Hellas Verona striker Luca Toni has announced his intention to retire from the game at the end of this season following a hugely successful career.
Toni was joint-top scorer in Serie A last term along with young upstart Mauro Icardi on 22 goals, which suggested he was far from finished.
However, at the age of 38, he has publicly expressed his preference to hang up his boots in May due to a bad run of injuries that have curtailed his involvement.
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The well-travelled forward has appeared just seven times in league action during 2015-16 to date – scoring once – and Verona have laboured badly without his influence.
His current club are marooned at the bottom of Serie A without a win in 15 matches – a poor record that has already prompted in the sacking of coach Andrea Mandorlini.
New boss Luigi Delneri will be hoping that Toni’s decision will result in an upturn from his usually prolific marksman, which will see the Gialloblu rise from the ashes.
Toni set out on a journey that would take in 16 different clubs at local side Modena, before moving on to an assortment of lower-league outfits including Empoli and Treviso.
His big break occurred in 2000 when Vicenza – competing in the top flight following promotion – took a chance on the imposing 6ft 4in centre forward.
Unfortunately, the Biancorossi were relegated despite Toni’s nine strikes, but he did enough to warrant another quick-fire switch to Serie A dwellers Brescia.
There he featured alongside superstars Roberto Baggio and Pep Guardiola while in the process of notching 15 league goals in 44 outings during a halcyon period for the Lombardy natives.
But, he was often dismissed as a cumbersome, lethargic lump by some observers, in spite of an increasingly impressive record.
He took a calculated risk by dropping down a division to join Serie B club Palermo of Sicily in 2003, which only added credence to the scepticism over his ability to make the grade; yet he was quickly back at the pinnacle of Italian football just 12 months on.
Toni bagged 20 goals as the unheralded islanders marked their return to Serie A after 32 years away by finishing sixth, thus securing European football for the first time in their history.
A colossal transfer to Fiorentina followed in 2005, but he suffered a severe backlash from Rosanero fans who branded him a traitor for agreeing to a move back to the mainland.
The pressure was on to deliver.
Doubters were silenced emphatically when the penalty-box poacher plundered 31 league goals to win the European Golden Shoe, while Fiorentina qualified for the Champions League.
It was an extraordinary achievement for the tall frontman; he became the first Italian to claim the award, plus no other player had hit more than 30 goals in Serie A for over 50 years.
Finally, his efforts were universally recognised and he was duly called up to the 2006 Italy World Cup squad.
Against all odds, the Azzurri won the trophy for the fourth time, with a delighted Toni bagging a vital brace in the quarter-final against Ukraine.
German giants Bayern Munich signed the striker in 2007 as a consequence of that success, having recalled the decisive impact he made in their country a year earlier.
He subsequently picked up the domestic double in 2008, hitting 58 goals in 88 matches across all competitions throughout a three-year stay.
However, his time there wasn’t all plain sailing; he suffered a debilitating Achilles injury and endured a significant dispute with head coach Louis van Gaal.
Current Manchester United manager Van Gaal said the disagreement was down to Toni’s refusal to “follow the rules” imposed by the Dutchman, while suggesting the Italian World Champion had a problem with fighting for his place.
On the flip side of the argument, the deflated striker was clear that Van Gaal simply wanted to show who is boss and didn’t wish to work with him. He felt he’d been an example of thanks to the ex-Barcelona coach’s desire to stamp his authority on the squad.
Whichever version you believe, Toni was eventually banished on loan to AS Roma, prior to unsuccessful spells at Genoa and Juventus.
Then it appeared that his career was slowly grinding to a halt when he took up a lucrative offer to join Dubai-based Al Nasr in January 2012, but he re-emerged at former side Fiorentina just seven months on.
Verona completed a permanent deal for the veteran in 2013, with many having written Toni off completely.
Remarkably, he set about turning the clock back by way of two stunning seasons in which he recorded 20-plus league goals in each.
Brilliant at holding the ball up, winning headers and creating space for himself inside the penalty area, Toni ran roughshod over Serie A defences as if he were ten years younger.
The big man remained at the Stadio Bentegodi despite summer speculation over his future, but has struggled with a knee ligament injury that he suffered on September 20.
Furthermore, when he has played, Toni has looked a pale imitation of the bustling forward who terrorised Serie A.
He had more shots per game in each of the previous two campaigns in comparison with this current one, while he also contributed more key passes on average.
Owing to his injury troubles and apparent incapacity to repeat former glories on a regular basis, Toni has accepted that the end is nigh.
“I think the time has come to stop,” said Toni during a recent interview with Sky Sport Italia.
“I hope to celebrate it by keeping Verona safe in Serie A.”
He will firstly attempt to reach peak fitness, before bidding to sign off in style under new Verona coach Gigi Delneri by maintaining the club’s status against all odds.
It’d certainly be a fitting tribute to a fabulous striker should he manage such a stupendous feat.
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