed admirer in Italy coach Luciano Spalletti, who never forgot a player long regarded one of his country’s best prospects.

Key figures on Spalletti’s staff were always puzzled that Fagioli was used more as a No6 than a No8 by Juventus – Spalletti believes he can operate in both roles which is why he is so valuable, especially with Inter Milan star Nicolo Barella struggling with a hamstring injury that threatens to rule him out of the opening match against Albania on Saturday.

Nicolo Fagioli is the leftfield Euro 2024 pick looking to emulate one of Italy’s greatest players

Italy manager Lucas Spalletti picked the midfielder despite him hardly playing this campaign

Italy manager Lucas Spalletti picked the midfielder despite him hardly playing this campaign

Spalletti has certainly gone out on a limb for Fagioli. Last October he was given a 12-month ban, with five of those suspended, for allegedly placing bets on illegal websites. He was also fined about £11,000. Newcastle midfielder Sandro Tonali was also banned last October and will not return to competitive action until August. Fagioli’s re-emergence should give the 24-year-old hope he can do the same.

‘I felt I was reborn the day I was suspended, much more than when I was called up again for Italy,’ Fagioli said recently. ‘I understood my mistakes and I started to lead a normal life again, dedicating myself to my job.

‘In these seven months all I wanted to do was return before the end of the season. When people talked to me about Euro 2024, I didn’t believe in it. Now I’m feeling very good mentally and I’m trying to enjoy every moment.’

This prospect seemed impossible for Fagioli when he was in tears on the bench after he was substituted during Juventus’ match at Sassuolo in April 2023.

Fagioli had made a mistake shortly before being hauled off and observers assumed this was the reason for his despair. The reality was much more worrying.

Paolo Rossi enjoyed a superb 1982 World Cup after returning from a two-year match-fixing ban

Paolo Rossi enjoyed a superb 1982 World Cup after returning from a two-year match-fixing ban

‘When I burst into tears, it wasn’t only because I had put my team in a difficult position,’ Fagioli told La Gazzetta dello Sport last month. ‘At that moment it was like a black cloud had come over me. Everything seemed negative and dark.

‘The problem is that I was no longer in control of myself. Gambling had devoured my life, it had become a nagging pain – a nightmare. I know I’m a lucky lad, that many of my peers are in a more dramatic state than me. I don’t have the right to sympathy.

‘But I don’t want to be a hypocrite either. I was swallowed by an emptiness that doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t make exceptions for social class or spare you because you’re talented. I felt I was suffocating but I couldn’t find the way out.’

Spalletti’s lieutenants kept in touch with Fagioli throughout his ban and the night before the Coppa Italia Final last month, Spalletti collared Fagioli in the Juventus team hotel as he was heading for the lift. Though he offered no guarantees, Spalletti left Fagioli with the clear impression that he was thinking about him.

Though Italy’s pre-tournament friendlies have been unspectacular – a goalless draw with Turkey followed by a 1-0 win over Bosnia – Fagioli has used the time well. His calm displays in the centre make him a contender for a starting place at the weekend, either alongside Jorginho or, if Barella recovers, instead of him.

Fagioli was suspended for seven months after allegedly placing bets on illegal websites

Fagioli was suspended for seven months after allegedly placing bets on illegal websites

It is unclear how the Fagioli story will end. However much Spalletti likes him, the pair see each other only a handful of times per year. What will Juventus’ new coach, Thiago Motta, make of him? Coaches and team-mates believe that if Fagioli fulfils his potential he could become one of the finest midfielders of his generation. 

‘Yet after such a difficult period in his life, it will not be easy simply to flick a switch and become a regular for his club. Euro 2024 is not the end of Fagioli’s redemption arc –but it is a pretty good place to start.

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