“You try, but it doesn’t come out. And when it comes out, it all does at once. It’s like ketchup.”
Gonzalo Higuain’s recollection of Ruud van Nistelrooy’s fantastic analogy has never been more appropriate for Italy’s dangerman, Ciro Immobile. Hailing from Naples, Lazio’s No 17 has been nothing short of electrifying for the capital club this term, and with a critical qualifier against Sweden on the horizon, the Azzurri have never been more in need.
Immobile’s re-birth, similar to that of his compatriot Simone Zaza, has been phenomenal, and he has found his feet in a dynamic, efficient side, brilliantly coached by Simone Inzaghi. The attacker’s claim that Lazio will “continue to amaze people” after their 3-0 rout against Cagliari is a statement just as applicable to himself. In short, Immobile is the Giampiero Ventura’s best chance of bundling his dysfunctional Nazionale over the line.
Ventura’s stubbornness has somewhat stifled any enthusiasm surrounding Italy’s challenge for the World Cup next year, and to accuse Ventura’s 4-2-4 formation as ‘controversial’ would be a grave understatement. Such has been the backlash, Jorginho’s inclusion and a widely-predicted switch to a back three has undoubtedly been influenced by public pressure.
However, not even a switch to accommodate Napoli’s Jorginho has pacified everybody, with Arrigo Sacchi claiming that “no-one in Serie A uses three at the back.” Ventura would certainly be brave to dismiss Sacchi’s ponderings about the side, and the legendary Coach’s words certainly hold more sway than that of the public’s. Yet it is the latter’s concerns that have manifested themselves in Ventura’s tactical plans.
However, a switch to a more structured, fleshed-out midfield will benefit Marco Verratti, who has struggled to show his talents in a solitary two-man pivot. Nonetheless, any winners or losers in such a tactical switch need not worry about Italy’s frontline; as long as Immobile is fit and firing, Italy have hope.
Now 27, Immobile has recovered remarkably from an unspectacular second spell with Torino and previously a streaky, unremarkable time as Borussia Dortmund’s No 9. His move to Sevilla in 2015 had all the hallmarks of a Monchi masterstroke, however not being in a comfortable environment once more left Immobile pining for Italian shores.
What makes Immobile so invaluable to both Lazio and the Azzurri is not only the form he is in, but the fact he has provided so much more than goals. His six assists in Serie A for high-flying Lazio have not gone unnoticed, and Immobile’s pace combined with his eye for a pass have made him Serie A’s top scorer with 14 strikes and arguably the player of the season so far.
While the Aquile have hit the headlines for the wrong reasons this season, Inzaghi has coached Immobile perfectly and managed to re-capture the form the Italian showed in his breakout season at Torino in 2013-14.
Unspectacular results against Israel, FYR Macedonia and Albania have compounded a national urge to rediscover a formula and tangible thread of visible progression under Ventura. Whether or not the ex-Torino boss will be in charge next year remains to be seen, but one thing is clear - whoever commandeers Italy to Russia must harness and build around Immobile.
Italy will travel to Sweden this evening, praying that they will not go down in history as the first Azzurri team to fail to qualify for a World Cup since 1958. Their chances and hopes rest with Immobile, and given the erratic, last-ditch tactical switch by Ventura, a nation will hold its breath. Italy’s main man up top is red hot, and they need him more than ever before.