As the 2015/16 season draws to a close in Italy and the rest of Europe, so does also the career of one of Italy’s greatest goalscorers. The great Luca Toni will retire from professional football, 22 years after making his debut for Modena. These years have been filled with both individual and collective honours, a nomadic career across Italy and two foreign adventures but mostly one thing comes to mind when mentioning Luca Toni; goals. More than 300 of them, in fact. Join us in celebrating a true goalscorer of a time gone by, join us in celebrating the great Luca Toni.
Toni started his professional career at Modena, where he came through the ranks of the academy after joining from local team Officine Meccaniche Frignanesi. Modena at this time played in Serie C1, and Toni made his debut at 17 years of age. After making 34 appearances for the club and scoring eight goals over two seasons, Toni joined Empoli of Serie B in 1996. His time at Empoli wasn’t successful at all however, with Toni only making three appearances for the club but he did score his first goal in Serie B. He only stayed one season at the club, and thus began a sequence of five clubs in five seasons. In order, Toni appeared for Fiorenzuola (30 apps, 4 goals) and Lodigiani (33 apps, 16 goals) in C1, Treviso (39 apps, 16 goals) in B and Vicenza (33 apps, 9 goals) in his first top flight season. Slowly, Toni had made a name for himself in the lower leagues of Italy before getting his chance at Vicenza.
The summer of 2001, saw Toni join Brescia. Over the following two seasons at the Mario Rigamonti Stadium, he would score 15 Serie A goals in 44 appearances as well as playing alongside the likes of Roberto Baggio, Pep Guardiola and future Italy teammate Andrea Pirlo. This prompted another move, as the nomadic career of the then 26-year-old continued at Sicily and Palermo. After an unremarkable start to his career, this is when Toni really took off. Toni joined a Palermo-side in Serie B, but at the end of the season Toni’s goals made sure Palermo were promoted into the Serie A as Serie B champions. Toni scored an astonishing 30 goals in 45 league games that season and made waves across Italy. In that summer of 2004, Marcello Lippi gave Toni his international debut after his remarkable season with Palermo. The 2004/05 saw him continue his goalscoring form, with the striker netting 20 goals in the Serie A, leading Palermo to their first ever qualification to the UEFA Cup.
After 50 league goals in 80 appearances for Palermo, and another two seasons at one club, Toni was on the move again. This time he moved north, joining Tuscan giants Fiorentina. Fiorentina’s faith in him was vindicated in the first season as Toni scored an incredible 31 goals in 38 league games as Fiorentina clinched fourth spot and qualified for the Champions League, only to be stripped of their place in the competition because of the Calciopoli scandal of 2006. In the wake of the scandal, Lippi brought his Italian squad to the World Cup in Germany. Of course, Toni was in the squad as one of five high-quality strikers/forwards including Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Filippo Inzaghi, with all five going on to score in the tournament. A defensively resolute Italy, marshalled by Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluigi Buffon, beat France on penalties in the final to win the country’s fourth World Cup. Toni’s two goals in the quarter-final against Ukraine made sure he ended up as the team’s joint top scorer alongside centre-back Marco Materazzi.
Upon his return to Florence, Toni had also been given the European Golden Shoe for his remarkable goalscoring the previous season where ended up as the highest scoring player in Europe for the 2005/06 season. The 2006/07 season didn’t prove as successful but Toni still managed 16 league goals in 29 appearances. Toni struck up a highly successful relationship with Adrian Mutu during his final season at La Viola, and his time at the club proved a resounding success. However, after two seasons, obviously he had to move again.
This time, he changed country for the first time, joining Bavarian giants Bayern München. Toni was one of ten players, also including Franck Ribery, joining Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Bayern as the squad underwent major restructuring. Toni made the transition from Italian to German football look extremely easy as he scored 39 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions, with 24 of them coming in the Bundesliga. Bayern’s league win would also mean Toni’s first top flight title at the age of 31. Bayern also won the DFB-Ligapokal as well as the German Cup, with Toni proving the hero after scoring twice in the final against Borussia Dortmund in the 2-1 win. Toni finished not only as the Bundesliga top scorer but also the UEFA Cup top scorer with 10 goals in 11 matches as Bayern reached the semi-finals before being knocked out by Zenit.
Bayern struggled the following year under new coach Jürgen Klinsmann, and didn’t retain any of their trophies from the previous season. As for Toni, his season was plagued by injuries but he still scored 14 goals in the Bundesliga, finishing as Bayern’s top goalscorer. The summer of 2009 saw Louis van Gaal appointed as the new manager, and he instantly declared that Toni wasn’t of the required standard or ‘profile’ for his Bayern and was therefore deemed surplus to requirements. Toni would instead join AS Roma on loan in the January transfer window of 2010.
Toni was going on 33 at the time, and his career seemed to be petering out as over the following four years he appeared for no less than five clubs; Roma (17 apps, 5 goals), Genoa (18 apps, 7 goals), Juventus (15 matches, 2 goals), Al Nasr (14 apps, 7 goals) and Fiorentina (28 apps, 8 goals). The 2012/13 season seemed like a long goodbye to the Fiorentina faithful, and many expected Toni to retire. Injuries had taken their toll on his body ever since the World Cup really. However, Toni would once again surprise people as he signed a contract with Hellas Verona.
Verona had just been promoted and were expected to be relegated, but a rejuvenated Luca Toni inspired the club to finish in 10th under the guidance of manager Andrea Mandorlini. Toni scored 20 Serie A goals for Hellas and was back to his old self, scoring goals and laughing. Hellas would comfortably stay up the following year too, and that 2014/15 season saw Toni net another 22 goals in the Serie A, finishing as the joint top scorer with Mauro Icardi of Inter, and becoming the oldest Capocanniere in Serie A history at 38 years of age. The 2015/16 season will be his last, and as Toni prepares to retire, sadly with a relegation, he managed five goals in the league to bring his Verona tally to 47 in 87, remarkable for a player who was 36 when he joined!
Toni represents a throwback to strikers of an age gone by. He was brilliant in the penalty area, a true goal poacher who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. His deadly finishing is what brought him all those goals, and his strength and aerial prowess meant he was always a threat from crosses and set-pieces. Outside the penalty area, he didn’t contribute much. He wasn’t a creator as such, although when he played with his back to goal, his target play was excellent, holding off defenders and bringing others into play. In the modern game with such an emphasis on pressing from the front, Toni was never going to fit in elsewhere than Italy, and Hellas played to his strength, which brought them results and brought Toni goals. A striker nowadays has to be the first defender, and Toni would never fit that profile. However, it can certainly be argued that a strikers main job is to score goals and Toni definitely did that. He scored goals for all his clubs, and lots of them.
Look at the video above, as it highlights the variety of the goals he scored. There’s all types of goals, left-foot, right-foot, headers, volleys, half volleys, you name it. Most goals are scored in the penalty area, but there is some strikes from distance too. Goals, goals, goals, that’s Luca Toni.
Toni was possibly the last great poacher, the goalscorer who made the penalty area his. He dominated defenders at the highest level of the game for well over a decade, and accomplished the utmost a footballer can; he won the World Cup for his country. Such a cult hero did he become, that there’s even a song made up where he features prominently. Breaking through at 26, he shows footballers all over the world that it’s never too late to succeed. You need to find the right club that believes in you, like Palermo did with Toni, and then anything can happen. As Toni now retires, let’s all celebrate a true goalscoring hero, who scored 303 goals over 647 appearances for 15 different clubs. Ill-suited to the modern game perhaps, but Luca Toni will remain a legend in Italian football, and will go down as one of the country’s greatest ever goalscorers.