Throughout the years Manchester United have produced some excellent youth players. whether they’ve been brought in from other clubs from a young age or whether they’ve come up through the academy process. As with any club, sometimes talent gets wasted or pushed aside and in this article, I’ll be looking at a player who has an extremely good goal record around the globe but was never given a chance to shine at United, Italian-American striker Giuseppe Rossi.
As mentioned above, Rossi was born in America to Italian parents and started his career playing for the Clifton Mustangs in New Jersey and joined Italian side Parma’s youth set up aged 12. He played for the Italian team for four years before making the move to Old Trafford in 2004, aged just 17. His Manchester United debut came in the game against Crystal Palace in the League Cup in November 2004 after coming on for David Bellion in the 84th minute. He had to wait until October 2005 for his league debut when Manchester United played Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Nine minutes after coming on for Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Rossi cut inside from the right onto his favoured left foot and shot from the edge of the box beating Kelvin Davis to score his first Manchester United goal making it 3-1 on the day.
However with the strikers United had at their disposal he struggled to nail down a place on the bench let alone in the first team and in 2006 Rossi was sent out on loan to Newcastle in order to find some match fitness and learn his game a bit more. He played 13 games in all competitions only scoring once in the league cup against Portsmouth. No real surprise as his loan wasn’t extended at the Magpies but Rossi was to go out on loan again in January to former side Parma in Italy in a more successful spell. Rossi played in 19 league games for Parma scoring 9 goals that proved key as he helped Claudio Ranieri’s Parma avoid relegation in a spell where he surprised even himself after a poor spell at Newcastle:
“Sincerely in January I did not expect so much (success).
“For that reason I am very pleased with my form but the most important (thing) is that we are doing well collectively.”
The big decision was made to sell Rossi in the summer of 2007 where he secured a £6.7m move to Spanish side Villarreal. It was clearly a tough decision for United boss Sir Alex Ferguson who wanted to keep him at the club but did secure a buy-back clause meaning United had the first refusal when Rossi was sold on. Ferguson said:
“He wanted to have a go at first-team football. We’ve got a clause in his contract where he could come back to us at some point.”
Rossi was thrown into the first team and it seemed to suit him well, the naturally gifted finisher netted 13 times in 37 games during his first season at the Spanish side. Rossi continued his fine scoring run the next two seasons scoring 17 and 15 goals respectively and in January 2011 he signed a new deal at the club becoming without a doubt their first choice striker. Villarreal were instantly rewarded as he scored 32 goals in 56 appearances in a season which saw “El Submarino Amarillo” finish fourth in La Liga, reach the semi-final of the Europa League and quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey.
This all came crashing down in October 2011 against Real Madrid when he suffered a serious anterior cruciate ligament injury which would rule him out for six months and start a trend of injuries in his career setting him back significantly. He then re-injured his cruciate ligament in training causing him to lose another 10 months of his career. In January 2013, Rossi moved to Italian side Fiorentina for a fee rumoured to be £8m and the Italian side did something rather unusual at his first press conference as they revealed Rossi signed a deal including a €35 million release clause.
Having scored 14 goals in 18 games for the Italian side, Rossi suffered another huge setback when he was on the receiving end of a horror tackle against Livorno and as a result, was out injured for four months with medial collateral ligament damage. The horrible trend continued as he suffered another injury in training when his right knee gave way again leaving him out injured for a further five months. Upon his return to fitness in January 2016 he moved on loan to Levante to try to find some form and more importantly, fitness. He played 17 games scoring six goals including the winner against Gary Neville’s Valencia but it wasn’t enough to keep Levante in La Liga as they were relegated. He is currently on loan at Celta Vigo from Fiorentina and is keen to get a consistent season under his belt for the first time in four or so seasons.
120 goals in 294 games is a good return across three different leagues but the main worry for Rossi and where United fans may feel they got lucky selling him, is that those 294 games have come over 12 seasons. Averaging only 24 games a season in all competitions isn’t what you want from a striker. If you compare him to United legend Wayne Rooney in the same period has played 530 games which is significantly more scoring 246 goals.
His ability is undoubtable, he is one of the more natural finishers you are ever likely to see leading to comparisons with some of the best in history including Alessandro Del Piero. In 2006, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer praised him as one of the best finishers he’d ever seen:
“Giuseppe is a great talent and an exceptional finisher, one of the best I have ever seen. He has a football brain and he thinks about scoring goals before he gets the ball. His movement is good; he is quick and strong; his work-rate is tremendous, and mentally he is class. He is also humble enough to know he still needs more experience. But there is no doubt he is a very interesting prospect and has a very bright future indeed.”
High praise like this from a United legend doesn’t come often so there clearly was a feeling that Rossi was “One that got away” when he left for Villarreal. Would things have been different if he’d have stayed at United? Could he have been a huge player for United?
I think so! His style of play suits the Premier League with clinical finishing, clever runs in and around the box and his proven goal scoring record shows he has a calm head under pressure. In this period United have had some excellent strikers, Wayne Rooney, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, Carlos Tevez, Dimitar Berbatov, Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez, but I genuinely think if Rossi had stayed at United and avoided big injuries, he could have been near the top of that list. We’ll never know but one thing is for sure, United could have used a finisher like him in the last three seasons!