From 4th tier to Serie A, Lazzari enjoying Spal fairytale
MILAN (AP) Just over three years ago, Manuel Lazzari was playing in the fourth tier of Italian football. On Sunday, the 23-year-old scored his first Serie A goal.
Lazzari netted Spal's second goal to help his side beat Udinese 3-2 and record its first Serie A win in nearly 50 years.
It was a huge reward for Lazzari, who has battled to keep alive his footballing dreams since being released by Vicenza's youth team aged 16.
''I even thought about quitting,'' Lazzari said. ''It was a very tricky period of my life.
''I owe everything to my family, I started again from Serie D, fighting against every obstacle.''
Lazzari went to fifth-division Montecchio Maggiore in 2010 and spent the following season at another amateur club, Delta Porto Tolle, before moving to Giacomense in 2012.
The midfielder was kept by Spal after its merger with Giacomense in 2013 and is the only player that has been with the club through its rise up the divisions and back into the top flight.
Lazzari, who extended his contract through 2021 in July, has grown with Spal.
''I've abandoned that shyness that sometimes made me hide on the pitch,'' he said. ''Playing in the second division gave me awareness of my skills ... and the fact that I'm stubborn and I never want to lose.''
It was the third goal Lazzari had scored for Spal, with his other two coming in 2016.
Lazzari's fairytale is mirrored by Spal, which is back in the top flight for the first time since 1968.
The year Lazzari was born, 1993, Spal was relegated to the third division and the club went on to endure two bankruptcies and five changes of ownership.
But Spal managed to climb back to Serie A just five years after again being refounded, thanks in part to back-to-back promotions.
In 2016, Spal reached Serie B for the first time since 1993. Then it surprisingly beat Hellas Verona to the title to gain promotion, thanks to the most prolific attack and the third-best defense last season.
Coach Leonardo Semplici has been the mastermind behind Spal's climb up the leagues, after the former Fiorentina youth team coach took charge at the end of 2014.
Spal prided itself on having an all-Italian side. That is no more after the likes of Greek defender Marios Oikonomou and Brazilian center back Felipe joined in the offseason.
But, with a mix of experience and youth, it has impressed at the start of the season. The victory over Udinese came a week after a credible 0-0 draw at Lazio, which was fresh from beating Juventus in the Italian Super Cup.
''Everyone already has us as relegated, but we have started excellently with two good results,'' Semplici said. ''We are happy to have taken a historic team like Spal into the top division, and regardless of the fact everyone already has us as relegated we are doing just fine.''
Spal's next match after the international break is at Inter Milan.
''We'll go to San Siro with humility and respect,'' Semplici said, ''but we'll try to make life difficult for Inter too.''