The nicknames of football players range from the strange to the silly, yet Stephan Lichsteiner is named after one of Hollywood’s most popular characters of the last two decades. Due to his ability to run up and down the right side of the pitch and constantly be a presence in defence and attack, the Swiss right-back is known as Forrest Gump. And right now, his life is like the best box of chocolates money can buy.
Juventus, the team he joined in the summer after three seasons with Lazio, are unbeaten at the top of Serie A, and last night defeated Roma 3-0 to move into the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia. A lot of the credit for this form in 2011-12 has gone to Gigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini, his fellow PUMA athletes, but Lichtensteiner is a vital part of this defensive machine.
With only 12 goals conceded, the bianconeri have the meanest defence of any team in first place in Europe’s biggest leagues. In defence, he is a hard opponent for opposition wingers to beat. Technically perfect in his position, he defends off the front foot, times his tackles perfectly and, on the rare occasions he is beaten, his speed of thought and foot see him recover well.
Like all of the best full-backs to have played the game, his first thought is to defend, yet as soon as that job is done and the ball is safe in Buffon’s hands, he changes his thoughts to attack. Compared by some to Cafu, the legendary Brazilian who played his best football for last night’s beaten opponents, Lichtsteiner changes from full-back into flying wing-back with ease.
His speed and positional sense ensure that he is a constant oulet for his centre-backs or midfielders, and with Juventus often playing with a narrow midfield, his tireless overlapping runs have become a feature of the Old Lady’s play. An excellent passer and crosser of the ball, he creates panic the opposition defence and his movement pulls defenders away from the centre of the pitch and provides space in dangerous areas for the creative players to shine.
An instant hero to the fans after he marked his debut by scoring the first goal in Juventus’ new stadium, his transfer fee of €10 million, which at the time people thought was high, has quickly been forgotten as the team continue to show that they are ready to win the first Scudetto since 2002-03. And if they do, Forrest Gump will have to stop running to enjoy the celebrations.