One of the most underplayed stories of the last two years has been the remarkable goalscoring of former Italy striker Luca Toni. But that would seem appropriate for a man who has been underrated for virtually his entire career.
The 37-year-old has quietly gone about banging in 40 goals in 72 games for Serie A strugglers Hellas Verona in the last two seasons, a feat that at his age is pretty unparallelled in recent memory. Those goals have taken Toni to fourth in the list of still-playing Serie A goalscorers with 147 in 317 games. Considering the man at the head of that list Francesco Totti is widely admired for his longevity, it is odd that his contemporary who has scored more than double the goals since his arrival in Verona in 2013, despite playing for a far weaker side, has received such little recognition.
A significant part of that may be Toni’s ungainly style. The striker has been ridiculed at times during his career for his lack of finesse yet he keeps on hitting the back of the net. He appeared to be finished a few years ago after moving to Dubai but his renaissance under Andrea Mandorlini has been stunning. His form last season even had some crying for his inclusion in Cesare Prandelli’s World Cup squad, five years after the last of his 47 caps.
In the end the coach chose not to take the 6’4″ target man despite Toni enjoying the best spell of his career under Prandelli at Fiorentina. A late developer, 27-year-old Toni fired Palermo to survival in Serie A with 20 goals in his first season in the top flight before joining La Viola in 2005. There he became the first striker in 50 years to break the 30-goal barrier in Serie A in 2006, something nobody has done since, earning the European Golden Boot in the process.
That summer he picked up a World Cup winner’s medal and a place in the tournament’s All-Star team as the Azzurri’s main frontman, scoring a brace against Ukraine in the quarter-final. Of course that was also the year of Calciopoli which would ultimately see him move on to Bayern Munich in 2007. He bagged a stunning haul of 39 goals in all competitions in his first season, including both goals in the German cup final success against Dortmund. He carried his form into the following season before a series of injuries and the appointment of Louis van Gaal halted his progress in Germany.
He had a spell in the wilderness after leaving Munich, never really settling at Roma, Genoa or Juventus before his renaissance “in fair Verona”.
In many ways Toni is the player Andy Carroll should but never will be, a monster in the air with a goalscorer’s instinct who with the right service delivers a guarantee of goals. In March, he was delighted to cross another box off his footballing bucket list with a panenka against Milan. He might not look it but the Italian has been one of the best poachers of his generation.
Plus, he gets bonus points for being the subject of a wonderfully silly pop song.