When the Italian Serie A came to a conclusion last weekend, one phenomenon remained – Luca Toni. Along with Inter’s Mauro Icardi, the Hellas Verona striker managed to win the league’s golden boot, at the age of 38! As of yet, it is still unclear as to whether the former Italy international will continue his career beyond this season. However, Toni made one thing clear; he will be remembered, fondly in some parts of the world, not so favourably in others.
Across his rather unusual career, Luca Toni has represented no fewer than 16 clubs. Even amongst the nomads of the football world, that figure makes him somewhat unique. It comes as no surprise then, that Toni’s rise to the top is so different from that of his colleagues. The striker started his career at Modena Football Club and transitioned into the first team from the club’s youth department at the age of 17. At the time, Modena played in the Serie C1, Italy’s third tier, and Toni struggled to get into the team, making only few starts and a total of 34 appearances, scoring eight goals in the process.
In 1996, the Italian decided to leave Modena after five years and joined Serie B side Empoli for one season, where he scored a single goal in three appearances. Again, it had not worked out for Toni. By the age of 22, he had not really progressed and still played his football in Italy’s second and third tier respectively. If there was something that could have been classed as a breakthrough season, it would have been his year with Treviso in Serie B, when he scored 15 goals in 35 games. Having had considered giving up on his football career, this was the first time Toni managed to get into the limelight, at least to a certain extent.
His exploits at Treviso earned him his first move to Italy’s top flight, when he joined Vicenza in 2000. Despite his previous struggles, Toni managed to score nine goals in his first Serie A season and ultimately earned himself a more high-profile move to Brescia, where he got to play alongside Italian legend Roberto Baggio and current Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola. Although he scored 13 goals in his first season at Brescia, his second season was somewhat underwhelming and he had to look for a new club yet again. Luca Toni was about to turn 26 when he joined ambitious Serie B side Palermo in 2003. In many ways, this was a demotion and it seemed as though, the Italian was not made for top flight football.
After joining the club from Sicily, Toni must have known little about what was to come. Palermo turned out to be the first chapter in Luca Toni’s fairytale career and this was at an age at which many players have already matured and can already point at a comprehensive football CV. By the end of the 2003/04 season, the striker had scored 30 goals in 45 games for Palermo, making the ultimate contribution to Palermo’s promotion to Serie A. Toni did not stop there and contributed 20 goals in the following top flight season. In the summer of 2005, after two seasons with Palermo, Toni had finally arrived in the world of top class football, just shy of 28 years of age.
It was during that summer, when Fiorentina purchased Luca Toni for €10 million. At a fairly late stage, Toni’s career was now flourishing. Having made his Italy debut during his second year at Palermo, the striker was now going for glory. He won the golden boot in his first season with La Viola, scoring an impressive 31 goals in 38 games. After two years at Fiorentina, Toni had amassed 47 Serie A goals in 67 games for the club from Tuscany, a ratio of 0.7 goals per game.
Just shy of his 30th birthday came Toni’s biggest career move, when he joined German giants Bayern Munich for a fee of around €12 million. The man who was struggling to get games in Italy’s third tier was now the main striker at one of the world’s biggest clubs. Seemingly, this did not affect the Italian too much and he won the Bundesliga’s golden boot in his first season, scoring 24 goals in 31 games. In total, he made 60 appearances for Bayern and scored 38 goals during his stay.
After leaving Bayern in 2009, at the age of 32, Toni still ended up playing for another six clubs and when he joined Hellas Verona in 2013, aged 36, arguably not much was expected of him. However, Luca Toni must have not received the memo and ended up scoring 20 goals in 34 games in his first season. More was yet to come and Toni followed this up by scoring 22 goals in 38 games this season, making it a total of 42 goals in 72 games for Verona.
Many argue that Toni was able to prolong his playing career because he did not start to play high intensity football until later in his life. Nevertheless, we believe he is a true legend and we would not mind seeing him play another season or two.