Ciro Immobile didn’t receive the warmest of welcomes when he arrived at Pescara last summer. “You can’t be my side’s centre-forward with a name like that,” Zdenek Zeman said. It was probably a joke that young Ciro had heard a thousands times, but the Czech tactician’s grin couldn’t hide the fact that he wasn’t totally sure of what the club had given him.
This time last year, Immobile looked like another so-called promising youngster who had got lost in the Italian game. A success at youth level for Juventus, he spent 2010-11 on loan at Siena and then Grosseto. His return was a paltry two goals from 20 games. Would the Zeman cure be enough to get his career back on track? Oh yes it would.
Immobile’s 28 variety of strikes saw him fire the Stadio Adriatico club into the top flight, he won the Capocannoniere crown and became the club’s most lethal scorer in the course of a single season. It was also enough for him to earn a recall to the Italian Under-21 side.
His goal exploits over the last 12 months were a reward for Juventus, a club who spotted his talent as a 17-year-old while he was in the Sorrento youth ranks. He helped the Old Lady’s Primavera side to two Viareggio triumphs and is the competition’s all-time top scorer. But on Sunday, in Genoa-Juventus, he’ll be wearing the Grifone’s Rossoblu jersey.
Many have questioned exactly why that is. After all, Juventus’ search for a new top striker ended with the desperate deadline day capture of Nicklas Bendtner from Arsenal. Would it have not been worth having a punt on Immobile instead?
The reality is that the decision to hand him over to Genoa was made long before Juventus failed to land Robin Van Persie, Stevan Jovetic, Fernando Llorente or any other big name forward they were chasing. The Marassi outfit were chosen because, on paper, they are a club who could offer the attacker more playing time than Antonio Conte – a tactician who coached the forward at Siena and also during pre-season at Juventus in 2011.
“I had the good fortune to work with the Juventus first team a lot while in my last year with the Primavera,” he stated this week. “That was very instructive for me. By training alongside champions I was able to speak to them and gather their advice, but it is important to play…
“When I was offered Genoa in January, we decided together that this would be the best path for my career growth and I’m convinced it is the right choice. And I’m also in no position to question the transfer strategies of a club.”
Juventus have potentially run a financial risk in agreeing to a co-ownership, seeing as they could one day eventually be forced to buy him back at an inflated price. But in giving Genoa 50 per cent of his contract, they are enticing the club to use him and help him grow as a professional footballer. That’s what they did with Sebastian Giovinco at Parma.
“Giovinco had a phenomenal season at Parma and it is right that he now plays for Juve again,” Immobile added. “I, however, am only thinking of Genoa at this moment in time. They gave me my dream to play in Serie A and I want to pay them back for their faith. Then if I change teams…”
The 22-year-old admits that it will be a strange sensation to be facing the Old Lady this weekend, but he won’t hesitate if given an opportunity to fire one past Gigi Buffon. After scoring in Week 1, the boy from Torre Annunziata would welcome another against a club who gave him his Serie A debut, Viareggio glory and a taste of the Champions League.
“At the end of the game, I’ll look to swap shirts with either Buffon or Giorgio Chiellini,” he added. “I used to speak with them a lot in Turin and I have kept in close contact.”
Looking long-term, this could be a defining season for Ciro. A player who has caught the eye of 1982 World Cup legend Paolo Rossi thanks to his “hunger for goals”, the centre-forward has the ideal opportunity to prove his worth on a footballing landscape which is finally being forced to give youth a chance. So much so that people are even suggesting he could be one of Serie A’s revelations this term.
“Could I be the Serie A top scorer? Maybe the odds makers got carried away after my goal against Cagliari, but why not? I’m not afraid of anything and I’ll certainly try to follow my Serie B scoring title with the one in Serie A. I know that it will be hard and I’m under no illusions, but it doesn’t frighten me.”