Having played for sixteen different clubs over the span of nineteen years, as well as representing Italy on 47 occasions, it is safe to say that Luca Toni has seen it all and been seen by all. The nomadic striker has proven himself over the years as being one of the most prolific forwards around and in doing so racked up a war-chest of accolades. The 2006 World Cup winner has won the Golden Boot award in three different leagues as well as in the UEFA Cup, and earned the coveted European Golden Shoe back in the year of Italy’s triumph in Germany.
The last of these goal scoring awards came in 2008 though, following which Il bomber, as he is known in Italy, took to his travels once more and subsequently struggled to keep his name on any starting line-up. Despite his obvious goal scoring qualities and all-round ability, it appeared as though age and a host of niggling injuries had finally caught up with the footballing gypsy.
A move to newly promoted Hellas Verona at the start of the season, however, have changed that view altogether.
In a time where all the focus is placed on breeding and developing young and dynamic footballers, Luca Toni’s performances this season went wholly against the norm, proving the old adage that age is but a number. The veteran striker, who recently celebrated his 37th birthday, defied his age with an incredible contribution of 20 goals in Serie A, ending only two goals behind the much younger Ciro Immobile who ended as the league’s Capocannoniere.
The former Bayern Munich, Fiorentina and Palermo star lit the Serie A alight this season with his typical dominance in the air and clinical finishing, becoming the driving force in Verona not only avoiding the drop but ending in a more than respectable tenth place. The 6ft4 striker scored twice on the opening day of the season as Verona beat giants Milan 2-1 – a game that would set the tone for both Toni and the Gialloblu’s season. From then on goals would be the norm as Toni ended the season as brightly as he had started it, scoring 6 goals in 5 games over the March/April period of the season.
Where many had written Toni off as being ‘past it’, Verona manager Andrea Mandorlini recognised that class truly is permanent and built his side around the evergreen Toni. He recognised that what Toni lacked in pace and a perceived dynamism, he made up for with experience and an incredible versatility – a versatility best reflected in the manner in which Toni scored his goals. Of the 20 he netted this season, Toni headed in 5, fired in 6 with his left foot and knocked in the remaining 9 with his favoured right. As if that wasn’t enough, the powerhouse also created a 30 goal scoring opportunities, 7 of which were converted.
With a cool head, a cool finish and a cool amount of goals, Luca Toni was quite simply the be-all and end-all at Verona this season and is regarded by many as being their player of the season.
Impressive for an ‘old man’.
In truth though, the pace, dynamism and all round excitement brought about by younger players is without the future of football. It is what the fans pay to see. But when the going gets tough and the manager needs someone to call on, a cool experienced head is what is needed, and Luca Toni is kicking proof that the old guard still have an important place in the modern game.