Juventus’ problems in the attacking front have been well documented in the past. Despite scoring the highest number of goals in Serie A so far, the Old Lady’s frontmen have been mostly ordinary.
It was clear that reinforcements were needed. A host of strikers were linked from the big names like Pazzini, Neymar or Forlan to relatively lesser known ones like Lech Poznan’s Rudnevs. In the end it appeared that Juventus was in pole position to sign Edin Dzeko in summer. The Bosnian bomber would have been a perfect solution to the attacking woes. However, Juve were undone by the new Serie A rule which states that only one non-EU player can be signed in a season. Bianconeri had already signed Serbian Milos Krasic in that quota. Dzeko wanted to leave Bundesliga in winter itself, with Juventus forced out of the equation, money bags Manchester City swooped in and landed yet another striker.
As Juventus fans were ruing about missing out on Dzeko, news emerged from Italy that Toni was on his way to Turin. Initially, this was dismissed as one of the many rumours that circulate during a transfer window. For Juve, things got worse after the Parma game. Not only did it lose 4-1 at home but Fabio Quagliarella, their top scorer this season, was injured. Further examinations revealed that Quags’ season was over and he was out for 4-6 months. Vincenzo Iaquinta was already out injured for three weeks at that time. This left Juventus with Amauri, and Del Piero as the first choice strikers. Juve needed new strikers and needed them fast.
A few hours after Dzeko signed for Man City, Juventus officially announced the signing of Luca Toni. Toni left Genoa as a free agent, signing an 18 month long contract for Italy’s most successful club.
A lot of Juventus fans were dismayed, enraged and disappointed with the transfer when it was made official. In a way, the feeling is understandable. Luca Toni was one of the most lethal finishers in Europe in 2003-2007 period, scoring goals for fun in both Italy and in Germany. Problem is, this is not 2006 anymore. His best days are quite clearly behind him. In 18 starts for Genoa he has scored 7 goals, four of which have come against lower division teams in Coppa Italia. His indifferent form has been one of the reasons behind Genoa’s poor performance despite putting together a good team this season.
During his peak, Luca Toni was unique because of his aerial supremacy. Italy hadn’t produced a good classical centre-forward since Christian Vieri and Toni looked as if he could have filled that void. He was strong and could out-muscle defenders inside the box. Physically gifted, Toni was not a slow player and possessed a good leap. He was also very capable at holding up the ball and keeping defenders busy with his presence.
Can Toni finish his career on a high?
Toni was a late bloomer and he first shot to limelight after scoring 20 goals for Palermo in 2004/05 season. He moved to Fiorentina next season and it was in Florence that Toni enjoyed the best time of his career. In 2005/06 season, he scored an incredible 31 goals in Serie A, becoming the first player to do so in half a century. Eventually, he won the European golden boot. He had a disappointing World Cup by his standards but nonetheless scored two goals as Italy became world champions. Toni moved to Bayern Munich in 2007 and made an immediate impact. In his very first season in Germany, he topped the scoring charts with 24 goals. Vieri, a player Toni was often compared to, did something similar at Atletico Madrid in late 1990s. During his Bayern days, Toni played one of the finest matches in an exciting 3-3 draw with Getafe in Europa League semi-final. With Getafe leading 3-1 in extra-time, Bayern looked to be heading out, but Toni scored two goals in next ten minutes and Bayern scraped through.
Toni’s Bayern sojourn didn’t end well as injuries hampered his performances. He fell out with Luis van Gaal and was left out in favour of younger strikers. To garner much needed play-time he moved to AS Roma on loan in 2009/10 season. His performance in Roma was satisfactory – five goals in ten starts including a crucial one against Internazionale. When he moved to Genoa, it was expected that he would revive his career in his favourite hunting ground. That sadly didn’t happen this season.
Juventus needed a world class striker; Toni currently is clearly not that. But has he been bought to be a starter? No, he hasn’t. If one takes a closer look at Juve’s current situation, Marotta’s much criticized decision makes a bit of sense. Luca Toni has not been bought to replace Quagliarella – he is supposed to replace Amauri.
Luca Toni, at his age and gradually falling form curve, is still a better striker than Amauri. Amauri hasn’t scored a Serie A goal since February 14th, 2010 – Toni has scored eight goals in lesser matches in that period. In the last one year, Fabio Grosso, Hasan Salihamidzic and Giorgio Chiellini have scored more goals than Amauri. If Toni is a replacement for Amauri, then it’s an upgrade. However, it’s not just about goals. Thanks to the ineptitude of former transfer director Alessio Secco, the Brazilian is one of the highest earners in the Juventus roster- earning around 4 million Euros per year in contrast, Toni took a huge pay-cut agreeing to a 1.5 million Euros/year deal. Marotta not only chose to replace Amauri with a better striker, he also made a killing in terms of finances. Toni’s decision to take a pay-cut also means that he genuinely wants to finish his career at a big club. If Toni is benched then it’s less likely that he will cause a furore – something that can happen with Amauri since he has aspirations to play for the national team.
In terms of Delneri’s tactics this move also makes sense. Milos Krasic is not a conventional touchline hogging winger as he tends to cut inside. This results in two things – firstly Vincenzo Iaquinta, who has good pace, often moves towards the flanks letting Krasic tag up with Quagliarella in centre. Secondly, Krasic’s crosses tend to be a lot flatter and shorter and are often aimed at the far post. Quagliarella, despite his good heading abilities is not a proper prima-punta and often misses out on these crosses. Amauri, who is static and horrible in terms of finishing, cannot exploit these crosses either. Now with Toni in the team Krasic’s crosses have a better chance of being turned it as the Italian was famous for his prowess in similar positions. Due to Krasic’s nature of play, Iaquinta, who was a good header of the ball, often strayed outside the box. Now with Toni in the team instead of Amauri, the second striker can do this while Toni waits for the crosses inside the box.
So does this move do a world of good to the Old Lady? Are the fans over-reacting? Not exactly. Unless Marotta signs one more striker, Juve’s chances of finishing in top-4 will be very less. On paper Toni’s move makes sense but it doesn’t wipe out the fact that his form has been poor this season. There’s still a big chance that he would turn into Amauri Version 2.0, adding nothing to the team. As it stands right now a strike force of Amauri, Toni, Del Piero, Iaquinta and Gianetti is simply not good enough to sustain success in a very competitive Serie A.
Could Marotta have gone for better players? Yes he could have, Hernan Crespo, Marco Di Vaio or bringing back David Trezeguet were other possible options but it’s unclear whether their clubs would have released them. The only silver lining for Juventus fans is the possibility of seeing the back of Amauri come next season. They can hope that Toni revives his career ala Edgar Davids in Barcelona or Henrik Larsson in Barcelona, Manchester United. Scoring eight or ten goals in the black-and-white in next six months would be a satisfactory return.