Alberto Gilardino’s decision to join Bologna on transfer deadline day should not have come as too much of a surprise. After all, he’s not the first big-name Italian forward to turn to the Stadio Dall’Ara outfit, a kind of footballing Lourdes, in an attempt to mystically heal his faltering form in front of goal.
Back in the summer of 1997, it was a ponytail-less Roberto Baggio who re-emerged from two years in the shadows at Milan to re-establish himself as one of the greatest players of his generation. His career best of 22 League goals under the two towers saw him return to the international set-up ahead of France ’98, and earn him another crack at the highest level after the former Juventus idol opted to join Inter.
Baggio’s No 10 shirt was inherited at the club by Beppe Signori, the pint-sized striker with the rocket left-foot who Zdenek Zeman turned into a scoring sensation at firstly Foggia and then Lazio. But after 107 strikes in 152 League games for the Biancocelesti, the goals dried up and a mid-season move to Sampdoria in 1997-98 did little to dispel the growing assertion that, at the age of 30, he was finished.
Signori, however, was anything but. With 46 goals across the first three seasons of his six-year spell in Emilia, Beppe Gol returned with a vengeance to underline that one or two problematic campaigns in a career can be forgotten thanks to whatever is in the water, holy or not, at Bologna.
Marco Di Vaio was 32 when he moved to the renaissance city in 2008. A career which had promised so much at Parma had stalled somewhat following moves to Juventus and Valencia, while the gambles of joining Monaco and Genoa – initially in Serie B – backfired.
Having netted just three top-flight goals in the 2007-08 campaign for the Marassi outfit, Di Vaio was a revelation in his debut Dall’Ara term thanks to an incredible 24 strikes in 38 games. He may have not been as prolific over the following three years, but he at least ended each of those seasons in double figures.
Like Di Vaio, Genoa’s Gilardino opted for the Bologna cure after his least prolific Serie A season – thanks to his two goals at Fiorentina and four for the Grifone – since he scored four for Parma back in the 2002-03 campaign. But, in truth, his career has been on a steady decline for over a year now.
We arguably last saw him at his best when Cesare Prandelli was still in charge of Fiorentina in 2009-10. And the Viola’s problems since only made things even more difficult for a player, a World Cup winner with Italy in 2006 no less, whose hunger was starting to be questioned in Tuscany.
The 30-year-old, though, hasn’t made it easy for himself. The Bologna faithful are well aware of the circumstance that he scored a crucial goal against them while at Parma which resulted in their relegation to Serie B, while he’s opted to wear the No 10 shirt – following the departure of Gaston Ramirez – a jersey which only fuels the comparisons with Baggio and Co.
“I’ve come here with great desire and I want to prove myself again,” he says. “But don’t say that I am the same as Baggio, Signori or Di Vaio. I have different characteristics to that trio, even if I certainly hope to do what they did at this club.”
The former Under-21 international has certainly made a fine start. After a substitute appearance in the 3-1 loss to Milan, Gilardino was back on the score-sheet on Sunday with a brace in the 3-2 win at Roma. He may no longer be one of the country’s top strikers, but he – like Baggio, Signori and Di Vaio – certainly knows where the goal is.
Looking for proof of that? Take a gander at the all-time Serie A top scorers’ chart and you’ll find all four in the top 30. A few prolific seasons at the Dall’Ara for Gila, who has only been outscored by Francesco Totti and Toto Di Natale in the active list, and he could move from 25th thanks to his present 148 strikes into the top 10 which is now just 36 goals away.
It’s unquestionably a big ask given his recent problems, but there isn’t one good reason why he could potentially ripple the net with regularity again thanks to Bologna– there are actually three.