THE COMMON ATTRACTION we often have with footballers derives from what these individuals accomplish with the boots laced up and between the lines. Whether it’s a timely back-heel that comes off with ease, the elegance of a proper build-up resembling that of a well-rehearsed choreography, or a defensive stalwart’s refusal to concede even the slightest blade of grass, we all gravitate in some way shape or form to the action that transpires on the pitch.
But perhaps what makes these professionals so special isn’t their technical ability or the mental chess match they play over 90 minutes; rather the road travelled to take centre stage in world football: the grind, inner struggle, the arrival, the failure and, in this case, revival. One way or another, behind each top footballer is a story of how they became a success – and Lazio striker Ciro Immobile is no exception.
Born in Torre Annunziata, Immobile grew up in Napoli territory nearly 35km south of the Stadio San Paolo. His playing career began at local academy Torre Annunziata 88 before moving to the Salernitana system where failure stunted his growth as a teenager. Following these struggles, the Neapolitan settled down at Sorrento, where he spent the better part of six years, notably scoring 30 goals for the under-17 side during the 2007/08 season.
Off the pitch came domestic interest from Turin-based giants Juventus, who liked what they saw in the young striker. Reflected not only in their courtship of his talents but in legendary defender Ciro Ferrara’s personal recommendation, Immobile joined the Bianconeri’s Primavera at 18 where he’d soon stake his claim as one of the system’s top prospects, scoring five goals en-route to a Viareggio Cup success.
Less than a month later, manager Claudio Ranieri handed Immobile his Serie A debut, in March 2009, replacing captain Alessandro Del Piero in the 89th minute of commanding 4-1 home win over Bologna at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino. In late November the following season, Immobile yet again relieved il Pinturicchio from the bench to register his Champions League debut against Bordeaux.
For further seasoning, Juventus sent Immobile on loan to recently relegated side Siena the following summer, where he lasted just six months before joining up with Grosseto. With just a single goal to his name over 16 matches, Immobile returned to the Bianconeri with his career in need of navigation.
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Suddenly, in the southern Italian region of Abruzzo, Immobile would find his bearings, soon emerging into the top prospect Ferrara predicted. Striking a season-long loan deal with Pescara, Immobile finally broke ground on his promising career and it erupted in a big way at the Adriatico in 2012/13.
Under the shrewd tactical prowess of Zdeněk Zeman, the Italian bomber spearheaded the Czech’s tactician’s exuberant 4-3-3 with an instinctive killer touch and gaudy offensive numbers. At the midway point of the campaign, Immobile had buried an impressive 14 goals, prompting Genoa president Enrico Preziosi to invest €4m in half of his rights in a co-ownership deal with Juventus.
Together with Lorenzo Insigne and Marco Verratti, Immobile elevated Pescara on a magical run towards a Serie B title that earned them promotion to the top flight. Immobile’s lone season for the Delfini was nothing short of spectacular, bagging 28 goals and six assists in 37 appearances.
Leading with plenty of optimism heading to Liguria for his 2012/13 campaign at Genoa, Immobile’s first top-flight season – besides scoring one of his first goals against the Old Lady – was more about positioning himself to become a viable forward on the Peninsula than anything else.
As Genoa narrowly escaped relegation with a 17th place finish, Juventus purchased their rights to the prolific attacker for a meagre €2.75m before working under a new co-ownership deal with city rivals Torino for the very same price. This move inevitably put the well-travelled striker on the map in not only Italy, but all over Europe as Gian Piero Ventura placed Immobile in the squad to succeed and be the same potent threat he was with Pescara. Like in Abruzzo with Insigne and Veratti, the striker had the luxury of a complimentary attacker who enabled him to perform freely while shouldering the lion’s share of the offensive duties.
With the help of Alessio Cerci, Immobile’s early season scoring drought came to screeching halt in early October 2013, when he tucked away his first goal for Toro, going off on a tenacious run of 12 goals in 15 matches towards to cap off the half season. That year, Cerci and Immobile played synchronised football, linking up often and tormenting their opponent at every turn, combining to carry the Granata with a total of 35 goals and 15 assists.
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Immobile’s 22 strikes were enough to win the coveted Capocannoniere over some esteemed company in Luca Toni, Carlos Tevez, Antonio Di Natale and Gonzalo Higuaín.
Torino narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Europa League, but with sixth place Parma failing to obtain a UEFA license amidst several financial problems, they entered through the back door. For the president, Urbano Cairo, this wasn’t enough to keep hold of Immobile as heavy interest abroad became too good to pass up on the Italian who had a burning desire to play Champions League football.
A move to Napoli made almost too much sense considering his attachment to the city. “Would I like to wear the Napoli shirt in the future? Certainly, they are the team of city,” Immobile explained to Italia 1. However, after Torino and Juventus sorted out their co-ownership rights, Immobile was sold to Borussia Dortmund for an estimated €18m. “Borussia Dortmund was the best solution for me,” Immobile told Corriere dello Sport. “I will always be grateful to Juventus because they brought me through and let me go when we had different needs.”
Life at Signal Iduna Park didn’t go smoothly for Immobile, however, as he struggled to adapt to the German culture and language, which affected his ability to perform. A Bundesliga move that left much to be desired, Immobile moved on loan to Sevilla after just one season in Rhine-Westphalia, scoring just 10 goals in 34 matches.
Immobile later opened up about why he was unable to replicate his delectable form from Italy in Germany, lamenting Dortmund’s lack of support as the rooted cause. “We received no help, neither me nor my family,” the Azzurri hitman admitted to El Pais. “We must share the blame. I did not know German and I expected more help from my teammates.”
The forward also criticized Jürgen Klopp for his coaching methods and preparation, stating,“we worked hard in pre-season, but not very much on weekdays.” “He [Klopp] did a lot on motivation to get the best out of his players,” Immobile continued. “But at a tactical level, we did not work hard.”
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Prior to Immobile signing for Unai Emery’s reigning Europa League champions, it was shared through his agent, Marco Sommella, that his dream was to suit up for Napoli. Those wishes, later revealed through Sommella himself, did not align with the San Paolo outfit who opted to decline the opportunity to bring him aboard as a backup for Higuaín. In any case, Immobile was just looking to steer his career back on track and find consistent form once again in Seville – except that would not come to fruition in the end.
Sparingly utilised by Emery, the labouring Neapolitan could not see his way into the first team on a consistent basis, though his fifth appearance in November for the club triggered his buyout clause of €11m.
Months later, during the January transfer window, Torino were hovering comfortably mid-table but wished to restock the attack and saw an opportunity to bring Immobile back to old stomping grounds for, at the very least, six months. In January 2016, Immobile officially returned to Turin, and announced it days later by scoring in a commanding 4-2 win over Frosinone.
Immobile’s homecoming lifted his spirits and form close to what we witnessed in his first term at the club, adding five goals and four assists in 14 Serie A matches. Despite this brief re-emergence, the future was unclear for the Italian who was not sure where his next move would be. Regardless, it was overtly obvious that he belonged in Italy, and hope remained about the possibility that boyhood club Napoli would consider opening that door for him.
In the end, the Partenopei rejected him once again, instead paving the way for him to join Lazio in the summer of 2016 for a bargain €8m. Since setting foot in the Italian capital, goals have poured in at a staggering rate for Immobile, who has hit the form of his life in his mid-20s. His 43 goals and 10 assists in 57 league matches for Simone Inzaghi’s soaring Aquile are one of the primary reasons the Roman club have sprung into the conversation for a top-four finish in 2017/18.
Ciro Immobile’s career trajectory has been anything but predictable. From searching for the spotlight at a young age and leading the scoring charts in Italy, to falling face down outside the Peninsula before recently picking himself up as the Biancocelesti’s talisman, the Neapolitan appears to have put it all together at 27. Through reclaiming his Azzurri spot and a position amongst European football’s elite goalscorers, its evident Immobile belongs in Italy, where perseverance has prevailed in a tumultuous journey to prominence.