Luca Toni is to move from Bayern Munich in the January transfer window in a bid to keep himself in contention for Marcelo Lippi’s World Cup squad in South Africa 2010. The ex-Fiorentina front man is reportedly unhappy and wants to return home to Italy.
Toni is one of Italy’s best known strikers – a World Cup winner in 2006 Toni’s classic good looks and predatory instincts in front of goal have made him one of the most recognisable faces in European football. A slow starter, Toni spent his early years in Serie B and C1 starting with his home-town club of Modena and moving around once every season until his spell with Brescia playing alongside the great Roberto Baggio. He eventually found his feet (and shooting boots) with Palermo – at this time still in Serie B – and scored 30 goals in the promotion-winning season. Serie A is often the make or break arena for most players and Toni netted 20 goals in his first season, amazingly helping Palermo qualify for the UEFA Cup and making him one of the most sought-after players in Italy’s top flight. Fiorentina came calling and the lure of the Tuscan giants was too hard to turn down for the goal-scoring journeyman. The big money move paid off and Toni continued in his goal-scoring deluge amassing 31goals in his first season with la Viola. His second season was marred by the Calciopoli scandal and injury saw only 16 goals. The want away striker then turned his attention to pastures new and this time it was Bavaria and Bayern Munich that caught his eye. Toni settled into German football with ease and his first season saw him notch an impressive 39 goals and 12 assists in 46 games in all competitions for the Germans. Despite struggling with injury again, he ended the 2008/09 season with 14 goals from 25 games.
However, the striker was forced to miss the start of the 2009/10 campaign, again through injury, making his first appearance in September, and his frustration coupled with an apparent want-away side saw him fall out with Louis van Gaal and soon pining for the peninsula once again: “I miss everything about my country: the fans, my friends, my mother. I still don’t know in which team I’ll play but I know for certain that I’ll return to Italy.”
Since then Luca’s relationship or lack of it, has been played out in the Press for all to see. Munich President Uli Hoeness even said he would “give Luca Toni away” after Toni’s comments and van Gaal’s insistence that the Italian wouldn’t feature for the team again. Toni was also fined for leaving the stadium after being substituted at half time in November. It would be the natural assumption to think that even at 32 years old this has alerted most of Europe’s elite as there is a natural born goal-scorer going for free. Rumours have circulated that teams such as Atletico Madrid, West Ham, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and even Dinamo Moscow (the latter being denied) are all looking to sign him. However, it seems the player has his heart set on a return to Serie A to give him the best chance of successfully making the 2010 national squad.
Inter, Roma, Palermo and Fiorentina look like the main destinations after Milan indirectly ruled themselves out. Inter seem the favourites to sign Toni come January, with the tall target man providing a new outlet to the side and cheap, capable cover for Samuel Eto’o when he departs for the African Cup of Nations. This eagerness from the player to return home, combined with his availability has brought the likes of Roma into the market – a destination that could provide more first team football than the San Siro and a possible dream partnership with Francesco Totti. Julio Baptista has featured sparingly so far this campaign and could make way for the Italian.
Palermo could be the dark horse for signing back their want-away goal machine. The prodigal son may return should the fans forgive him and he would have no problems playing in a straight 4-4-2 and could easily partner either Fabrizio Miccoli or Edison Cavani. He may however, need to take a wage cut to return to the Renzo Barbera and the lack of Champions league football may deter him. Finally, his other former employees Fiorentina remain a possibility, with Adrian Mutu struggling for form and Toni acting as ideal cover for Alberto Gilardino. But competition at club level with one of Toni’s rivals for the national team is a risk, particularly given the fact Gilardino is likely to be favoured.
So just who will Luca Toni ply his trade with come January? With his insatiable desire to find the net and his unquestionable ability to do so, it looks certain that Serie A should be welcoming the talismanic hit man back with open arms. However, where does he fit in? A player who is really a target man would not fit in with some of the 4-3-3 formations you can see being used at present. His wages to are an obstacle and unless he decides to take a cut this could hamper his options. Accepting a role as third choice cover is a risk and certainly a step down for a player with his short-term ambitions, whilst his lack of fitness presents a risk for whoever signs him on. However, the cold hard facts of the matter are that whoever does gamble on Luca Toni, could just make the signing of the season.