x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Toni and Roma: the perfect match

Toni, at nine, and Totti at 10 looks an intriguing partnership, and it could yet spice up the top of the table.

A couple of years ago, when things were going well for Luca Toni at Bayern Munich, he told this reporter about all the aspects of Germany he liked. It was a long list, but mainly it was the buzz on matchdays. "In Germany," he cooed, "you have a completely different football culture. You can get 70,000 people turning up to see an early-round cup match, which is amazing for me. When I played at Fiorentina, you would sometimes see just 5,000 come to a tie in the Coppa Italia."

Suffice to say, the honeymoon between Toni, the 32-year-old Italian international centre-forward, and Germany's most celebrated club is now well and truly over. It has been a wrench for him to give up on Germany, a place where he won the World Cup with Italy, where he once topped the goalscorers in the Bundesliga and achieved a league and cup double. His retreat, however, became urgent once the Bayern head coach Louis van Gaal and the club's executive president Uli Hoeness cast their verdict on the player's petulant response to being substituted at half-time during a fixture against Schalke 04 in November. Toni left the stadium in his car almost immediately. Van Gaal and Hoeness essentially told him that if that was his attitude he should keep driving all the way to the next transfer window.

So the wandering striker now finds himself at the 11th club of his professional career, Roma. In many respects they make a natural fit. Toni is unusual for having compiled a distinguished career with the Azzurri, winning 47 caps, without having made the move to one of the big three of Serie A: AC Milan, Inter or Juventus. That's partly because he was a late developer. At 21 he was still scrabbling about in Serie C, with Fiorenzuola, and indeed was ready to give up on his dreams of professional football. Only in October 2000, aged 23, did he make his Serie A debut, with Vicenza, making enough of an impression to get a move to the Brescia, where he stayed for two campaigns, the first the more successful. But his big break came at Palermo in 2004, where his goals helped them to promotion to Serie A. He then scored 20 times in the top flight, enough for Fiorentina to spend around ?9million (Dh47.2m) to acquire him. Bayern in turn paid a similar fee in the summer of 2007.

What they got was an orthodox No 9; 6ft 3in, good in the air and confident inside and outside the box. Precisely the sort of centre forward Roma have lacked, or even resisted, for a number of seasons. "I have joined the team I have been wanting to sign for since my problems started with Bayern," said Toni, with a mixture of relief and glee, on agreeing his six-month loan deal with Roma. "Tactically, he will give us a different Roma," observed Claudio Ranieri, the head coach.

That was an understatement. Under Ranieri's predecessor, Luciano Spalletti, Roma acquired fame around Italy, and indeed Europe, as team ready to boldly dispense with the traditional No 9; the target man, the spearhead striker. Of course, they had Francesco Totti, a dynamic user of the space between midfield and attack, to surge into that territory, but Spalletti would also often resist putting players like Julio Baptista, big and strong in the air, in the role, and would ask the likes of striker Mirko Vicinic to attack from deeper, wider positions. For a while, the approach worked well, especially in Europe, and Spalletti was hailed as a revolutionary by some.

Toni, at nine, and Totti at 10 looks an intriguing partnership, and it could yet spice up the top of the table and give national coach Marcello Lippi plenty to think about for the World Cup summer. sports@thenational.ae