Felipe Anderson looked finished at Lazio. Sent to train with the reserves following a home defeat to Genoa at the start of the month, few would have thought he would have been at the heart of the club's upturn in form in the past week.
But the 24-year-old has been revitalised, with a goal and four assists in the Europa League win over FCSB and the Serie A victory at Sassuolo. Next up it's a trip to AC Milan in the semifinals of the Coppa Italia with the tie goalless after the first leg.
He came on against Genoa with 20 minutes to go, and put in a poor performance as Diego Laxalt scored an injury-time winner for the visitors. Coach Filippo Inzaghi criticised the midfielder after the game and player reacted furiously. "I knew you would come to me. You always take it out on me," he replied.
That's when he was ordered to train with the reserves and missed the 4-1 defeat at Napoli, which was Lazio's third Serie A loss in a row. A crisis loomed.
But having understood his mistakes, Felipe Anderson apologised and made peace with Inzaghi -- and both player and club are reaping the rewards.
This is not the first time he has had to prove himself in Italy, and his story is still one of an unfulfilled promise. The start of his European career followed an €8 million transfer from Santos in the summer of 2013. The Brazilian arrived nurturing an ankle injury and his acclimatisation was complicated on various levels.
Pasta carbonara was the only dish he was able to order with his limited knowledge of Italian, leading to significant weight gain and fitness problems that angered coach Edy Reja, and limited him to sporadic appearances in his first season.
His luck suddenly changed in December 2014, when coach Stefano Pioli gambled on him because Antonio Candreva was injured. In a matter of weeks, the Brazilian became one of the best players in Serie A with his supreme dribbling skills, magnificent range of passing and quality shooting.
His self-confidence soared after he scored a brace in a 2-2 draw at Inter, and Lazio fans fell in love with him. Magically two-footed, he is totally unpredictable for defenders and a joy to watch when on song. Despite starting that season on the bench, he finished it with 10 goals and eight assists to his name.
At the time, top clubs were interested in signing the new starlet, and Lazio sporting director Igli Tare later revealed that a €50m offer from Manchester United was refused. However, consistency proved to be a very significant problem, and that had always been the case with him.
Even in his Santos days, Felipe Anderson couldn't keep up solid performances on constant basis. He made his debut on Neymar's 100th match for the club and the superstar took him under his wing, even though he is just one year older.
"Neymar's young brother," as he was known in his homeland, spent a lot of time on the bench because coaches didn't really trust him. Finding the right position on the pitch wasn't straightforward and the problem continued at Lazio as well.
The Brazilian was moved to the wing by Pioli in 2015-16 and his performances suffered. Last season, he was frequently asked to play as a wing-back by Inzaghi and that limited his contribution even further. He might be lightning quick and such speed tempts coaches to use him on the flank, but he is a creator first and foremost. His game is based on imagination and improvisation, so playing him within a rigid tactical system doesn't work.
He was tried as a playmaker in preseason, but an injury suffered before the campaign had even begun meant he missing the first four months. Upon returning in December, he found Luis Alberto flourishing in a free role, and Inzaghi struggled to fit Felipe Anderson into the lineup.
In fact, his first start only came in January, and he duly assisted Nani and scored himself in the 3-0 triumph against Udinese. Then came the unfortunate Genoa incident, and it is easy to understand why his confidence was so low.
Players like Felipe Anderson need to feel that their place is safe in order to create and that is not the case at Lazio at the moment. Could that change following the positive performances against FCSB and Sassuolo?
The answer should come against stronger opposition, and Milan are definitely a tough nut to crack at the moment -- unbeaten in the last 12 matches, including the goalless draw against Lazio at the San Siro in the first leg. If Felipe Anderson is capable of performing in the final months of the season, he might have an outside chance of making the Brazilian World Cup squad.
So far, he only has played seven minutes for Brazil, back in 2015, and that is a huge shame for a player of his talents. But it might be that Lazio will never get the best out of Felipe Anderson and he could yet move on in the summer.