As Salvatore Sirigu begins a new chapter of his career at Genoa, Oli Coates reflects on some of the Euro 2020 winners’ best moments so far.
Soothe. That is the dictionary definition of the verb ‘salve’. As a noun, it’s “an ointment used to promote healing or protection.” And the literal translation of Salvatore is ‘saviour’. So, how fitting is Italian goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu’s first name? Hugely, you’d have to say, given the 34-year-old’s actions in the moments before last month’s UEFA Euro 2020 final.
Giorgio Chiellini and Alessandro Florenzi revealed that Sirigu played a significant role in the Azzurri’s remarkable triumph, despite only contributing a minute or so on the pitch.
“He showed us a video of our relatives before the game and made us cry,” Chiellini shared.
Even though Italy made a slow start in the Final and went behind in the opening couple of minutes, they certainly played with clear eyes and full hearts against England at Wembley Stadium. And those hearts were swollen further by another touching gesture from Sirigu, who doubled down on his inspirational offerings before the final.
“Sirigu has been one of the key players in the dressing room,” Florenzi said. “Before the game, he gave each one of us a note written by him, with his thoughts about us. Every note was different.”
A special intervention indeed, it was the latest influential moment in a superb career for the Sardinian stopper. Sirigu spent four years as Paris Saint-Germain’s No 1 goalkeeper, winning Ligue 1 four years on the bounce between 2013 and 2016. The last two of those titles were part of domestic trebles, while the Italy international was twice named as the best goalkeeper in the French top flight.
Sirigu began his career at Palermo, spending a couple of seasons on loan at Cremonese and Ancona before making his debut for the Rosanero in 2009. He proved a revelation as the Eagles finished the campaign in a lofty fifth place, keeping 10 clean sheets as a certain Edinson Cavani shone at the other end of the pitch.
There would be a reunion with Uruguayan striker Cavani in Paris, with Sirigu heading to the Parc des Princes in July 2011 for a bargain fee of under €4m. In his second season at PSG, the Nuoro native broke Bernard Lama’s club record for clean sheets in Ligue 1, in going 697 minutes without conceding a goal.
Notably, Sirigu became the first foreigner to be named as France’s Union Nationale des Footballeurs Professionels’ goalkeeper of the season in 2012-13, picking up his first league title in the process. He saved a penalty to help Les Rouge et Bleu win the 2014 Trophee des Champions, sparking a run of four successive victories in the French super cup.
Perhaps harshly, Kevin Trapp’s arrival in Paris signalled the end of Sirigu’s time in Ligue 1. He spent a year as PSG’s second-choice ‘keeper before heading to Sevilla and Osasuna on loan the following season. Torino needed a replacement for Joe Hart in the summer of 2017 and duly snapped up the experienced Sirigu on a free transfer.
The move to the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino proved fruitful on the whole for both player and club, with Sirigu setting another record in March 2019 in breaking Luciano Castellini’s long-standing clean sheet record by going 517 minutes without his goal being breached.
Torino finished ninth and then seventh in Sirigu’s first two seasons between the sticks, as he made 73 appearances out of a possible 76. There would be another 36 as the Granata slipped to 16th in 2019-20, before a further drop to 17th last season.
Things went awry for Sirigu during the campaign just gone. After clashing with the Torino hierarchy, he was dropped for several weeks, but Davide Nicola brought him back in from the cold as his first choice.
Last month, Il Toro President Urbano Cairo commented: “He hasn’t looked very happy to be here over the last season. Maybe he had different ambitions, so it could well be only right to make him happy and allow him to do what he considers to be best.”
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Sirigu’s time in Turin ended soon after. His contract had a year to run but was terminated by mutual consent. The veteran ‘keeper was a free agent once more, but this time as a European champion with Italy.
Previously touted as the heir-apparent to Gianluigi Buffon, Sirigu has been incredibly unfortunate when it comes to the national team. Not only did Buffon continue playing for the Azzurri until 2018, but another generational talent also came through in the form of Gianluigi Donnarumma. If it hadn’t been for those two, Sirigu would’ve amassed far more than the 27 caps he currently has to his name.
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Even so, playing that many times for your country is no mean feat. The most recent of those caps may have been a somewhat sentimental tribute with his late substitute appearance against Wales in the final group game of EURO 2020. Yet even that is testament to the high regard held by Italy coach Roberto Mancini and his Azzurri teammates.
It seems certain that Sirigu will make a similar impression on his new teammates at Genoa. The Rossoblu need to fill their No. 1 spot following Mattia Perin’s return to parent club Juventus, with Davide Ballardini’s side looking to build on last season’s 10th-placed finish. Given his experience and influence within the dressing room, Sirigu could yet prove to be a bargain yet again both on and off the pitch for Il Grifone.