A year ago, Alessandro Riggi wouldn’t have thought that he’d still be playing professional football.
After suffering a nasty knee injury at former club Phoenix Rising FC, there was a low chance that Riggi would ever see the professional football pitch again. After a very dedicated and strenuous recovery, Riggi had a successful spell with the Wanderers at the Island Games where he made seven appearances in 10 matches, collecting both one goal and one assist.
Luckily for Halifax fans, Riggi has signed a new contract with the club, committing for the 2021 season with a club option in 2022.
Alessandro spoke with Wanderers Brand Manager Dylan Lawrence to reflect on 2020 and the impact Halifax has had on him.
Dylan Lawrence: Congrats on the signing of your new contract. What was the deciding factor for coming back to Halifax?
AR: Thanks! And there wasn’t any hesitation, to be honest. I just really wanted to be back with the group because I feel like the way our season ended was a bit unlucky and I know if we can get the core of this group back we could definitely win the whole thing – that’s the main reason. And (also) a bunch of the players from the team last year – on a daily basis were saying “man it really sucks you’re not getting to witness the stadium vibe, the grass, the fans. It’s just a different class.” So that’s always been in the back of my mind – wanting to feel that energy and that vibe – it was kind of like a no-brainer for me.
I know you and Zachary Sukunda are friends and were chatting before you joined the Wanderers. Was there anything that stood out when Zach was telling you about Halifax?
AR: Well it was Zach and Chakib [Hocine]. They both said that it was a really fun, vibrant city. That it (reminded them) of the Old Port of Montreal. They said that they felt at home – it’s English and French-speaking. They said that the fans march to the stadium and they make a lot of noise – the stadium is always packed. They said the grass is phenomenal, by far the best pitch in the league. So yeah, with all that it was (closed) case.
So now that you’ve been here, also tasted life outside of football, what has surprised you about Halifax?
AR: To be honest, in Halifax, I haven’t gone out much because of lockdown. But there were a few times that we were able to go to like restaurants – this one place was an outdoor terrace with a DJ and you could order food, it was really cool. But I guess how it has a European vibe similar to Montreal – I like how downtown is super hilly – it’s funky and different. I like seafood and I was told that the seafood was spectacular in Halifax – on one of our ‘cheat nights’ went to one restaurant called Five Fishermen. It was unbelievable.
You say you had seafood on one of your ‘cheat nights’. For those that don’t know about your knee injury and the recovery you had to endure, can you talk about what impacted you to switch to a vegan lifestyle (as a means of recovery)?
AR: Well basically nothing was healing for me to be able to play football again. I came across this documentary on Netflix called “The Gamechangers,” so I decided to watch it. It basically described what a vegan diet does for your body – how it helps regenerate blood flow, reduce inflammation, and a bunch of other (benefits). So after watching this I was at a point in my life where I had nothing else to lose and so I said ‘you know what, I’m going to try to heal this way’. I just started a vegan diet like that because I was looking for answers to try and heal. Luckily it wasn’t the only factor; there were many but it was something that helped from the beginning. I could see significant progress every month in my legs.
It’s great you were able to recover and play at the Island Games. Can we talk about starting in that first game and also scoring your first goal for the Wanderers, and what those moments meant to you?
AR: I would say it was basically like a child opening a present at Christmas for the first time. It was super unexpected. I was pretty convinced at one point [in my recovery] that this career was done and that I wasn’t going to be able to play again. So bit by bit, I started to see myself run again, practice again, play again – but a couple things were running through my head. I was by far the most unfit person in the whole league. (Secondly), coming out of two years without training, sitting on a couch every day, I wasn’t expecting much. I was still very, very behind where I know my level can be at. So going into training, I was planning to be there for the team, just happy to be back on the field, but I wasn’t expecting much because of the conditions I came in on obviously. Luckily, I ended up getting more minutes than I thought I would and I was playing better than I thought I would – once I got my first assist then my first goal, it really wasn’t the freshest breath of air anyone could intake because it was like – it’s one thing to be back practicing and training, but now it’s another thing to get a goal or assist in a game – there was a certain amount of pressure in that. After two years of no football, to be able to get a goal and an assist in under 400 minutes of play really went to show me that all of that hard work was worth it – all that pain – it was tough, man. But all of that was worth it and I can now build on that instead of thinking ‘I still haven’t scored a goal or had an assist’, I’m already back on that. So it was a massive breath of fresh air and I was really happy. Football is who I am – it’s dictated my whole life – and it was taken away from me for a really long time and I don’t know who I am without it, to be honest. So, it kind of felt like I got my identity back.
It’s a beautiful story and you should be really proud of how far you’ve come and all the stuff you had to go through. I know for you and for the team it still feels like unfinished business. What can we look forward to from Alessandro Riggi in 2021?
AR: A completely different player, that’s for sure. A lot more productivity. A lot more vocal, a lot more energetics. A lot more goals. A lot more assists. Someone who – if needed – can play every minute of every single game. Like the Rampy or Peter, those who were super fit and who could just keep going. That’s who I’m used to being and what I’m used to doing, but this year that (wasn’t possible), especially with two-three days of rest between games. But entering a long off-season with a lot of preparation, then a good pre-season and (hopefully) a normal season, I should be a completely different player that (the fans) haven’t seen yet, so it should be exciting for them too.