In recent years, Lazio have pursued players that were looking for a fresh start to regain form and turn their careers around. Despite facing plenty of adversity, an individual to defy all odds and perform was Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro. When he arrived from Serie B side Salernitana, very few knew what he would offer the Roman squad. However, the Ivorian was a reliable player for Simone Inzaghi throughout the 2019/20 campaign, appearing in 26 matches in all competitions and played over 1000 minutes for Lazio.
Akpa Akpro spent six seasons with Ligue 1 side Toulouse, where he became a regular starter in his fourth and fifth seasons. When playing for the French side, he was used as a versatile player; he played as a right-back, centre-back, left-back, right-wing-back, left-wing-back, and defensive midfielder. While he wasn’t known to be a regular goalscorer, he was an aggressive tackler who closed down players quickly to win the ball back at every position on the pitch.
Aside from being physical in the midfield, Akpa Akpro had the ability to move the ball forward and was attack-minded, creating scoring chances. Just as he had started to establish himself in Ligue 1, a devastating injury put a halt to his career. As a result, Akpa Akpro played just two matches in the 2016/17 season, and when Summer arrived, he was left without a contract or team to begin the 2017/18 season. However, this changed on February 12, 2018, as he signed a six-month contract with Salernitana. Although featuring in just five matches, he earned himself a contract renewal for an additional two seasons.
During his time in Serie B, he refound his form and was playing at the level that he showed with Toulouse. Although he only managed to score two goals in the Italian second tier but it was his play that caught the attention of Lazio. He was a good option to call off the bench as he worked hard, won battles in the midfield and tracked back to help the defense.
Lazio signed Akpa Akpro to a four-year contract, which had moderate risk. In the matches where Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Danilo Cataldi, or Marco Parolo were absent in the 2020/21 season, he was Inzaghi’s preferred option and in most matches, he rose to the occasion. While the Ivory Coast international is not at the same level as Luis Alberto or Milinkovic-Savic, he has always worked hard, chased down players, and made strong challenges to try and win back possession.
In the Group Stage opener of the UEFA Champions League last season, Akpa Akpro appeared as a substitute for Milinkovic-Savic in the 67th minute versus Borussia Dortmund. Less than 10 minutes later in the 76th minute, he surprised many by becoming the first Lazio player to score in his debut in the competition since none other than Inzaghi himself. It was a special moment for the Ivorian international who made a name for himself in the Champions League and one of the biggest international tournaments.
This year, Akpa Akpro has once again found himself as a member of the Lazio squad, playing in Europe and in the Italian top flight. Lazio have always struggled to find quality depth but the midfielder seems to be becoming just this. Despite Maurizio Sarri replacing Inzaghi at the helm, he has worked extremely hard and earned the respect of the manager. Very little has changed as Akpa Akpro has found himself inserted late into matches, playing in key situations for Lazio.
For a player who had to overcome numerous hurdles in his career, he has done exactly what Lazio had expected and is once again playing in the Italian top flight with and against some of the best players in Europe.