With Antonio Di Natale likely retiring at the end of this season which Italian will emerge as a prolific goal scorer?
I, like many, was saddened on January 6th by Antonio Di Natale when he announced his retirement. However, he has hinted at possibly changing his mind at the conclusion of the season. Either way the decline in his play is quite apparent and has brought to light an interesting question, where will the Italian goals come from?
We first need to put into context just how consistent Di Natale has been in the Serie A in recent years. Totò has been nothing sort of a scoring machine for Udinese, netting 110 goals since the 2009-2010 season and is the only player in that span to score 20 or more goals 4 times. Not even the greats like Ibrahimović (twice) or Cavani (three times) could achieve that feat. Not only was Di Natale the only player to eclipse 20 goals four times but the only other Italian to do so even once in that span was Marco Di Vaio. It would be difficult for any player, regardless of nationality, to be that prolific but is there a current Italian who could even get to 20 more than once in the next 5 years?
The most obvious place to start is the current season. At present Giuseppe Rossi is top of the ledger among Italians with 14 goals. Under normal circumstances he would be the heavy favorite, however Giuseppe Rossi has been victim of multiple knee injuries and is currently nursing a ligament sprain in his right knee keeping him out for a yet to be determined amount of time. Until Rossi can prove to stay healthy over the course of several seasons it is difficult to identify him as the heir apparent to Di Natale.
Now we move on to the Juventus co-owned section and look at Ciro Immobile and Domenico Berardi. We will start with Immobile, who with the help of Alessio Cerci have propelled Torino to a mid-table team and still outside contenders at a Europa League spot. Ciro has scored 13 goals this season, nearly tripling his output last year at Genoa. His performance this season has drawn interest from Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund as a possible replacement for Robert Lewandowski. Whether or not Immobile moves to Germany it seems unlikely that he will be able to consistently 20 plus goals a season as he is missing a vital necessity for a striker, and that is scoring opportunities. Immobile is not the first choice penalty kick taker, as Cerci has cashed in 5 times from the spot. A striker scoring 20 goals without any penalties is quite a feat, and one that is not likely to be repeated with any sort of frequency so Immobile is not the answer.
Another Juve player who has caught the attention of Italy and Europe this season is the emergence of Domenico Berardi. The 19 year old Sassuolo phenom has netted 12 on a struggling side seemingly doomed to relegation. Recently he has suffered a goal drought, not scoring since January 26th and clearly that has led to some frustration. Berardi was shown a red card faster than anyone in the Serie A this season after coming on as a substitute against Parma. In addition to his recent temperament issues there is the fact that he is co-owned by Juventus along with Simone Zaza, the aforementioned Immobile, and Manolo Gabbiadini. Often times Juventus players get lost in the shuffle, like Sebastian Giovinco, and do not realize the potential that they seemingly had. Until there is more clarity on his domestic club situation, Berardi shouldn’t be counted on as the heir apparent.
The task of a consistent Italian goal scoring now falls squarely on Mario Balotelli. This burden could not be suited for a better player than Mario Balotelli. He seems to thrive under the pressure and challenge of proving he is the best. Clearly Di Natale and Balotelli could not be more different in almost all aspects, but I feel Super Mario is the clear choice as the heir apparent. Playing first team football since the age of 17 for both Inter Milan and Manchester City has given him the experience that is unique to all others in the Serie A. Where most young strikers fall into the shadows of more experienced imports, Balotelli has risen to the challenge at both club and international level. Since moving to AC Milan less than a year ago Balotelli has proven to be quite prolific – netting 22 goals in 31 Serie A games for Milan. Most would argue that his off the field behavior will be his biggest detriment to achieving such success; however, AC Milan is having what some are speculating as one of their worst seasons with poor performances in the league and a coaching change.
Even through the losses and turmoil at Milan, Balotelli has remained quiet and positive of the situation. That type of behavior is the sign of maturity for a player who has developed a reputation for being outspoken and controversial. Milan clearly sees him as the future of the club as they have off-loaded Alessandro Matri despite a significant injury to Stephan El Shaarawy, which means plenty of first team opportunities to score. One of the biggest things that separates Super Mario is a lack of injuries that has prevented and plagued Giuseppe Rossi, and combined with his first choice status at Milan you have the formula for the next great prolific Italian striker in the Serie A.