Gervinho serves reminder of enduring class as three-year Serie A wait ends


Gervinho, like many of African football's biggest names of his generation, opted to see out many of his peak years in one of the world's lesser leagues.

The wideman was 28 when he departed AS Roma for Hebei China Fortune, but returned to the Italian game this summer when he signed a three-year deal with Parma.

He's wasted little time in getting back into the swing of things in the Italian top flight, with his goal against Juventus this weekend coming in just his second performance for his new club.

Gervinho's goal cancelled out Mario Mandzukic's opener, although the Ducali were ultimately defeated by Blaise Matuidi's second-half winner.

It's been just under three years since Gervinho last found the net in Serie A; his last strike in the division came in Roma's 2-0 derby victory over Lazio in November 2015, a match boycotted by many fans from both sides.

Back then, Gervinho was part of a scintillating Roma frontline that comprised Mohamed Salah and Edin Dzeko, and the victory over Lazio took them one point behind joint leaders Internazionale and Fiorentina, with eventual champions Juve trailing in seventh.

Ultimately, however, Roma's momentum would stall; Salah suffered an injury against Lazio and was sidelined, and Gervinho played his last game for the Giallorossi on January 9.

By this point, they'd won just one of their previous nine games, and coach Rudi Garcia found himself under increasing pressure.

Ahead of this weekend, Gervinho had never previously netted against Juve in five league appearances against the Bianconeri, but his showing served a reminder of just what an excellent talent he can be when fit and firing.

He completed four dribbles against Juve, with only Douglas Costa (five) managing more, while he also created one goalscoring opportunity for his teammates.

Not yet at full fitness, the forward danced his way through the Italian champions' backline on several occasions, and demonstrated the technique, touch, change of pace and sinuous dribbling ability that made him such a threat in the division in days gone by.

Despite only playing for an hour, the Ivorian still has more Serie A goals than Cristiano Ronaldo so far this season!

His neat finish also hinted at the attacker's underrated ability in front of goal; he scored 28 across two seasons in France, and averaged just under a goal every three games in his maiden season in Italy in 2013-14, and can expect to be a major threat again this term.

His quality certainly isn't lost on Parma coach Roberto D'Aversa, who made the controversial decision to withdraw the winger on the hour mark, despite the constant menace he represented for the Old Lady's defence.

Already, the Africa Cup of Nations winner is cementing himself as struggling Parma's star attraction.

"Clearly I wanted to keep him on for the whole game and I received a lot of insults from the stands, but I am taking some risks with him," D'Aversa told Sky Sport Italia.

"He had 20 minutes against SPAL, plus some problems during the week, and I can't afford to lose him.

"Gervinho has unique technical and physical characteristics, so I can't let him get injured."

Despite his return to form, it's hard to shake the sense that Gervinho's move to Hebei China Fortune denied him the chance to truly compensate for the momentum that stalled with a career move to Arsenal.

He was a Ligue 1 champion with LOSC Lille in 2011, but became something of a figure of fun after losing his way at Arsenal, where he managed nine league goals across two seasons.

A move to Roma and a reunion with former Lille coach Garcia revived his fortunes, and saw the capital club back into the Champions League, although ultimately they never fulfilled the potential that such a glittering forward line - and a clutch of home-grown heroes - promised.

If D'Aversa is to get the best out of the Ivorian, then taking steps to preserve the forward's fitness is a wise move.

The three things that have diminished Gervinho's potential to date are injury problems (he notably ruptured his knee ligaments in October 2016), career decisions, and confidence issues.

Garcia was well aware of how the West African needed to be loved and made to feel like a star in order to realise his potential, with Gervinho noting how he was boosted by the Frenchman's faith.

D'Aversa's comments indicate that the Parma boss is also aware that game management and ego-massaging will be key to helping Gervinho return to top form.

His eye-catching display against Juve suggested that he's firmly on track to re-establish himself in a major European league, even if he'll never quite realise the heights that were once anticipated.