Back in July 2018, Francesco Acerbi left Sassuolo to join Lazio on a five-year contract. Since his arrival, the Italian has been a terrific surprise, proving to be a leader and their main man in the backend, rarely missing matches due to his ability to stay fit and play at a high tempo.
In the past three seasons, Acerbi has provided physicality in the backend where he has made strong tackles and shown good technique on the ball. In addition, he has a strong aerial presence, good concentration and has the ability to read the play and intercept passes.
Acerbi is known to play high and take risks, however, he does have the ability to recover when he is caught out of position. In the last three seasons, he has won an average of two aerial duels per game and has made 1.7 interceptions per game and 0.7 blocks per game. In addition, in the 2020/21 season, he ranked first on Lazio in clearances with 3.6 per game and proved to make timely decisions and play under pressure.
Aside from becoming a leader and forming a good partnership with the likes of Luiz Felipe in the backend, Acerbi has won numerous accolades with Lazio. In the 2018/19 season, he won a Coppa Italia and in the following season (2019/20) he won a Supercoppa Italiana; in addition, he played a pivotal role in Lazio returning to the UEFA Champions League after 13 years.
Although Acerbi has won with Lazio, he came close to setting a milestone of his own with the Roman club. An astounding record that ended during the 2018/19 season was his consecutive Serie A appearances. This record is held by Javier Zanetti with 162 straight appearances, but Acerbi’s own personal record was stopped at 149 games against Napoli on January 20, 2019. While he came short, this was still a great achievement by Acerbi, showing the player’s resiliency and strong-mindedness.
It is safe to say that joining Lazio has been one of the best decisions that Acerbi has made in his career. He has become the starter for a top club in Serie A, managed to gain recognition and, in doing so, helped him earned a spot with the Azzurri.
Acerbi was a part of the 28-man roster for Euro 2020 and played a key role during the tournament. During the group stage, he made two appearances off the bench versus Switzerland and Wales. However, in the Round of 16, he made his first start with the Azzurri against Austria due to an injury to Giorgio Chiellini. He performed admirably in the backend, being physical and making strong challenges and key blocks. He finished the match with the most clearances (5) and interceptions (4) than any other player on Italy. In addition, he had one assist, made two tackles, two key passes and had a pass accuracy rate of 91.9%.
This was a marvellous performance from Acerbi and for him to be in that position was remarkable. He was known to be a hard worker who has shown perseverance and has the willpower to never give up; however, upon arriving at Lazio, the Italian was not as successful as he dealt with numerous hurdles in his career.
Acerbi is a two-time survivor of testicular cancer and has fought through devasting periods in his career. The Italian was first diagnosed with the illness after signing with Sassuolo in the summer of 2013. It was revealed while undergoing a medical examination and the defender had surgery to remove the tumour and returned to training. However, it was short-lived as in December 2013, a drug test failure revealed irregular hormones levels which showed signs of cancer’s return. In October 2019, he stated:
I stopped being scared in 2013. I was thinking to myself, what will you do if it comes back again? I’ll face it again, I replied. I see things very clearly in front of me and I know that it could all change from one day to the next.
“I had chemotherapy from January 7, 2014, to March 14. It was like stepping into a parallel world, the entrance to which is closer than you could possibly think, so you never leave it again. It’s a world of pain and of courage.
Apart from his triumph against cancer, he once battled alcoholism after the passing of his father while playing with Milan.
After my father died, when I was playing for Milan, I hit rock bottom. It was as if I’d forgotten how to play, or why I was playing. I started drinking and, believe me, I’d drink anything.
It might seem like a terrible paradox, but cancer saved me. I had something new to fight against, a limit to overcome. It was as if I got to start life all over again and saw the world in a way I’d completely forgotten.
The Italian has come a long way in his career to where he is today, where he has become the backbone of Lazio’s defence and a part of the Azzurri squad.
I think having that illness improved me as a person, cancelling out remorse and regret. I became an observer of my surroundings. I eliminated the superfluous, the negative, but all the illusions. I stopped dreaming big and started to focus on simple targets.
Acerbi continues to overcome the odds in what has been a memorable career. Although it has been a difficult path, he is known as the lion for his courage and determination, and rightfully so.