Despite being the grand old age of 36, veteran Luca Toni has turned what was originally seen as a twilight spell at newly promoted Hellas Verona into one of the more surprising success stories in Serie A, as both he and the Gialloblu have defied expectations with their performances so far this season.
Toni’s career began 20 years ago at Modena, and has since spanned 16 clubs and brought more than 200 career goals from 14 teams in Italy alone, most notably from his spells for Palermo and Fiorentina, which earned the forward a move to German giants Bayern Munich in 2007.
Toni won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, but a lacklustre spell for Juventus during the 2011-12 season had many thinking that the striker’s career was on the wane, seemingly confirmed by a move to Arabian side Al Nasr in the summer of 2012.
However, a return to Florence just six months later laid the foundation for Toni’s spell in Verona, where as the focal point of Hellas’s attack he has so far scored 15 goals and assisted seven more.
Not blessed with tricky feet like fellow countrymen Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano, Toni’s game hasn’t changed all that much over the course of his career. Relying on his 6’4 frame and impressive leap, Toni is the prototypical centre forward, dominating defenders despite his growing years.
His head has been his main source of goals throughout the season, as is the trend for his career, but the 36-year-old’s awareness and ability to find teammates make him more of a complete package than stereotype would suggest.
Toni has never been called up to the Italy squad by Cesare Prandelli, his last game in savoy blue coming in a 3-0 loss to Brazil in July 2009. After being left out of predecessor Marcello Lippi’s provisional squad for the 2010 qualifying campaign and the World Cup tournament itself, Toni’s international career stalled.
However, given the anxiety over Giuseppe Rossi’s availability this summer, the poor form of Dani Osvaldo and the desperate need to have a stable back-up to the mercurial Mario Balotelli, Luca Toni provides a solid, experienced alternative that could be a valuable addition to Prandelli’s young Italy.
Toni is close to the form that earned him the starting job for La Nazionale in 2006, ahead of stars like Filippo Inzaghi, Alessandro Del Piero and the then exciting Alberto Gilardino, and Vincenzo Iaquinta, who was in the form of his life. Could history repeat itself and see Toni make the squad alongside Balotelli, ahead of Rossi and the likes of Ciro Immobile and Mattia Destro?
Despite it being unlikely given his absence from Cesare Prandelli’s squads in the run-up to the World Cup and any other time during his tenure as Azzurri Coach, rumours of considerations being given to fellow veterans Antonio Cassano and Francesco Totti mean that Luca Toni may just have a chance of making a push for another turn in a fascinating career.