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Luca Toni: Italy’s Last Great Target Man

Luca Toni is somewhat unique in his standing in the game in as much as he is seen as an idol without a particular club following. Such was the nomadic nature of his club career he was never really at one club long enough to build up a particularly fervent fan base before moving on and yet despite this wanderlust he went on to be revered generally amongst the Italian footballing faithful due to his achievements at national level.

A strapping 6 foot 4 inches centre forward, Toni enjoyed a career spanning more than two decades from the time he debuted for Serie C1 side Modena in 1994 to when he finally retired from the game in 2016 after a spell at Verona in the 2015-16 season.

Ultimately completing his career with a goalscoring ratio of just under one every two games in a career approaching almost 700 appearances, it is fair to say that Toni made waves on and off the pitch at pretty much every club he appeared for. Described as an ‘Old School’ centre-forward, Toni was not known for his ability to press defenders or chase back but rather made his name through his uncompromising attitude and style of play.

Although by no means an out-and-out ‘bruiser’, Toni had an upper-body strength that allowed him to lead the line perfectly. Not possessing the lightest or most delicate of touches proved to be no impediment as his physique and energy levels meant that more often than not he was able to hold the ball up when necessary while also possessing a killer instinct in and around the box.

His career began in the lower reaches of Italian Serie C and B before getting his first real break in Serie A with Brescia. After two years at Brescia, he somewhat surprisingly took the decision to step down a division when he joined Palermo in Serie B. However, a 30-goal season was instrumental in Palmero achieving promotion to Serie A for the first time in 30 years, while 20 goals the following season in Italy’s top-flight helped Palmero achieve European qualification for the first time in their history.

Toni’s star continued to rise and with it came a big-money move to Fiorentina for the first of two spells with the Florence-based club. Still, the goals kept flowing, with 31 from 38 league appearances in 2005-06, an achievement that earned Toni the coveted Golden Shoe award. Toni’s efforts that season, along with his teammates’, proved to be in vain as Fiorentina were implicated in the Italian Calciopoli scandal that ultimately saw Fiorentina stripped of their European Champions League place and docked 15 points for the following season.

An injury-plagued season in 2006-07 followed for Toni who announced at the end of the season he wished to leave the club. Ostensibly not wishing to sign for any of Fiorentina’s major Italian rivals, Toni instead moved to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich.

The next two and a bit seasons were as successful as ever before Toni managed to fall out with the Bayern hierarchy. Unimpressed at being substituted in a game at half time by manager Louis Van Gaal, Toni left the ground and was immediately dropped and suspended. Seeking a move from the Allianz Arena, Toni signed for Roma until the end of the season before securing a permanent transfer to Genoa in the summer of 2010.

Just six months later Toni was on the move once again as he signed for Juventus at the age of almost 34. It is fair to say that his move to the Old Lady of Italian Football was not particularly a success as he only made a total of 15 appearances in 12 months for the club.

A short spell with Al Nasr in Dubai followed before Toni made a sentimental return to Fiorentina where he enjoyed another solitary season, scoring just eight times in 28 appearances.

A 2013 transfer to Verona saw Toni enjoy an Indian Summer as he made 100 appearances over the next three seasons scoring 51 times before finally deciding to retire in the summer of 2016.

As stated above, Toni became an Italian icon despite moving many times in his career. This was mainly due to his efforts in the blue shirt of the Azzuri national side. Making his international bow in 2004 shortly after securing promotion to Serie A with Palmero, Toni went on to play a total of 47 times in a five-year period, securing his legendary status by being part of the 2006 World Cup-winning side.

Since retiring from playing Toni has taken steps to remain in football. A spell as a Director of Sport at his former club Verona was relatively short-lived, but since then he has undertaken study towards his UEFA Pro Licence Award.

Toni is remembered by some as the ‘last great Italian centre-forward’ for his style of play, and thanks to the longevity of his career it is likely that his legacy will endure for some time.

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David Nesbit

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