The Italy striker arrived with such baggage it was always going to be difficult for Mauricio Pochettino to keep him out of trouble
There will always be people who are confident enough to think they will be the one to tame the bad boy. Mauricio Pochettino thought he was The One. He was convinced that he could keep Dani Osvaldo under control at Southampton. After all, Pochettino knew what made the volatile striker tick, having worked with Osvaldo at Espanyol. How misguided that conviction has turned out to be, though. The bad boys might behave for a while but the threat of them erupting is always bubbling away under the surface.
It took a robust tackle from José Fonte in training last week to flick Osvaldo's switch. Osvaldo took exception to the challenge. Southampton responded by suspending Osvaldo and the club are ready to offload him this month, with Fiorentina, Internazionale and Juventus showing interest in taking him back to Italy. The departure of a 28-year-old who ought to know better by now would not be mourned at St Mary's.
"We have always had a good team spirit and a good changing room, that can't change and if anyone doesn't want to be involved in that, then they are not welcome," Kelvin Davis, Southampton's club captain, said after Saturday's 2-0 FA Cup victory over Yeovil Town. In a squad largely comprised of players who have either risen through the divisions together or emerged from the youth academy, troublemakers who might cause disharmony are not appreciated.
The excitement that greeted Osvaldo's arrival at Southampton for a record £14.6m from Roma last August now feels perverse, although it was easy to understand at the time. Osvaldo, an Italy international, had scored freely for Espanyol and Roma and his capture was another sign that Southampton, who were languishing in League One three years ago, were going places. They still are, but Osvaldo is unlikely to be invited along for the ride.
For all the fanfare, though, it was impossible not to have misgivings over the wisdom of signing Osvaldo. Not only did it seem to undermine the popular Rickie Lambert, there was also the thorny issue of Osvaldo's disciplinary record. It was hardly a surprise to hear of the incident with Fonte when one remembers him punching Erik Lamela during a match in 2011 when the pair were team-mates at Roma. Lamela's mistake? Not passing enough to Osvaldo, who was suspended for 10 days by Roma.
"The thing with Lamela was just the passion of the moment," he said. "I can be really annoying when it comes to this, as I always want the ball and admit I am as egotistical as most strikers. This incident, though, really was nothing. If I had Lamela's left foot then I wouldn't have passed the ball either. It was nothing personal, as it could've happened with Francesco Totti too."
There have also been clashes with referees, opponents and managers. Last season Osvaldo rowed with Roma's caretaker manager, Aurelio Andreazzoli, after being used only as a late substitute in the defeat by Lazio in the Coppa Italia final, causing Italy's coach, Cesare Prandelli, to exclude him from his squad for last summer's Confederations Cup.
All of which raises questions why Southampton thought that they would be able to change Osvaldo. They cannot say they were not warned, not when presented with Osvaldo's bulging case file, but they were not put off. Sometimes clubs cannot help themselves. They see that a player is available, relish the talent and hope that everything else will just sort itself out. No matter how good the intentions are some players cannot hide their nature for ever. Some players need that fire in the belly but Southampton have been burnt by Osvaldo's.
Southampton's argument is that they could not turn down a player of his calibre. For Pochettino, it was a necessary gamble that failed to come off and he has been too impressive as manager for this fiasco to diminish his reputation. Southampton will learn from this episode and perhaps they will be more streetwise for it, even if it is one that they could have done without after the uncertainty that followed the resignation of their executive chairman, Nicola Cortese.
Perhaps it would have been easier for Southampton to stomach if Osvaldo had lived up to expectations. Yet the tone was set when he should have been sent off on his debut against Sunderland in August, before his involvement in a touchline brawl at Newcastle in December led to a three-match ban and £40,000 fine from the Football Association.
Osvaldo is talented. There have been fleeting moments of class, not least the stunning curler against Manchester City in December and his first goal for the club was a fine strike from the edge of the area against Crystal Palace. Niggling injuries have prevented him from adapting to the pace of English football or developing an understanding with Lambert – of course, Osvaldo is not the first foreigner to take time to settle – and he has scored three goals in 13 league matches. He has not played since 14 December.
"I have no worries about his temperament," Pochettino said when asked about Osvaldo last August. "His temperament is what sets him apart, what makes him such a quality player, so I have no worries." Those words have come back to haunt him.