The rise and rise of Ciro Immobile
The failure of the Italian national team to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup has caught the attention of the football world, with questions raised on how the Azzurri will find their way back in the sport. Key players like Gianluigi Buffon, Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Barzagli have announced their retirements and a major rebuilding process is likely to be required for the side – with a new manager required after the sacking of Gian Piero Ventura.
However, in the midst of the gloom in Italian football, one player is enjoying a period of renaissance. 27-year-old Ciro Immobile has followed up his excellent 2016-17 season for Lazio with another rich goal-scoring form for the Serie A side in the ongoing season.
Immobile has scored 15 goals and assisted 6 in 12 games this season (thereby has had direct contribution to 21 out of 32 goals scored by his team) which has been the main reason for Lazio’s impressive start to their Serie A campaign. The striker will have a major role to play for the Simone Inzaghi managed side have to qualify for Champions League for the 2018-19 season.
A player with goal-poaching instincts of a conventional number-9, Immobile also has the ability to create space and opportunities for his teammates with his offensive movement. Added to his offensive skills is the tenacity to press and chase down the ball when not in possession – and these skillsets make Immobile an invaluable asset for any team.
The world of football can be very rewarding and also unforgiving, and Immobile’s career so far has had its share of peaks and troughs.
From the highs of getting the opportunity to begin his professional career at Juventus, and winning the Capocannoniere (top-scorer in Serie A) in 2013-14 which helped him get selected for the 2014 World Cup squad, Immobile saw a dramatic dip in his fortunes soon after. The striker had a very forgettable season and a half abroad, before having to return to Italy, being labelled a flop in the German and Spanish leagues.
Immobile, however, didn’t take too long to dispel the tag, and he has fully justified the faith showed in him by Lazio and rediscovered his game to be considered as one of the top strikers in Europe.
Born in Naples in February 1990, Immobile honed his football skills at local football school Torre Annunziata'88. He first caught attention with his performances for the under-17 team of Sorrento Calcio, for whom he scored 30 goals in the 2006-07 season.
The then-Italy assistant coach Ciro Ferrara recommended the youngster to Juventus, who signed Immobile for a nominal fee and included him in their youth team. Immobile impressed with the youth team, and was soon given the chance to make his Serie A and Champions League debut – coming on as a substitute in both instances.
To help the player develop his skills and get regular game-time, Juventus sent him on loan to Serie B side Siena, and later Grosseto in the 2010-11 season, but Immobile failed to make any impact at either club and his future looked uncertain.
He was sent on loan to another Serie B side – Pescara - in the following season, and the striker finally did justice to his talent by scoring 28 goals in an impressive campaign for the team which also included future-stars Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne.
Serie A club Genoa took note of Immobile’s performances and came to an agreement with Juventus to own half of the player’s rights.
Immobile played his first full-season in the top division in 2012-13 for Genoa, but only managed to score 5 goals in 33 games, with his side only narrowly escaping relegation.
Juventus bought the complete rights of Immobile at the end of the season, and sold him to their local rivals Torino (under a new co-ownership agreement), without the slightest idea of what was going to follow in the upcoming season.
Immobile, who was largely unproven till then, made an instant impact at Torino as he scored on his debut for the team – which incidentally was against his former side Pescara in the Coppa Italia.
After providing an assist on his Serie A debut for Torino, Immobile soon started an impressive goal-scoring run with many crucial goals for his side. He linked up brilliantly with Alessio Cerci to bring about a quick upturn in the fortunes of the side – which had been promoted to the top division just a year before, and had only finished 16th in the Serie A in the 2012-13 season.
Torino (coached by Gian Piero Ventura – who incidentally was Italy’s manager in their failed 2018 World Cup qualification campaign) managed to finish a credible seventh in the Serie A table at the end of the 2013-14 season, and Immobile went on to score 22 goals in the league to win the coveted Golden Boot (Capocannoniere) – the first for a Torino player in more than 3 decades.
Immobile’s performances didn’t go unnoticed by the top clubs in Europe and he was on their transfer radar in the summer window of 2014. He was also rewarded with a call-up to the Italian national side and later was selected in the 23-player squad for the World Cup in Brazil. (Immobile didn’t do much of note in the World Cup, and Italy crashed out at the group stage)
Low phase abroad
In the summer of 2014, Borussia Dortmund required a replacement for the Bayern Munich-bound Robert Lewandowski, and the prolific Immobile seemed to fit the bill perfectly.
But the story began to go awry, as Jurgen Klopp’s team had a horror start to their Bundesliga campaign which saw them in the 18th spot in the league table after 13 matches. Immobile’s form suffered as well and he was able to score his first Bundesliga goal only in mid-December.
While Dortmund were able to salvage their campaign by ultimately finishing 7th in the Bundesliga, Immobile had a very underwhelming return of 3 goals in 24 league games in the season (though he did manage 4 Champions League goals for the side).
Immobile later shared that he could have joined Juventus instead of Dortmund, but chose to respect Torino and opted against joining the local rivals. He felt that his inability to feel settled in Dortmund played a major role in his disappointing stint at the club.
In an interview to Corriere dello Sport, he said “Borussia Dortmund was really hard for me, because I was far from home and didn’t understand the language. Fortunately, there was an interpreter with me at all times and he’d try to explain the situation when the Coach spoke to me. It was all very complicated off the field, though.
I never understood why the German media didn’t like me. They’d publish articles saying Bayern Munich buy from Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund buy from Torino. Maybe they were still annoyed at Italy winning the 2006 World Cup in Germany!”
In a bid to rediscover his form, Immobile joined Sevilla on loan for the 2015-16 season, but his troubles in front of the goal continued. He managed only 2 league goals in limited appearances in the first half of the season as coach Unai Emery didn’t consider him first-choice. He felt that he needed to go elsewhere for regular game-time – and requested the club for a move. Amusingly, the rather-twisted saga of his ownership continued, as Sevilla first purchased the player from Dortmund, and then loaned him to Torino.
It appeared that Immobile had missed Serie A, as he promptly scored on his second debut for Torino. A muscular injury limited his participation for the side, but he still managed to score 5 league goals in six months – which was the same count that he managed in 18 months prior for Dortmund and Sevilla combined.
Lazio, who had finished 8th in the Serie A in the 2015-16 season, moved to sign Immobile for a fee in the range of €9 million – thus becoming the ninth different club for the player in 8 years.
Immobile had been a part of Antonio Conte’s squad for Euro 2016 – but didn’t make any substantial contribution to Italy’s run to the quarterfinals. It appeared as if the player was at the crossroads in his career, and he needed to make the opportunity given to him by Simone Inzaghi count – and he did make the most of it!
Scoring on his debut for the Roman club, Immobile went on to finish the season with 23 league goals – one more than his previous best (the season’s Capocannoniere, however, went to AS Roma’s Edin Dzeko) – to help Lazio finish 5th in the Serie A and qualify for Europa League for the following season.
Immobile has raised his game to a higher level in the ongoing 2017-18 season. He started the campaign with a brace against Juventus in the Supercoppa Italiana which helped Lazio win the game 3-2 and with it their first trophy of the season.
He has continued his rich scoring touch, in which he averages more than a goal in a league game so far, and has been one of the standout performers among all top European leagues. His outstanding form has been a major reason for Lazio’s impressive start to the season and helped the team keep pace with the top teams in the league table.
The player knows that he owes a lot to the club for giving him a chance during a low phase in career and is very grateful for it. “Lazio is the ideal environment for me and Inzaghi helped me rediscover that faith in myself, making me a protagonist in a club in the most important city in Italy. I will be eternally grateful for that. Lazio are competing at the top level in Serie A now and we cannot hide. We must continue at our current pace. We are certainly not on a par with Juventus or Napoli, but we can try to close the gap, step by step.”
The road ahead
In October 2017, Lazio rewarded Immobile with a new contract extending up to 2022. But if the player continues to regularly find the back of the net, the side will have a huge battle at their hands to keep hold of their talismanic player – with many top European sides known to be monitoring Immobile.
Immobile will look to achieve further glory with Lazio – the club which have given the chance to redeem and rediscover him game. But it is likely that he will also want to showcase his skills in other European leagues – something he wasn’t able to do at Dortmund and Sevilla in the past. A possible reunion with his former Italy boss Conte at Chelsea – reports of which has been among the transfer buzz recently - might give Immobile the chance to achieve glory in England and Europe.
The disappointment of not participating in the 2018 World Cup might spur Immobile to lead the new generation of Italian footballers to possibly a strong show in the Euro 2020 – with the player having only turned 30 then.
The young promising striker at the start of the decade has matured into one of the leading footballers in Europe. Ciro Immobile will look to continue to raise his game to even higher levels, and his learnings from his previous stints abroad will only make him a better and more complete player.