For a player whose game is based on speed and movement, Italy’s leading striker has the worst possible surname. Yet if the Azzurri are to capture their first European title since 1968, they will need the goals of Ciro Immobile to propel them there.
Immobile – the name is pronounced differently in Italian but has the same meaning as in English – is an enigma of the European club game.
So prolific with his club Lazio that he beat Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski to the Golden Shoe award for the continent’s top scorer in 2019-20, the blue shirt of his country has been like kryptonite for Immobile.
While his record of 13 goals in 46 appearances is not totally disastrous, a closer look at the numbers produces a more worrying picture.
Immobile has never scored in a major tournament and his list of victims hardly inspires confidence. Goals against Lithuania, Northern Ireland, Armenia, Israel and Liechtenstein were useful in qualifying, but a little more is needed against the greater powers.
Italy have struggled to find prolific strikers in the modern era. There was Paolo Rossi in 1982, Toto Schillaci in 1990 and Christian Vieri in 1998 and 2002. Coach Roberto Mancini desperately needs Immobile to follow in their footsteps.
Two factors may work in Immobile’s favour. Against Turkey on Friday, he will play in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, the ground where he has performed so brilliantly for Lazio. And Immobile’s big pal, Lorenzo Insigne, will play to his left in Italy’s three-man attack.
Insigne and Immobile grew up in Naples and played together in Serie B, Italy’s second division, for a Pescara side that also included Paris St Germain midfielder Marco Verratti. Both had a difficult upbringing in one of Italy’s toughest cities. ‘It’s a beautiful place, but life isn’t always easy,’ he told Italy’s Vanity Fair magazine.
‘I saw things that children shouldn’t see. I saw friends lose their freedom, even their lives, because they made serious mistakes. Many of them made a lot of money easily, selling things they shouldn’t have been selling.’
At 31, Immobile may not have many more chances to shine on the international stage, though there are no clear candidates to take his spot. Yet he is the kind of forward who can hit a hot streak and if he gets off to a flier on Friday, anything is possible.
‘I’m happy with the personal milestones I’ve achieved,’ Immobile said. ‘Now I’d like to win major trophies at club and international level.
‘I’m optimistic about our chances. In short tournaments like these it’s important to have a united squad, and we are. We want to make people happy – that should be the aim of any player.