If you think back you can pinpoint the exact moment when Alberto Gilardino seemed set for greatness.
It’s a balmy Saturday evening in the summer of 2006, Italy are playing the U.S.A at the Fritz Walter Stadion in Kaiserslautern and after 21 scoreless minutes Andrea Pirlo whips in a free kick. Gilardino - aged 23 and sporting a short and spiky new hairdo thanks to unofficial team barber Massimo Oddo - breaks away from his marker, deposits a diving header in the bottom corner of Kasey Keller’s net, strides towards the corner flag and serenades the adoring Azzurri tifosi with his imaginary violin. As his teammates converge around him in celebration, his song is cut short before it can reach its crescendo...
It is a metaphor which could be applied to his career since that night. ‘Gila’ has always had a nice rhythm to his goal scoring, but has never really been able to hit the high notes. That delightful diving header in Kaiserslautern was the only goal he scored at World Cup 2006, as the tournament progressed he was edged out of Marcello Lippi’s first XI by Francesco Totti, and despite a respectable 17 in 47 strike rate he’s been a bit part player for La Nazionale ever since, starting World Cup 2010 on the field and ending it on the bench, absent from Euro 2008 altogether.
On the domestic scene also his top level aspirations have been thwarted, the Biella-born front man discarded by Milan in 2008 after three seasons in which he never really looked at home at San Siro.
Greatness might have eluded him then but what Gila is, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is a proven Serie A goal scorer, the sort of old school ‘bomber’ that can thrive with provincial clubs. Now just six months short of his 30th birthday, he has scored 142 top flight goals for Piacenza, Verona, Parma, Milan and Fiorentina, maintaining an impressive average of 11.8 a season. He isn’t Pele or Maradona, but skid a ball across the six yard line or whip a cross onto his bonce and the chances are it’ll end up in the net, and that’s why Genoa are so delighted to have signed him.
“The atmosphere is one of jubilation,” read the port club’s website after Gila’s first training session, an event attended by over 2,000 fans, so chaotic that traffic ground to a halt outside the Signorini complex leaving the striker “open mouthed with shock.”
It is, they hope, the end of a very long hunt for the Rossoblu, who have cycled through innumerable forwards in search of a reliable goal scorer since Diego Milito left two and half seasons ago. Sergio Floccari, four goals in 11 appearances, left after half a season. Hernan Crespo, five in 16, left after half a season. Robert Acquafresca, two in 10, left after half a season. David Suazo, three in 16, left after half a season. Luca Toni, three in 16, left after half a season. Mauro Boselli, Andrea Caracciolo...well, you get the picture.
Whether the Tuscany to Liguria switch constitutes a step up for Gilardino personally is another matter. Fiorentina and Genoa are more or less on the same level and simply assuming the latter will be more successful because they spend more money would be dangerous. However the barbed comments exchanged between him and Pantaleo Corvino suggest player and club had fallen out of love with each other, and if this change of environment provokes as dramatic an upsurge in form as his last one, from Milan to Florence, sneaking back into the Italy squad in time for the Euros might not be such a long shot after all.