27th September 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
What should have been a landmark moment in his career, a commendable leap of faith to join a foreign giant with the promise of regular Champions League football, ended up tuning into a nightmare for Ciro Immobile.
The Italian international striker, fresh of a Capocannoniere season with Torino, at 24, was one of the hottest properties in Europe in the summer of 2014. With an €18 million bid, Borussia Dortmund snared the promising striker, taking him to the Bundesliga and Signal Iduna Park, where he was to replace Robert Lewandowski, the prolific Polish striker who'd joined Bayern Munich on a free transfer.
Filling Lewandowski's boots was always going to be tough for Immobile, and the pressure of expectation, the move to a new league in a foreign country, all amounted to a serious weight on the young forward's shoulders. It would ultimately prove too much to handle.
His maiden season in Germany returned just three league goals in 24 outings, slipping down the pecking order in JÃ¼rgen Klopp's side as the season drew on. And there would be no second chance, no admission that a period of adjustment and adaptation was perfectly normal and, if anything, to be expected. Instead, Immobile was shipped out on loan to Sevilla for the 2015/16 season.
The same challenges presented themselves the new country, different team with different tactics, and a new league with its own, unique demands Â and the same struggle ensued. In a bizarre twist of circumstance, owing to the way many modern loan deals are structured, despite only eight La Liga appearances and two goals, an obligation to buy was triggered in November, meaning Sevilla purchased the player for the pre-agreed €8 million fee, on top of the €3 million they have shelled out for the initial loan period.
Far from assuring Immobile's status in Andalusia, however, the former Juventus youngster was gone by January 2016, loaned back to former club Torino in Serie A. His 18-month sojourn across the continent was over, and he was back where his meteoric rise had begun, only now bereft of the confidence and clinical form that earned his big move to BVB.
Back in familiar surroundings, though, Immobile began to rebuild. He returned five goals in the second half of the campaign, forcing his way back into the reckoning at international level and convincing Lazio to take a €8.75 million gamble.
And the gamble has paid off in a big way for the Biancoceleste: Immobile scored 23 times in Serie A last term, a career high tally of top-flight strikes for the now-27-year-old hitman, firing Lazio to fifth in the division, ahead of traditional super powers Inter Milan and AC Milan.
"It wasn't easy, I'm happy with the consistency I have here at Lazio," the former Genoa man told Corriere dello Sport in June this year.
"I'm happy here, and I didn't want to change again. I received a few offers, but I never even considered them. We've reached the Europa League, which I've never played in, and I'd like to do well in the cup competitions too.
"All I'll say is that I'll stay here as long as I'm happy and as long as Lazio want me."
This season has seen Immobile take his game to yet greater heights. In just eight all-competitions matches so far this term, he has scored an incredible 11 goals, with eight of those coming from six Serie A appearances.
Simone Inzaghi's men currently sit fourth in the Italian top flight, and the coach deserves enormous credit for shaping a well-oiled, coherent unit, getting the best out of previously enigmatic and inconsistent talents such as Immobile and Felipe Anderson.
The manager's influence isn't lost on Immobile, either. The striker is not surprised by Lazio's development, viewing it as a continuation of last season's achievements and the result of Inzaghi's fine work.
"Last year we got to the Coppa Italia final and reached the Europa League," he said recently. "At certain points we were close to the top of the league, that gives us confidence, strength and awareness.
"Hard work always pays off, and we're flying under the radar. I have to thank the coach, Simone Inzaghi, and his staff.
"The boss told me that last year in Auronzo [where the club's pre-season training camp was located] there was hardly anyone, now there are people everywhere and it's beautiful. We want to make our fans happy."
"The 3-5-2? It's a formation which has always allowed me to shine, I played in it with Torino, the national team and now with Lazio.
"But aside from the formation, what counts is the spirit. That's our strength."
His pace over short distances, physical strength and instinct for sniffing out scoring opportunities has always been there, but Immobile's clinical touch in front of goal deserted him four a couple of seasons. It's back now, however, and more potent than ever. The 27-year-old's superlative form over the last 12 months has made him a key player for Italy, something that, with the 2018 World Cup in Russia on the horizon, he will be hoping to maintain.
The Azzurri's frontline has been a blending of Torino's past and present recently, with Immobile partnered up from by Il Toro's 23-year-old goal machine Andrea Belotti.
The young striker, valued at a whopping €100 million and wanted by a host of top clubs around Europe, would be wise to take lessons from Immobile's ill-fated move away from Italy, and his decision this summer to remain with Torino, where he is captain, will serve him well in the long run.
Rather than see the younger man as a threat to his international aspirations, Immobile feels energised by Belotti, and is eager for their partnership to remain in place heading into the World Cup. "Belotti and I have great chemistry," he said of his understanding with the former Palermo youngster. "We have a good relationship and there is noÂ rivalry."
Happy in his surroundings and firing on all cylinders, there is much yet to come from the man who looked a spent force in Germany and Spain. The hopes of both Lazio and the Italian national team rest largely at Immobile's feet, and he's ready to deliver.
Ciro Immobile Returns to Form Ahead of 2018 World Cup
27th September 2017. By Ryan Baldi.