Serie A, often stereotyped as a defence-only competition, saw an influx of world class strikers this season. The likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez and Mario Gomez joined the talents of Antonio di Natale, Rodrigo Palacio and Mario Balotelli as the goal-scoring stars of Serie A in 2013-14. Yet despite this noteworthy competition, it was the inconspicuous Ciro Immobile that has risen to the top of the pile, as he looks set to claim this season’s Capocannoniere with 22 goals.
Looking down the list of players beneath him, each can be attributed with at least one specific, outstanding characteristic - whether it be Tevez’ tenacity and pure skill, Balotelli’s creativity and sheer power, or even Luca Toni’s deadliness in one-on-one situations - which separate them from other Serie A strikers. But when examining Immobile, nothing in particular catches the eye. Measuring at 178 cm and 71 kg (according to WhoScored.com), the 24 year old lacks the physical presence to make opposing centre backs cower, which is reflected in the paltry measure of three headed goals he has scored this Serie A season. Meanwhile, he lacks the sheer pace to escape the grasp of larger centre backs at any instant. These physical shortcomings are compounded by a lack of tremendous talent on the ball, as while he is able to embark on the occasional mazy dribble or periodically unlocks the defence with a clever through ball, Immobile lacks the prodigious talent of a di Natale or Balotelli to make these facets of his game a constant threat.
Without any remarkable physical or technical advantages to draw upon, Immobile relies on his heart and mind to overcome and conquer opposing defences. Unlike many of the modern game’s premier strikers, Immobile prides himself as being one of the hardest working players on the field and, in his own words, “the complete opposite” of his name. From the first to the last minute of the game, Immobile can be seen darting left and right, running into vacant spaces in anticipation of a through ball. While Immobile can sporadically conjure up a moments of brilliance within games, such as his stunning volley against Roma, the majority of his goals are the result of him running into space to latch onto a cross or through ball. Nearly all of his goals are the result of this, seen by his tally of 20 out of 22 goals being scored within the 18 yard box. This ability to break down defences with simple cunning runs has seen him draw comparisons with legendary poacher Filippo Inzaghi, with whom he shares a penchant for getting caught offside.
But unfortunately for Immobile, the comparisons stop here. A player who takes such a large majority of his shots within the box would be expected to be fairly accurate with the number of their shots that hit the target. Yet Immobile tests the keeper only 48% of the time. This pales in comparison with Carlos Tevez, who has a shot accuracy of 58%, and is dwarfed by the man who he is trying to replace in Dortmund, Robert Lewandowski, who has a shot accuracy of 67% (according to squawka.com). That he has managed to score such a large number of goals despite this is not only astonishing, but an indicator of the potential that Immobile possesses, which could be harnessed if he were able to improve his finishing.
The conditions in Torino are not ideal for the play style of Immobile. The 24 year old is a poacher at heart, albeit without the needed level of composure yet, and therefore relies on his teammates to create goals for him. Outside of Alessio Cerci, Immobile has been left wanting in this department. Immobile’s lack of dependence on physical traits suggests that he will continue to develop over time, as his football IQ develops and he becomes more adept at finishing chances. Most importantly, Immobile has the mindset to realise his potential. By applying his hard working mentality on the pitch to the training ground, he will only be able to further expand his arsenal.
This undeniable potential has seen suitors such as Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund contemplate spending over €20m to secure the Italian striker, only two years removed from Serie B football. In an era where a glamorous life seems to be most footballer’s biggest goal, it is definitely refreshing to see a quiet man’s hard work pay off.