MILAN (Reuters) - Fiorentina have turned into Serie A's great entertainers this season and much of that is down to the brilliance of their young forward Federico Chiesa.
The 21-year-old is following in the footsteps of his father Enrico who scored 45 goals in 85 appearances during three seasons at the club and was in the team that won Fiorentina's last major title, the Coppa Italia in 2001.
Chiesa junior's pace, skill, versatility and determination have been inspirational for Fiorentina and have also given hope to Italy coach Roberto Mancini, who is trying to rebuild the side after their failure to qualify for last year's World Cup.
He has 11 caps for Italy and has already clocked up 100 appearances for Fiorentina, celebrating the milestone by scoring with a run from the halfway line in the 3-3 Coppa Italia draw at home to Atalanta last week.
Chiesa's performances have been slightly offset by Fiorentina's leaky defence and they go into Sunday's Serie A match at home to Lazio in 10th place, although still with a chance of qualifying for the Europa League.
In other matches, leaders Juventus host Udinese on Friday while second-placed Napoli, 16 points behind the Turin side, visit Sassuolo on Sunday.
Since the winter break, goals have been pretty much guaranteed when Fiorentina have been in action. They have been involved in three 3-3 draws, a 4-3 win, a 4-1 win and, most impressively, a 7-1 win at home to AS Roma in the Coppa Italia.
Some critics feel that Chiesa goes down too easily when challenged and he was at the centre of an ugly row between his coach Stefano Pioli and Atalanta's Gian Piero Gasperini after winning a soft penalty in their Serie A match in September.
An angry Gasperini said it was a "habit" of Chiesa's to go down while Pioli defended his player.
"Obviously, he may fall over if there is physical contact but he doesn’t go to ground at the slightest touch,” Pioli said.
Yet, Italian football almost missed out on Chiesa. In an interview with the magazine Undici on Wednesday, he said that he almost gave up on football.
"For two or three years, it was difficult for me to find my space, because physically I wasn't as developed as the other lads," he said.
"I thought about giving up many times but my family and friends always believed in me.
"When I didn't get a game, they told me: 'you will play next time'. It was their way of pushing me forward, of getting me to think positively."
He said he was inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo and in particular the Portuguese forward's work ethic.
"He doesn't have Lionel Messi's natural talent but he has won the same number of Player of the Year awards," said Chiesa. "He's an exemplary professional and he has shown that, to get to the top, you have to pay attention to every little detail."
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis)