Rick D’Andrea


It was only four years ago that Italy and Bayern Munich striker Luca Toni sat atop of the world, watching as everything had fallen perfectly into place.

The then 27-year-old towering forward had been involved in Fiorentina’s controversial Calicopoli saga (not personally), which saw the Viola start with a 19-point deduction during the 2006/07 season. Having scored 31 goals the previous campaign (2005/06) for the Gigliati, every major club across Europe was chasing the scoring sensation, or at least showing an interest.

But it wasn’t only club sides that had noticed the Modena-born player. Azzurri boss Marcello Lippi had taken a chance with Toni 18 months earlier, not knowing if he could handle the rigours of international football.

Even though Toni had scored a hat-trick against Belarus during a 2006 World Cup Qualifier, doubts still loomed over his head, as he had been a punt when more senior and experienced Azzurri were rested. Could he deliver on the ultimate stage?

Deciding to take Toni to Germany was proving to be a bad mistake. The striker had not scored a goal in the opening two matches, which he started, and Lippi had chosen Alberto Gilardino as a lone striker against the Czech Republic in Italy’s third Group E match.

Even against Australia in the knockout stage of the tournament, Toni failed to put his name on the scoresheet, and serious questions began to be asked of the 196cm striker. But it was in the quarter-final match against Ukraine that the sleeping giant awoke, blasting onto the scene, and proving that he was worthy.

Toni’s two goals made everyone sit up and take notice. Instantly he became a much more valuable commodity, someone who could perform at the highest of levels.

The striker was persuaded by Fiorentina president Andrea Dalle Valle to stay on for one more year, and help the Tuscan side out of a their predicament. The season, though, was not a success for Toni, having been plagued with injuries, returning only 16 goals from 29 matches, almost half of the amount netted the previous year.

With a clear intention to leave in the summer of 2007, the attacker found a home in Germany, at the Bavarian giants in Bayern Munich, where he soon settled and became a focal point up front.

But fast-forward three years and the Italy international has struggled to find a spot in new coach Louis van Gaal’s starting XI. Preference has gone to Miroslav Klose, Ivica Olic, Mario Gomez, Arjen Robben and even youngster Thomas Muller over Toni.

In Toni’s defence, it can be argued that an Achilles tendon injury has forced the Azzurri international to miss the opening part of the Bundesliga season, but now that he has returned to full fitness, he cannot break through and cement a spot in the side.

Currently, Toni is plying his trade for the Bayern Munich reserves, which plays in third division. And even though Toni himself has not complained about getting game time and match fitness, he clearly wants to be playing regularly at the highest level once again.

“Playing with the reserves wasn’t a problem for me,” the former Palermo forward said on the Bayern’s website recently. “I’m a footballer, and I used to play in third division myself."

“I just wanted to get playing time under my belt, and I’m back up to speed now. I’m fit and ready for the first team.”

He continued, “I’m available for selection and I hope that the coach calls on me soon. I want to be playing for the Bayern senior team as soon as I can”

Since this statement approximately a month ago, Toni has not seen first-team action, something that has prompted the Italian press and the front man to seriously think about his options, especially coming into a World Cup year.

Only as recently Toni suggested that should he not break back into the first-team, he will seek alternatives.

“I want to play for Bayern and see out my contract,” the Azzurri forward told Bild. “But if I don’t have the trust of those around me, then I will sit down and find a solution.”

That solution could be a move back to his home country, with at least two teams wishing to inquire about acquiring the services of the towering striker. Toni has also stated that a move home would increase his chances of showing Azzurri coach Marcello Lippi what he can do, and how many goals he can still score.

Napoli are keen on the attacker, and wish to lure him to the Partenopei. With just five months left to impress, going to the Southern Italian town would not be a bad idea, and being surrounded by talents such as Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi can only bring out the best in him.

Under new coach Walter Mazzarri, Toni could produce something that will not only save the side from possible relegation, but also resurrect him as a player on the world stage.

Aurelio De Laurentiis, Napoli owner and president, will have to make a tough decision of whether to loan or to purchase the 32-year-old. Having implemented a youth-based system, Toni would bring a touch of class to the side, but would compromise the policy put in place some years ago.

The other option is for the Bayern man is to join AC Milan. A rumour has floated around the football world that the striker could join the Rossoneri, as they seemed to be having issues up front. Filippo Inzaghi is now 36, and his best years are definitely behind him, Marco Borriello is injury-prone, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has not yet fully settled, and Ronaldinho continues to under-perform.

What could stop this deal from materialising is that Toni is 32, and the Diavoli already have a host of ageing players. An emphasis on bringing in younger faces – with a focus on skill and technical abilities – should be what the January transfer window, and beyond, will be about for Milan.

Luca Toni’s ultimate aim is to perform at his best, for a team that wants him, and that can offer more than a spot on the bench. Returning to Italy, this may be possible, as he remains highly regarded and respected. Staying in Munich, Toni may rely on Bavarian forwards to either pick up injuries or suffer a drop in form, both of which will be beyond his control.

Coming into a World Cup year, nothing should jeopardise a player’s preparation. A little competition is healthy, but at a club like Bayern, it could be detrimental. All that the enigmatic forward wants to do is sit atop of the world – again – and watch the pieces fall into place. Hopefully, in his favour.

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