Emerson Palmieri did not exactly take the conventional path to the EM semifinals.
That’s not just an indication of the fact that he has only played two Premier League games this season – both as replacements – for Chelsea. 89 minutes in total.
Or the fact that he will play for Italy against Spain at Wembley on Tuesday just because of a serious injury to left-back Leonardo Spinazzola, one of the best players at Euro 2020, shortly before the end of the quarter-final win against Belgium.
No, Emerson’s unlikely journey to the greatest game of his life can be traced back to the beginning of the century, when he played beach soccer with his brother as a child in the Brazilian port city of Santos.
The life-changing move to Italy – and the subsequent change of citizenship – was years away. At the time, Emerson was just having fun, living near the beach, and going surfing and skateboarding when he wasn’t thriving as a soccer player.
After playing 5v5 with two small teams in the region, he moved to Santos – famous as the club of Brazilian grandmaster Pele – to play first as a striker, then as a central midfielder and then randomly. as a left-back.
“It was meant for a game,” recalls Emerson, “but I played well there.”
A full-time contract followed and shortly afterwards he moved to Europe to play on loan for Palermo, a club on the Italian island of Sicily. This made it possible for Emerson, who had just turned 20, to live like in Brazil, with sea, sun and climate.
Anyway, somehow. Because the transition as a footballer was not that easy.
“Brazil is always about attacks, always one-on-one, dribbling, that kind of thing,” said Emerson. “When I arrived in Italy it was just tactics, tactics, tactics – every day, tactics – and at first I struggled to understand Italian football.”
An anterior cruciate ligament injury in 2017 at his second Italian club, the Roma, was another obstacle for Emerson, who endured him for seven months.
And since joining Chelsea in January 2018, he has only played 32 Premier League games over 3½ years. That season he only played in the league as a substitute for Ben Chilwell against Newcastle and West Ham, and he has only made seven starts in all competitions.
Being an idle substitute in the Champions League final – Chelsea defeated Manchester City 1-0 in Porto in May – was hardly surprising, even if it didn’t stop him from scooping a winners medal.
“If you don’t play a lot (for your club), you have to train a little more, of course, to work harder so that you are in top form when the opportunity arises,” he said before Euro 2020. I did that because you have to be in top form in the national team be.”
Indeed, Italy coach Roberto Mancini has not been put off by Emerson’s lack of playing time for Chelsea and has used him regularly as a left-back for the past two years.
Spinazzola was the first choice for Roma after an impressive season for Roma, but his Achilles tendon injury sustained in Friday’s 2-1 win over Belgium opened the door to Emerson again.
He will likely start in the final too when Italy gets there.
“Emerson and Leonardo are two different players but two great players,” said Italy midfielder Nicola Barella on Sunday. “I don’t see any reason to worry.
“You can’t advise Emerson because he just won the Champions League. He’s playing for a great team. And he’s played with us a lot, so don’t worry, just trust Emerson. “
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