From young gun to top flight flop, back through Capocannoniere and Italy’s World Cup hope, Susy Campanale notes Ciro Immobile is always on the move.
In the space of a few months, Ciro Immobile went from promising talent to genuine hitman, taking the Capocannoniere crown with 22 goals – all from open play – and shattering club records for Torino. It was frankly unexpected, as pre-season the then 23-year-old had seemed an unlikely candidate for top scorer in Serie A. After all, he had netted just five in 33 games for Genoa in 2012-13 and was left behind while his former Pescara teammates Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne flourished at Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli respectively. When Torino took co-ownership of Immobile last summer, it felt like a bit of a gamble. It’s one that paid off spectacularly.
Immobile is from the Naples area, but joined the Juventus youth academy at the age of 18 for €80,000. Funnily enough considering his future destination, he caught the eye of talent scouts when netting a brace for Sorrento against the Torino youth team. He helped Juve win two consecutive editions of the prestigious Viareggio youth cup, in 2010 named Player of the Tournament thanks to a record 10 goals. Loan spells at Siena and Grosseto were unremarkable, garnering a goal at each club in Serie B, before he hit the jackpot at Pescara.
As part of Zdenek Zeman’s thrilling side, Immobile scored 28 goals in 37 Serie B games and formed a magnificent trio with fellow Italy Under-21 internationals Insigne and Verratti. Those two went on to hit the headlines in Italy and Europe, Verratti even earning a €12m move to PSG at the age of 19. Despite being slightly older and with 10 goals more than the other two put together in that glorious Pescara campaign, Immobile lagged behind his companions, as a loan period at Genoa proved deeply disappointing.
Just five goals from 33 top-flight matches was a poor return and people started to think perhaps he could only emerge as part of Zeman’s 4-3-3 system that required no defending. “Last year I wasn’t even in the top 50 players. I am developing little by little and that is what matters. Two years ago I was in Serie B, last year I made my debut in Serie A and this year I am part of a team that is playing very well and is in the top half of the table.”
‘Little by little’ is not an accurate description for Immobile’s recent career trajectory, as he went from worrying plateau to being propelled into the stratosphere. “My favourite goal for Torino was the sixth, as I was afraid I’d never do better than five,” he confessed. “At Genoa I had started well enough, but then got to five goals and was stuck there for the rest of the season.”
Immobile had no reason to fear an end of campaign slump, as he did quite the opposite at Toro. His form improved as time went on and 14 of his total 22 goals were scored in 2014, including a hat-trick against Livorno, the first treble scored by a Granata player in the top flight since Carlos Aguilera in May 1993.
He peaked just in time to earn a place in Italy’s World Cup squad. Cesare Prandelli had only given the striker one cap as a substitute in a March friendly against Spain, but his Serie A stats were simply too impressive to be ignored.
Immobile is the first Torino player to win the Capocannoniere crown since Ciccio Graziani’s 21 goals in 1976-77. Encouragingly for the Azzurri, Immobile is also the first Italian to top the Serie A scorer charts since Antonio Di Natale bagged 28 for Udinese in 2010-11. More impressive than any of those statistics, Immobile is the first to achieve this title without the aid of penalties since David Trezeguet scored 24 for Juventus in 2001-02. “I remember criticism of those who said he was not ready for Serie A, yet now claim he is first choice for the World Cup,” noted Prandelli.
It has been pointed out the last striker to emerge out of nowhere to play for Italy at a World Cup was a certain Salvatore Schillaci in 1990. “That comparison doesn’t put pressure on me, but it is very flattering. I can only be pleased to be considered similar to one of the strikers who wrote Italian football history. I want to prove what I achieved in Serie A this season was not a fluke.” Confidence remains a problem for Immobile, especially after Torino missed out on Europa League qualification at the last minute in a game where their top scorer was suspended. “Am I sure of going to the World Cup? No, the only certainty in life is death.”
Question marks remain, though, as once again Immobile only truly shines when given good service. At Pescara he had Immobile and Verratti, at Torino it’s Alessio Cerci and Omar El Kaddouri stretching out defences. “Of the strikers around today, I see myself more in Immobile. I was a centre-forward for the penalty area,” explained Italy legend Roberto Boninsegna. Nonetheless, he is only the 13th player to have won Capocannoniere titles in both Serie A and B.
Immobile became hot property on the transfer market before the season had even come to a close. Co-owned between city rivals Juventus and Torino, there was controversy when German side Borussia Dortmund publicly declared their intention to sign the 24-year-old as a replacement for Robert Lewandowski.
“It’s true the Capocannoniere title gave me international visibility and I can say Borussia are a very important club,” he confessed. “I am very ambitious and I think on a personal level it’s only right to always aim as high as possible. I will admit playing in the Champions League would be fantastic and important for my growth.” The last two Capocannonieri were Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani, both immediately poached by a club overseas. Immobile's completed switch in early June made it a hat-trick.