By Paolo Menicucci in Milan
When he was substituted during the 0-0 draw against AS Roma that marked Alberto Zaccheroni's debut as Internazionale FC coach, Alvaro Recoba was booed by his own fans.
Light at end of tunnel
One week later the Montevideo-born forward scored a goal and set up another for Christian Vieri in a 2-0 win over AC Chievo Verona. Now, as the Nerazzurri prepare for their UEFA Champions League match against FC Lokomotiv Moskva tonight, the Uruguayan international can see the light at the end of the tunnel after some difficult times.
Out of favour
The 27-year-old was picked out by some Inter fans as one of the main reasons for the club's defeat against city rivals AC Milan in last season's Champions League semi-finals. With Christian Vieri injured, then coach Héctor Cúper decided to field Recoba, rather than the in-form Obafemi Martins, alongside Hernán Crespo for the return leg against the Rossoneri.
Recoba failed to make an impact and was replaced by the 19-year-old Nigerian in the second half with Inter trailing 1-0. Martins scored a few minutes after coming on but it was too late for Inter who went out on the away-goals ruling.
As if that was not bad enough, the 2003/04 season began disastrously for 'El Chino'. He suffered an injury during the summer and when he returned he was no longer part of Cúper's plans. However, slowly the fates have turned back in the Uruguayan's favour. A 3-1 derby defeat by Milan prompted Nerazzurri president Massimo Moratti, a huge fan of Recoba's talents, to push Cúper into recalling him for the league game against Brescia Calcio. "
When two players like Vieri and Recoba link up together in attack, every defence has problems stopping them," Moratti declared.
Despite an ineffectual performance at the Rigamonti stadium which saw him substituted, Inter's 2-2 draw ended up working in Recoba's favour - Moratti swiftly sacked Cúper and replaced him with Zaccheroni, an avowed Recoba admirer.
Restored to lineup
Recoba was duly restored to the starting lineup and has relished Zaccheroni's 4-3-3 formation. "Few players in the world have the technical talent that Recoba has," Zaccheroni said in a press conference ahead of tonight's Group B encounter. "I hope he can become for Inter what [Francesco] Totti is for Roma or [Alessandro] Del Piero is for Juventus FC."
'He's doing great things'
I think he's a forward. I don't see him as a midfield player," Zaccheroni continued. "With me he will not have to think about defending. We just have to work so that he can show all his qualities with more consistency. Now he's doing great things just twice or three times every match, but when he manages to do ten great actions in a match, we will see great results."
Worth the wait
For Inter fans, starved of Serie A success for 14 years and champions of Europe last in 1965, that can only be good news. Recoba has never quite fulfilled the promise he showed when scoring a 30-metre spectacular on his Nerazzurri debut, but if Zaccheroni has found the key to unlock his extravagant talents then it will have been worth the wait.
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