Jakub Jankto of Cagliari Calcio celebrates after scoring a goal during the Serie A TIM match between Empoli FC and Cagliari - Serie A TIM at Stadio Carlo Castellani on March 3, 2024 in Empoli, Italy. | Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Unleashing a roar of delight before being mobbed by his team-mates, Jakub Jankto‘s goal celebration told a story last weekend.

The Czech winger has cut a frustrated figure for much of Cagliari’s season so far, with the Sardinian club struggling in Serie A.

He has been publicly criticized in recent weeks by his coach, Claudio Ranieri. Even in the pre-match press conference before Sunday’s game at Empoli, Ranieri urged Jankto to raise his game.

He ended up raising the mood of everybody connected with the Rossoblu, and made history too – the first active out gay player to score in one of Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues.

It was in February last year that Jankto posted his short coming out video on social media, explaining how he wanted to live “in freedom, without fear”.

He was on loan at Sparta Prague at the time. Initially, he kept his place in their team but off-field struggles overtook him and he was dropped by club and country.

When he was reunited with Ranieri – his coach for two seasons at Sampdoria – it was a chance to get back on track. But newly-promoted Cagliari haven’t clicked, winning just four out of 26 fixtures before their trip to Empoli.

There, they held firm against a side that were unbeaten in their previous six and midway through the second half, Jankto kept a cool head to slot home inside the area after Nahitan Nandez’s shot had been parried out by goalkeeper Elia Caprile.

“I’m giving my all for the team and the fans,” Jankto told Cagliari’s website afterwards, the match having ended 1-0 to the visitors. “I’m even happier for them than for me: they came again today, almost 700, they make so many sacrifices to follow us. For this, I thank them. They are fundamental.”

Ranieri was full of praise for the 28-year-old after a vital victory. “He’s a boy who does a lot of running and is always attentive tactically. Today. he found the goal and I’m happy for him.”

The enthusiasm is not confined to Cagliari. “Ranieri has rediscovered Jankto, the original,” ran the headline in Corriere dello Sport. “Jankto finally roared, after so much chasing of this goal and after so much suffering,” wrote journalist Vittorio Sanna, who has covered the club for years. “Who knows if a new championship will begin for the Czech?”

There are 11 league matches left to play. On Saturday, Cagliari face another big one in their battle to beat the drop – a home game against bottom club Salernitana.

Perform well under pressure, and Jankto might still have a shot of a return to the Czech Republic squad for this summer’s European Championships in Germany. There is a new national-team head coach in Ivan Hasek, and the Czechs already know they will face Turkey, Portugal and a play-off winner in their group.

When he was interviewed by ESPN back in December, Jankto stressed that he was in a good place mentally after a year of upheaval. “People say I am an unusual footballer, but this is who I am; I am happy in myself, and I don’t need to change,” he told Sid Lowe.

His precise finish at Empoli may amount to just a solitary goal but it holds a certain significance beyond the result. Judging by the way Jankto reacted, scoring it lifted a little more weight off his shoulders.