In Italy, there is a saying that there are as many Italian national team managers as there are people. Everyone wants to have their say on who should be wearing Azzurri at a major competition. Every two years everyone becomes an expert, a fantasy manager if you will. Coffee shops, restaurants, even laundromats, become a place for fans to discuss who they think should be representing Italy.
This year is no different, with a few players just on the fringe of getting a call to represent the Azzurri in Brazil this summer. One name that continues to be mentioned is Luca Toni.
The Hellas Verona striker has found a new life since joining the Gialloblu this summer, signing a one year contract with the newly promoted side. It seemed that Toni had been put out to pasture when he left Juventus in 2012 to join Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr. Toni’s Arabian adventure was a short one – seven months later he was back on the peninsula, once again wearing the purple of Fiorentina (where he won the Capocannoniere title scoring 31 goals in 2005/06). This time around, Toni scored 8 times in 27 matches for the Viola and showed that he is still capable of contributing to a top Serie A side even at his advanced age.
If the 2012/13 season was a reminder of what the big striker from Pavullo nel Frignano can do, than his current exploits with Hellas has been a revelation. Toni has netted 16 goals in 28 matches helping Hellas Verona come within touching distance of a Europa League place, a result which would have been beyond the wildest dreams of the newly promoted side.
Two goals against Genoa and his latest goal in the Derby della Scalla against Chievo Verona have pushed the striker within two goals of the league leader Carlos Tevez. His performances this season have left many questioning whether the 36 year old should be given one last shot at World Cup glory.
They say that 40 is the new 30, and Luca Toni is closer to the former than the latter. If Toni is chosen by Cesare Prandelli to travel to Brazil, he certainly won’t be the first player of advanced age to represent his country at a World Cup.
There are many examples of Italian players who were in their mid thirties and had important roles for the Azzurri. More recently, Fabio Cannavaro was 36 years old when he captained Italy in South Africa and although the campaign was disastrous he was still able to lead the side. Angelo Di Livio was 35 when he came on as a substitute against Korea in the 2002 World Cup. Giuseppe Bergomi was 34 when the Azzurri took on France in 1998, and way back in 1974 Tarchisio Burgnich was a member of the Azzurri defence at the age of 35.
Not to forget Andrea Pirlo, who will turn 35 a few weeks before the World Cup in Brazil. Cameroonian striker Roger Milla is possibly the best comparison to Luca Toni, as Roger Milla was 38 when he led his country in 1990.
No one is under the illusion that Toni will have a starring role at the spearhead of the Azzurri lineup, but a place on the bench should not be beyond the scope of anyone’s imagination. Despite playing 90 minutes in 89.3% of his matches for Hellas thus far (according to Squawka), Toni could be very effective coming off the bench to snag a late equalizer or even a winner.
Toni’s size in the box and determination would be an asset this summer. He is also a very experienced player. Toni was a part of Italy’s team that won the World Cup in 2006. He can share what he knows about the sacrifice needed to gain immortal glory with the younger players in the side.
After scoring his latest goal, the game winner in the Verona Derby, Toni was asked about his chances of making the trip to Brazil this summer, he told La Gazzetta dello Sport: “They talk about players who have scored less than me, therefore why not?” Why not indeed?