After breaking into the Lecce box and firing a powerful drive past goalkeeper Gabriel to open the scoring on Atalanta’s return to Bergamo, Duvan Zapata turned to his teammates with a huge boyish grin spreading across his face.
The Colombian international has six goals from seven games in this Serie A season – one behind Lazio’s Ciro Immobile in the race to be crowned capocannoniere – and then, just as you start to think of this up-and-coming youngster, you remember he is 28-years old.
While that might be regarded as the start of the peak years of a footballer, many who have arrived from overseas, particularly other continents, have usually been shipped back to their homelands by then and labelled as failures.
La Dea, and Italian football as a whole, are instead reaping the rewards of being patient with a player that has all the technical ability and physical attributes to be elite frontman in Europe.
Born in Padilla, just outside the city of Cali, Zapata was not exactly a teenage footballing prodigy back in South America and on breaking into the America de Cali first-team in 2008 went two seasons without scoring.
However, a relatively poor goalscoring return did not put off potential suitors. Estudiantes took him to Argentina in a €500,000 deal. The powerful striker netted on his debut over Belgrano, flitted between starting XI and reserve outings, but a scoring rate of a goal every other game brought attention from further afield.
Premier League side West Ham United attempted to take him to England, only to be thwarted by work permit restrictions, particularly as not yet a full international, and Napoli stepped in.
Despite the Partenopei being on an upward trajectory, though, Zapata struggled to make an impact in Naples. Largely as he was forced to play second fiddle to fellow new signing Gonzalo Higuain at the Stadio San Paolo.
Spells on loan at Udinese and Sampdoria did little to improve an average scoring rate of a goal every 3.29 Serie A games, but the Colombian was finally made the focal point of the attack and one of the first names on the team sheet.
By now a full Colombian international – debuting in 2017 – Zapata was seemingly starting to believe in his own importance to a side and, although taken until week 11, hit the ground running when joining Atalanta in 2018, eventually finishing 2018/19 with 28 goals in all competitions.
That was the first time in his career Zapata broke the 20-goal barrier and, but for a horrific nosedive in form, will continue hitting those heights at the Gewiss Stadium this season.
Unfortunately for Nerazzurri supporters, that could signal the end of his time in Bergamo as a huge offer would almost certainly wrestle him from their grasp. Should he leave Bergamo behind him, hopefully it won’t be a club that sees him as a support act for another ‘big name’ teammate.
Duvan’s story in Serie A, and across his career as a whole, is a triumph for those that believe patience will eventually see talent come to the fore and empowerment can yield great rewards.