Ciro Immobile has gone from being a Serie A write-off to Capocannoniere anda credible candidate to boost Italy’s World Cup betting odds this summer.
The 24-year-old first came to the fore at senior level during the 2010-11 campaign, when his 28 goals earned the Serie B Capocannoniere title and helped Pescara to promotion.
After such an eye-catching season, the striker seemed destined to make impact in Serie A. Owners Juventus recognised as much and loaned him to Genoa. Whilst, the move was supposed to confirm Immobile's stature with a first run in the top flight, it ultimately proved to be a wasted 12 months.
At Pescara, the youngster had been coached by Zdenek Zeman, whose attacking philosophy ensured he was regularly supplied with chances.
With Genoa, however, there was a more methodical approach, with Luigi De Canio, Davide Ballardini and Gigi Del Neri - the Grifone’s three Coaches that season - all fairly reserved tactically. This hampered Immobile, who ended the campaign with just five goals.
The summer of 2013 did, however, bring some respite, as he played an important role in Italy Under-21 side’s run to the European Championship Final. Immobile scored once - against Spain - and started four of the five matches, before returning to Juventus.
The Bianconeri once more looked to move him on, but their choice of destination was better thought out, with Immobile joining Torino in a co-ownership agreement as part of Angelo Ogbonna’s switch in the other direction.
The transfer could not have worked out better. Playing under Giampiero Ventura - a Coach more in the mould of Zeman - Immobile has thrived this term. His partnership with Alessio Cerci yielded 35 goals, with his 22 winning him a Serie A Capocannoniere title, to go with his Serie B one.
Unsurprisingly, his form has caught the attention of Italy Coach Cesare Prandelli, who gave him his international debut against Spain in March, before including him in his provisional World Cup squad.
“He is doing well,” stated the tactician. “I remember that criticism of those who said he was not ready for Serie A, yet now claim he is first choice for the World Cup.”
The clamour to start Immobile is understandable. Of the seven forwards in Prandelli’s provisional squad for Brazil, five will make his final selection and Immobile has had the best campaign and, ranked by Betfair at 150/1 to finish tournament top scorer, may represent a sensible World Cup bet.
His main opponents for a starting berth are Mario Balotelli and Giuseppe Rossi. The former has scored 14 goals, but endured a frustrating season with Milan, while Rossi’s managed 16 in just 19 starts, but is returning from spraining the medial collateral ligament in his right knee and is in a race to prove his fitness.
The struggles of this more senior duo potentially presents Immobile with an opportunity, but he must first see off Mattia Destro for a place in Prandelli’s squad. The 56-year-old has suggested publicly that the duo are not in direct competition, but if they are, he seemingly favours Immobile: “The difference between the two is more regarding character than technique,” notes Prandelli. “Immobile is more free mentally, while Destro is a player with a great ability, but potential is not enough. I have seen Immobile play and noted his generosity.”
At the World Cup fitness and work-rate will be key and, particularly in Prandelli’s eyes, Immobile seems like the perfect fit. His mix of pace and physicality make him unpredictable, while he has shown he can play as a single striker or in a partnership, as he has with Cerci. During his reign, Prandelli has mixed between the two approaches. At Euro 2012, he paired Balotelli with Antonio Cassano, while for the Confederations Cup he used the former on his own.
Prandelli’s desire to be tactically flexible means he will likely alternate between a variety of combinations and not necessarily have ‘first choice’ players. For Immobile, though, a partnership with Balotelli could be the best solution.
“Me with Balotelli? That’s a decision the boss will take,” the forward commented during last week’s training camp at Coverciano.
“Mario likes to go and get on the ball because if he doesn’t have it he doesn’t feel part of the game. I like to attack the spaces. The boss knows very well how he needs to get us to play and how to use us.”
Prandelli has a choice to make. Does he go with Balotelli, who is out of form but often saves his best for Italy, or an unfit Rossi, or the inexperienced but very much in vogue Immobile?
The answer is that he will likely rotate between the three, both together and with the support strikers - Cerci and either Cassano or Lorenzo Insigne. Immobile has, however, put forward a strong case to have a prominent role and though his lack of playing time at international level counts against him, Prandelli won’t be afraid to start the forward if he impresses in the warm-up games against Republic of Ireland and Luxembourg.