When Lazio paid Borussia Dortmund €8.75m for Ciro Immobile in 2016, an inconsistent and somewhat immature striker approaching his peak, few would’ve been able to predict what the next four years would hold. Simply put, he refined his game and became one of Europe’s most lethal strikers in the process.
He has been the protagonist of Lazio’s renaissance under Simone Inzaghi, having scored 103 goals in 142 appearances. Last season’s 36 in Serie A him the Capocannoniere crown and the European Golden Shoe, beating the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo to the award.
So, naturally, Immobile was one of the first names on Roberto Mancini’s squad list as Italy prepare for their first international fixtures in nearly 10 months. But there’s an understandable scepticism as to whether he can replicate his club form with the national team, since he has struggled in this regard throughout his Azzurri career.
His record of 10 goals in 39 appearances demonstrates that, although this statistic only tells half the story. First called up by Cesare Prandelli in March 2014 amid an excellent campaign for Torino, it would take him five caps to register his first international goal, and was part of the Italy side that crashed out of the 2014 World Cup at the group stage.
After that first international goal in September 2014, he would earn 10 more caps before getting another one - a goalscoring drought of two years. In that time, he represented four clubs and played in three different countries.
Immobile’s inconsistency both for club and country at around this time can be attributed, in retrospect, to his nomadic early career. He had never stayed at a club for longer than a year, meaning he had to constantly adapt to different styles of play and teammates, and at a couple of points, adapt to living in a new country. It can’t have been good for his confidence.
He has finally found his home at Lazio, however, and has been allowed to flourish while playing under the same coach, the same style-of-play and practically the same teammates. It’s no coincidence that an improvement in his international performances coincided with this. Indeed, he was Italy’s top scorer in their ill-fated 2018 World Cup qualification campaign, scoring six goals in 12 appearances.
After that, he endured another international goal drought, which went on for another two years. It was inexplicable. He appeared to have turned a corner in his career, and while he was still scoring on a regular basis for Lazio, he was performing poorly for Italy. Perhaps the national embarrassment that accompanied the Azzurri’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup had dented his Azzurri confidence.
Possibly as a result of this, Immobile only made four appearances in Italy’s successful Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, despite clearly being one of the best strikers on the peninsula. He did score three goals in those four games, though these came against Finland and Armenia, so hardly anything to write home about.
The 10-month gap between international fixtures, alongside Immobile’s newfound status as Europe’s most prolific striker, represents a fresh start. A chance to prove himself as the man to lead the Azzurri’s front line going into next summer’s Euros, a competition which they’ll be keen to do well in considering their woes in international competition over the past decade.
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