Despite making no secret of his contempt for his former club Juventus, Fiorentina's Brazilian striker did them a huge favour
Jean-Claude Blanc was in no doubt. "Amauri was our top priority," declared the then Juventus director after signing the striker from Palermo in the summer of 2008. "He will help this great team to write another important page in its history." What Blanc failed to specify was that Amauri would no longer be a Juventus player by the time he did so.
If the Brazilian arrived in Turin at a moment of great optimism – the club having just completed its first season back in the top flight following Calciopoli, finishing third – then hopes that he could take them back to the pinnacle were to prove illusory. His 12 league goals helped Juventus to second the next season, but a year later his personal tally was down to five, and the team to seventh.
By January 2011, Juventus were ready to cut their losses – Amauri boasting a worse goals-per-game ratio over the previous two years than the team's centre-back Giorgio Chiellini. Sent on loan to Parma, he enjoyed a brief revival, scoring seven in 11 matches to help keep the Ducali in Serie A, yet Juventus could still not find a permanent buyer. He returned to the club last summer hoping for a second chance. Instead he was stripped of his old squad number and sent to train with the reserves.
Only in the winter transfer window was he able to escape, and even then not until the final week. Fiorentina, whose attack was looking perilously thin following the departure of Alberto Gilardino to Genoa, stepped in with a €500,000 (£412,000) bid, but even their contract offer to Amauri only extended until the end of the season. The club's sporting director, Pantaleo Corvino, described the deal as a six-month engagement, after which the two parties could decide if they really did want to marry.
Coming into this past weekend, those "save the date" cards had yet to be sent out. Hindered by a hernia, as well as a lack of match fitness after such a long spell without competitive football, Amauri had failed to register a goal in his first 10 appearances for Fiorentina – who had slipped in the meantime from mid-table to the brink of the relegation places. Corvino had been informed that his own position at the club would be terminated at the end of the season.
The mood around the club was mutinous, supporters in open revolt over the perceived mishandling of a club that was playing in the Champions League as recently as two years ago. Amauri – the scapegoat for so long at Juventus – was by no means the chief target of a fanbase whose real beef was with the club's owners, but nor did he help himself. Before a home fixture against his former club last month he vowed to score and do a lap of the entire pitch in celebration. Fiorentina lost 5-0.
"They say that Juventus is a lady. Where do you see that?" Amauri had scoffed during that pre-match tirade, claiming that the manager, Antonio Conte, had broken his promise to the forward that he would have a chance to compete for a first-team place, before stating Milan would win the Scudetto. Three weeks later, though, it would be the forward himself who delivered a potentially crucial blow in ensuring that his own prediction does not come to pass.
Even the most upbeat of Fiorentina supporters would have found few reasons for optimism ahead of their team's trip to the league leaders Milan on Easter Saturday. The Viola, hovering one place above the relegation zone, had won once away from home all season – against struggling Novara in January. More recently they were without a win in five games home or away. Milan might have been coming off a defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League but had never before lost two in a row under Massimiliano Allegri.
And yet, with 88 minutes on the clock on Saturday the score was 1-1, Milan having taken the lead through an extremely soft penalty before Stevan Jovetic equalised just after half-time. That would have been some result in itself, but the real coup de théâtre was just around the corner. After a long punt forward was horribly misjudged by Philippe Mexès, the ball broke to Jovetic on the edge of the box. Amauri – on as a 77th-minute substitute for Adem Ljajic – arrived alongside to receive a lay-off and stroke the ball past Christian Abbiati for the winner.
With Juventus – set to face Palermo later that evening – trailing Milan by only two points at the top of the table, the implications were lost on nobody. "Amauri does Juventus a favour … and … this is very strange," stammered the bewildered commentator on Italy's Sky Sport. The following day's Gazzetta dello Sport summed things up more neatly, observing: "Amauri scored his most important goal for Juventus. He did it in a Fiorentina shirt."
The Bianconeri would indeed beat Palermo, moving top of the table for the first time at the end of a round of fixtures since mid-February. The player himself was unsurprisingly cool on the idea that he had done them a good turn. "My goal was not a favour to Juve but to Fiorentina," he said. "These three points could be fundamental for us; I don't care about anything else."
Certainly this was a key result for the Viola – all the more critical because 18th-placed Lecce stunned Roma 4-2 on the same afternoon. Fiorentina's co-owner Diego Della Valle had made an impromptu appearance at the team's hotel on Friday – calling the squad and staff together for a motivational talk. Earlier in the week his brother Andrea had hosted a group of leading Ultras, promising them that his family still had big plans for the club and asking for their support.
The owners' apparent renewed interest would be a positive development for a club who have been allowed to drift into disrepair since 2010 – with the Della Valles disillusioned by the bureaucracy which they blame for derailing their grand plan to build a new stadium and accompanying football-themed family attraction. An extensive clear-out of overpaid and underperforming players is required before a rebuilding project can begin.
In the immediate term, though, the discovery of any forward beyond Jovetic capable of connecting ball with net will come as a huge boost. The Montenegrin leads the team with 13 goals, but behind him the next highest scorer is the midfielder Alessio Cerci, with four. It doesn't help that the latter is deeply unpopular with supporters – his season remembered less for the goals than late arrivals at training and an incident when his girlfriend posted a message on Facebook goading Fiorentina fans over a Coppa Italia defeat to Roma.
For Amauri this was a first competitive goal in almost a year, his last one having arrived in a 2-0 win for Parma over Udinese last April. He immediately dedicated it to his wife, Cynthia, with whom he celebrated his 10-year anniversary on Sunday, saying: "She has stayed close to me in my dark moments." Whether he liked it or not, though, this weekend the Lady he holds responsible for the worst of those was right there toasting his success as well.
• Had the result at San Siro gone any other way, Monday morning's headlines would surely have been devoted instead to another substitute in the same game – Antonio Cassano making his first competitive appearance since his mini-stroke last October. If the return was in line with doctors' initial prognosis of four to six months out, it still feels remarkable that the player should be back at this level – and by all accounts in better physical shape than he was before his Milan debut last January – so soon. Resolving the problem required heart surgery – as recently as 4 November. Cassano himself has said he feared he was going to die.
Instead now the conversation has turned to whether he can be in the Italy squad for Euro 2012. The national team's manager, Cesare Prandelli, has repeatedly said he will give Cassano every chance to prove his fitness and the player has described such words as "fundamental" in helping him through his recovery. He has also made it clear, however, that he isn't interested in being a charity case. "If I come back and I'm good, OK, but if after three, four, six months or a year I am not back in form then I'll say 'thanks everybody' and go home. I want people to remember the good Cassano, not the one who provokes your compassion."
• Lecce's victory over Roma ought to have looked even more remarkable – given that the hosts had led 4-0 with just two minutes to play. As much as Lecce – and in particular the ever-more impressive Luis Muriel, scorer of two goals (his second was especially breathtaking) – had been excellent, Roma were woeful. So bad, indeed, that Luis Enrique's decision not to make any substitutions was widely interpreted as a punishment to his own team – making them stay out and suffer rather than offer any player the chance of some respite. The front-page headline of Il Romanista newspaper on Sunday simply read: "Get to work" – a sentiment Enrique may well have shared.
• While Roma slipped, their city rivals Lazio took a large stride towards the Champions League places with a 3-1 victory over Napoli. The game was preceded by tributes to Giorgio Chinaglia – the Lazio fans producing a giant banner depicting their late forward in his most iconic pose, pointing towards the Roma fans in the Curva Sud during a derby. Stefano Mauri came up with a perhaps even more fitting tribute, restoring Lazio's advantage at 2-1 with an overhead kick of which Chinaglia would have been more than proud.
• Udinese seemed to be falling out of contention for third place after a run of one win in seven games, yet they remain within three points of Lazio after a 3-1 win over Parma. It can come as no surprise that Antonio Di Natale was among the scorers – his goal 10 minutes into the second half being his 19th of the season – and his 150th career strike in Serie A.
• Andrea Stramaccioni's winning start at Internazionale was ended after a single game, as the Nerazzurri were held to a 2-2 draw by Cagliari. More remarkable than the match itself, however, was the location – with Cagliari's president, Massimo Cellino, opting to move their home game to a ground more than 500 miles away in Trieste following a dispute with local authorities over the construction of a new stadium. Despite seeing his club's fans predictably outnumbered, Cellino may yet have Cagliari play all their remaining home games at the Nereo Rocco stadium to ram home his point.
• As for Juventus, theirs was another impressively mature performance in a season full of them – Conte rotating to good effect once again as Fabio Quagliarella provided the second goal. Palermo were missing key players, but Juve's assuredness on the road remains remarkable – the team having conceded only eight in 16 away games. For comparison, Milan have conceded 17.
Results: Atalanta 1-2 Siena, Cagliari 2-2 Inter, Cesena 0-0 Bologna, Chievo 3-2 Catania, Lazio 3-1 Napoli, Lecce 4-2 Roma, Milan 1-2 Fiorentina, Novara 1-1 Genoa, Palermo 0-2 Juventus, Udinese 3-1 Parma.