Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 4 August 2020

From Ciro Immobile to Cristiano Ronaldo, veterans prove a perfect fit in race for Europe's Golden Shoe

Continued excellence of 30-year-olds shows great goalscorers do not necessarily peak in their 20s

Not long before midnight on the 337th day of the longest Serie A season, the old order was reestablished. Juventus had done enough on Sunday to confirm their ninth successive title, at 2-0 up against Sampdoria with the 90 minutes almost completed.

For the players of Lazio, who had for much of this extended campaign been the most convincing challengers, there was a sense of resignation, but some good news.

Just before the final whistle in Turin, Cristiano Ronaldo thumped a penalty against the crossbar. Had he aimed a centimetre or so lower, he’d have crept closer to the important prize still at stake as Italy’s top division goes into its last two matchdays.

Lazio’s chase for the Italian championship faded after the June restart. But their striker, Ciro Immobile, still leads the race for both the Capocannoniere award – for Serie A’s top marksman – and has two games left to take the lead in the rankings for the European Golden Shoe, the trophy for the continent’s best goalscorer in league football.

He is on 34 goals, and, because of the disjointed season, need only look in one of his rear-view mirrors for possible overtaking: Ronaldo, whose Juve play Cagliari on Wednesday and Roma on Sunday, is three goals behind him.

Robert Lewandowski, of Bayern Munich, has the same number as Immobile, but his club Bayern Munich wrapped up their league business – with the title – a month ago.

Would anyone dare bet against Ronaldo outflanking them both, given his current form, which, apart from the penalty miss, has been compelling?

Post-restart, the Portuguese has 10 goals from as many matches, including both in the 2-1 win over Lazio that all but ended Lazio’s title ambitions, and the pair in the 2-2 draw against Atalanta that kept Atalanta’s challenge at arm’s length.

Shortly before matches were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ronaldo also set up the opening goal in the 2-0 win over Internazionale, who at that stage had firm title ambitions.

Ronaldo has won the Golden Shoe four times, first as a 23-year-old with Manchester United, and three times with Real Madrid – the last of those after he had turned 30.

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Premier League Golden Boot winners

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Back then it was tempting to assume that his gluttonous goalscoring – he hit 48 Liga goals that season, 2014-15 – would fade with the approach of sporting middle-age. Not so. He turned 35 in February, and again finds himself jousting for the Golden Shoe.

Great goalscorers do not necessarily peak in their 20s. While this has been an uniquely spaced-out season, with the pause in competitions offering beneficial rest and recuperation, several veterans are current proof of that.

Jamie Vardy finished the season as the Premier League’s leading scorer – 23 goals – at the age of 33, another landmark in a true late-bloom of a career. Ten years ago Vardy was playing in the Northern Premier League, the seventh tier of English football.

La Liga’s top scorer this season is also well into his 30s, although he can hardly be described as a late developer: Lionel Messi, 33, won the first of his six Golden Shoes when he was 22.

Lewandowski turned 31 last August. He has been a consistently excellent marksman for the best part of a decade, but his return of Bundesliga goals this season – 34 from 31 matches – is his best ever.

In Bayern’s efficient march to the league title after the lockdown, he scored nine goals in eight matches, and his frustration when he missed out on a game because of yellow card leading to a suspension was plain.

He will regret that blank 90 minutes even more should Immobile score in either of Lazio’s remaining matches, against relegated Brescia and against Napoli.

Immobile is 30, and enjoying the most prolific season of a career that has had its ups and downs. He joined Juventus as a teenager, but left them 10 years ago, and made a name for himself as a finisher in Serie B with Pescara.

After a flat season in the top-flight with Genoa, he then struck 22 Serie A goals in the first of two campaigns with Torino. That earned him the first of his 39 Italy caps, in 2014.

It earned him a transfer, too, to Borussia Dortmund, who had just lost Lewandowski to Bayern. Immobile – three goals in 24 league games – was not the man to fill the gap.

Spain’s Liga suited him a little better than the Bundesliga, but after a short loan spell at Sevilla he rejoined Torino on loan. Lazio watched his form return once back in his native Italy, and signed him from Dortmund in 2016. One hundred and one goals later, the €9 million (Dh38m) they spent on Immobile looks a steal.

Updated: July 29, 2020 08:16 AM

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