Milan (AFP) – Ciro Immobile returns to the scene of one of his unhappiest spells as a player when Lazio take on the goal ace’s former club Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Dortmund were Italy forward Immobile’s first club outside of his home country and that disappointing time in the Bundesliga was followed by an similarly unsuccessful six months at Sevilla, before returning to Serie A.
Lazio are just one point behind their German hosts who lead Group F with two games to play, and four ahead of third-placed Club Brugge.
The Italians are well-positioned to advance to the last 16 in their return to the Champions League after a 13-year absence.
Last season’s European ‘Golden Shoe’ winner thanks to his 36 league goals in Italy, Immobile’s strikes powered Lazio to a fourth-place finish in Serie A.
This campaign he has scored three Champions League goals in two games — one in a 3-1 win over Dortmund in Rome and twice against Zenit with the same scoreline last time out in the Stadio Olimpico.
In between, Immobile missed two games, both 1-1 draws, against Club Brugge and away at Zenit, because of positive coronavirus tests.
“He is important for our football,” said coach Simone Inzaghi.
“He’ll make the fortunes of Lazio, and also those of Italy.”
In total, Immobile has seven Champions League goals from 12 appearances between Lazio, Dortmund, Sevilla and Juventus. He was also top scorer in the Europa League in 2017-2018.
But despite his record performances with Lazio, the player known as ‘King Ciro’ to fans, has been criticised for his failure to perform well outside of Italy.
An 18 million euro ($22 million) move to Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund in 2014 reaped just three goals in 24 appearances, before a transfer after just one season to Sevilla, who loaned him to Torino.
“I arrived at Dortmund at the wrong time, during a generational change,” said Immobile.
“There were some difficulties, but I don’t want to say anything about this. I know when I deserve praise or criticism.”
– ‘Extra stimulus’ –
He returned to Lazio in 2016 for less than 10 million euros, the same year former ‘Biancocelesti’ forward Inzaghi took over as coach.
And the 30-year-old has flourished in a system tailor-made to his strengths, alongside Luis Alberto and Joaquin Correa, and midfielders Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Marco Parolo.
Immobile extended his contract with Lazio by two years through 2025, after last season matching Gonzalo Higuain’s single-season Italian league record of 36 goals.
Immobile also led the Serie A scorers in 2013-14 with 22 goals for Torino and with Lazio in 2017-18 with 29.
This season he has scored eight goals in nine games in all competitions. Lazio are ninth in Serie A.
If he continues his current pace, the player from Naples is on track to become Lazio’s all-time leading scorer.
With 133 goals across all competitions, he currently sits second on the Roman club’s scoring chart behind Silvio Piola’s 159 goals.
He has 108 league goals for Lazio to Piola’s 143 between 1934 and 1943.
The arrival of five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo’s at Juventus in 2018, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining AC Milan this year has provided a boost.
“Ronaldo’s arrival in Italy was an extra stimulus for me,” said Immobile who scored five more goals that the Portuguese star last season.
“When these great champions arrive, they push you to give more, to understand if you too you can be at that level.
“It happened with Ibra too, I studied him because he is a great champion. I hope to still be like this when I’m Ibra’s age.”
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