Cagliari’s Mauricio Pinilla has clearly taken a leaf out of Oscar Wilde’s book, following the principle that: “consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” The Chilean has erratically and inconsistently travelled from Scotland to Cyprus (and many places in between) in the hunt for games and goals. But only now – at his fourth top-flight Italian club – has he finally found form.
Pinilla is a curious case – a player with the reputation of a talented striker, but the record of a mere journeyman. He has been on the books of 12 different clubs, playing more than 35 games for only two of them, and yet has still been linked with moves to the likes of Inter and Napoli. Prior to joining Cagliari in January, Pinilla had a somewhat disappointing spell at Palermo, failing to continue the form which saw him score 24 goals in as many games in Serie B at Grosseto.
This poor run only serves to make Pinilla’s current goalscoring streak even more extraordinary. He has immediately become one of Cagliari’s key players, with his physical strength and aerial ability posing a real threat for Serie A defences. On average he wins 3.8 headers per game, ranking among the highest in the division, and over twice as many as he mustered last season.
However, it is not just his physical presence which has impressed in recent weeks. In fact, Pinilla has scored just a single header since arriving at Cagliari, despite his aerial prowess. He has often found himself partnering a more mobile, creative player at the tip of Cagliari’s 4-3-1-2 formation, such as Thiago Ribeiro or Victor Ibarbo, allowing the Chilean to play further up the pitch, and make intelligent runs in behind the opposition defence.
His seven goals in ten games (he scored just eight in 22 in the previous campaign) make him the Rossoblu’s joint top scorer, playing a crucial role in their fight against relegation. His move from Palermo is initially on a six-month loan basis, although it is highly likely that President Massimo Cellino will activate a clause to make it permanent in the summer.
With Palermo’s biggest problems over recent seasons being a lack of options upfront, it seemed a bizarre decision to allow Pinilla to leave. President Maurizio Zamparini explained the decision in no uncertain terms: “Pinilla is a 28-year-old man with the mind of a 21-year-old. I’d have liked to have seen this sort of performance from him when he was at Palermo. Recently he looked as if he couldn’t care less and I still haven’t understood why he behaved like that,” he raged.
“A change of environment was good [for Pinilla],” former Rosanero Coach Devis Mangia added, as if he had not had sufficient changes of environment playing in seven different countries over ten years. His whole varied career has been punctuated by on-field controversy, let alone since joining Cagliari. Since arriving at his new club, he has already caused a stir, from being sent off against Inter for over-extravagantly celebrating to upsetting fans of his parent club for celebrating at all.
But, whilst it is possibly this element of rash impulsiveness which has led to Pinilla’s incessant club-hopping through the years, it is also a mark of his determination to prove to the supporters just what he is capable of. He quickly apologised after celebrating against Palermo, stating that: “I love to honor the shirts I wear.” Like many a great player, there is an element of madness which follows Mauricio Pinilla around. However, as long as he keeps scoring goals, the fans certainly won’t mind. If anything, they’ll love him all the more for it.