Ciro Immobile: Europe's Most Underrated Striker?
Messi, Ronaldo, Mbappe, Lewandowski. Each world class striker shares one thing in common in 2020. Each trail Lazio's Ciro Immobile in race to win the European Golden Boot for Europe's top scorer.
In only 19 games, Immobile has notched 23 goals leading Lazio to a title push and 11 straight wins. He's also on pace to beat Gonzalo Higuain's record of 35 goals in Serie A.
What's remarkable is this isn't Immobile's first time topping Serie A's goal-scoring charts. In fact he's won the award, the Capocannoniere, twice before (2014, 2018). To do it again would put him amongst the legends of Italian football. It turns out he's already there.
Don't just go by statistics, look at what football experts say about him. Current Parma president, Demetrio Albertini, has compared Immobile to Argentinian legend Hernan Crespo. His manager, Simone Inzaghi has said he's one of the best 3-5 strikers in Italy the last 15 years.
He's one of best strikers in one of football's traditional powerhouses. So why is often forgotten when we think of elite strikers?
A Reputation That Never Went Away
At the age of 21, he had his breakout season at Pescara. He scored 28 goals in Serie B and led them to promotion along with Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insighe. However, unlike Insighe and Verratti, he couldn't follow up his form the following season with Genoa.
That season he only scored 5 goals in 33 appearances. Says Serie A expert Nima Tavallaey (The Serie A Show, SempreInter.com), "this reputation started about him maybe being just another poacher, not being a good footballer, something that has kind of plagued him throughout his entire career. People say that, 'oh, yeah, he scores goals, but he doesn't score enough. He's the kind of player who doesn't raise teams, he needs good players around him to be able to lift etc.'"
"That's something that's followed him throughout his entire career. And that kind of started after that season in general."
This reputation was further deepened by two poor years outside of Italy at Dortmund and Sevilla where he scored 14 goals in 49 games. It proved to some he couldn't succeed outside of Italy.
Player in the Wrong Era
According to Tavallaey, Immobile is a casualty of playing in the wrong era. "I think it's one of those issues where you're born in the wrong time.
His qualities are not what the biggest teams in Europe are looking for when they're looking for a number nine. He's not a target man, he's not a false nine. He is a classic number nine. He is a poacher, similar to Mauro Icardi."
"He it's not a sexy name because of his failure at Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla. They have players who guarantee them what they want in terms of how they play and move."
"I think football is about cycles. And this 4-3-3, tiki-taka, total football renaissance is thankfully dying out now. I think we've had a decade of the 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 players and I think what we're seeing now is the move away from that. Everything in history goes in cycles. Cycles, not circles. So does football."
Struggles on the International Scene
The other main reason why he may be underrated is his lack of exposure on the international stage. Despite his success at club level, he has only played in 7 Champions League matches. It is the biggest competition in Europe and he's only made 7 appearances.
His time with the Italian national team coincides with their worst run in history. They failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and only advanced to the quarterfinals in the 2016 Euros. His contribution is a reason for that poor run. In his 39 career appearances for Italy he only has 10 goals.
"This is his moment to shine," says Tavallaey. "I think, a successful European Championship and a successful season- if he were to become Serie A top goalscorer for the third time, if he were to win the European Golden Boot, if he were to be the top goalscorer at the European Championships, which I wouldn't put it past him of doing- then I think all of this will change. Because you know how it is. The winner's write history."
"History is written by winners and if he were to win it with Italy and lead them to glory, then then all of this will be forgotten."