Ranking the Top 10 Contenders to Win the Capocannoniere Title
Serie A is blessed with a lot of attacking talent right now. From Naples to Turin, strikers at Italy's top clubs are preparing for a new season, dreaming of firing their sides to glory while joining the pantheon of great forwards by being named top scorer, or "capocannoniere," for 2014-15.
From the pre-war greats like Giuseppe Meazza and Silvio Piola to living legends like Diego Maradona, Francesco Totti and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, all of Serie A's most influential forwards have won the prestigious accolade at some point in their glittering careers.
Here we preview the most likely strikers to add their names to the illustrious list this season.
10: Luca Toni
Luca Toni is an outside bet for top scorer this season, but after his 2013-14 campaign it's impossible to rule him out.
It's incredible to think that at the age of 37 Toni is still scoring goals at an incredible rate. The Verona forward bagged 20 last term, just two less than the capocannoniere, Ciro Immobile. He provided seven assists on top of that—four more than Immobile managed for Torino.
The well-travelled striker hadn't been himself since leaving Bayern Munich in 2010, and though he showed some signs of life at Fiorentina during 2012-13, at his age most thought that we'd seen the last of Toni as a regular scorer.
Verona's gamble on the player paid off handsomely however, and along with Juan Iturbe he was the most important player all year for the Mastini, using all 1.93 meters of his size to make a nuisance of himself in the opponent's box.
He'll be 38 next May, but if he can stay focused and still has the desire to win, there's no reason why he can't keep finding the back of the next, because even in his World Cup-winning pomp the kindest way you would have described his pace was "unhurried."
A new contract signed in June will keep him at the Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi for another year. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain his fine form.
9: Domenico Berardi
The Gazzetta dello Sport reported in July that Monaco had offered Juventus €22 million for Domenico Berardi, but the Bianconeri had rebuffed the offer, preferring to keep hold of one of Italy's brightest prospects.
And if Sassuolo manager Eusebio Di Francesco is to be believed, Juve will leave the young star at the Mapei Stadium for another year. Di Francesco told Sky Sport Italia (h/t Football Italia) that he and the player had made a pact to stay in Emilia-Romagna together.
"I’m holding on tight to him this season,” Di Francesco said. “I am not surprised he turned down big clubs to stay at Sassuolo. We had made a pact, as he told me ‘If you stay, then I’m staying too.’”
That's good news for Neroverdi fans, who can now look forward to the teenager continuing to fire the minnows to unlikely victories for another year.
Berardi managed 16 goals and six assists last term, and while it won't be easy for him to finish as top scorer with such a small team, it's far from impossible; it wasn't all that long ago that Cristiano Lucarelli was top of the pile while playing for Livorno.
8: Antonio Di Natale
Nothing changes your outlook quite like a hat-trick on the final day of the season. Having announced that he'd retire at the end of the campaign back in January, Udinese's Antonio Di Natale made a dramatic turnaround and will now lead the line for the Zebrette for another year.
He'll be 37 in October, and Udinese are no longer the force they once were, but you can't discount Toto, a Serie A legend and serial scorer of the highest degree. Udinese's new boss, Andrea Stramaccioni, should build the side around Di Natale and put as much faith in the fan favourite as predecessor Francesco Guidolin did, because he'll almost certainly be rewarded by goals.
By his own standards, he wasn't as prolific last season as he might have been, but he still managed 17. And as the first man since Gabriel Batistuta to manage more than 20 league goals in four consecutive seasons (from 2009 to 2013), only a brave man would bet against him being among Italy's top marksmen again in 2014-15.
7: Mario Balotelli
Mario Balotelli scored more goals last season than ever before—but still only found the back of the net 14 times. He's regularly mentioned in the same breath as some of the game's best players, but the fact is that to date Super Mario still hasn't fully delivered on his huge potential.
With Pippo Inzaghi as coach, he now has a manager who understands perfectly what it takes to be a prolific forward. If the pair can work together on improving Mario's consistency and mentality, Milan will have a formidable striker on their hands. But he could just as easily spend the season throwing tantrums and underwhelming.
The Rossoneri's temperamental talisman would be far higher up this list if he weren't so unpredictable.
6: Mattia Destro
Roma's Mattia Destro has had two seasons severely blighted with injury, but last term he still managed 13 goals in 14 starts for the Giallorossi, and many felt he was unlucky to miss out on a spot in Cesare Prandelli's World Cup squad.
Like Balotelli, it seems like Italian football has been waiting a long time for Destro to come of age, though it's easy to forget that he only turned 23 in March. Since moving to the capital, the former Inter protege has yet to enjoy a fully injury-free season as a starter.
If he stays fit this year and Rudi Garcia gives him the chance, he should be in the mix for capocannoniere next May.
5: Rodrigo Palacio
As Inter's main man up front, Rodrigo Palacio should be in contention for top scorer if all goes well for the Nerazzurri.
The 32-year-old Argentine will have Dani Osvaldo for competition on the squad sheet this term, but while the former Roma hitman's arrival is undoubtedly good news for Walter Mazzarri and his overall squad strength, it shouldn't worry Palacio too much. He's hardworking and understated, and he lets his football do the talking. In other words, he's the opposite of Osvaldo.
Palacio isn't always prolific, but his 17 strikes last term show that he knows how to convert chances and should do better now that Mazzarri has had time to create a stronger, more organised Inter.
4: Fernando Llorente
More should have been made of Fernando Llorente's debut season in Serie A. Having arrived at Juventus following a long period where he was frozen out of the Athletic Bilbao setup, the striker was in new surroundings and severely out of shape.
To his credit, he knuckled down and after a slow start managed 16 goals and five assists in 29 starts for the Bianconeri.
New Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri is expected to change things in Turin, but with Llorente and Carlos Tevez he won't need to do much up front.
3: Carlos Tevez
Carlos Tevez scored 19 times last season and assisted seven more goals. Debut seasons don't get much better than that.
The former Manchester City striker settled immediately into life in Serie A and has been terrorising defences ever since. Under Antonio Conte, the Juventus forwards were often expected to sacrifice their own half-chances for the good of the team, creating space for driving runs from midfielders like Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba.
Max Allegri plays a different style of football, and before Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sold out from under him at Milan he was happy to set his side up with a more direct approach and focus more attention on the talents of a world-class forward. It will be interesting to see if he does the same in Turin.
2: Gonzalo Higuain
Gonzalo Higuain is the third Argentine on this list, and one who will desperately want to emulate his famous compatriot Diego Maradona and bring Scudetto success to Naples.
The Napoli striker scored 109 goals and made 45 assists for Real Madrid in La Liga before making the move to Italy, and in his first year with the Partenopei he scored 17 times.
He's the undisputed main man up front for Rafa Benitez's side, so if Napoli are in contention in the league expect Higuain to be ranked highly on the goalscoring charts.
1: Giuseppe Rossi
Will this finally be the year we get to see Giuseppe Rossi in all of his glory, uninterrupted by injury? Time will tell, but if the Fiorentina hitman stays fit he's surely the favourite for capocannoniere.
The title was all but his last term until he suffered a sprain to the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in January. Up to that point, he'd bagged 14 goals in 18 appearances for the Viola, and when he returned to action at the end of the season he showed he'd lost none of his sharpness by immediately getting his name on the scoresheet.
Cesare Prandelli didn't think he was fit enough for a place with Italy in Brazil, but now the 27-year-old American-born striker will want to focus on the future, the 2016 European Championships and proving to the next Italy boss just how special he really is.
Perhaps Rossi's only flaw as a player is his susceptibility to injury. If he avoids problems in that department, fans at the Stadio Artemio Franchi should look forward to plenty of action in the opposition box.
Fiorentina were dealt not one but two cruel injury blows last season when they lost not only Rossi but new signing Mario Gomez as well.
The German forward will be almost like a new signing for Vincenzo Montella this season because he only started five games last year in a campaign blighted with fitness issues. The Viola will be hoping that he comes back in the kind of form that saw him score 75 times in 115 games for Bayern Munich.
Elsewhere, Torino's Alessio Cerci is worth keeping an eye on, as the 27-year-old Italy winger was the only player to reach double figures in both goals and assists last term. Cerci formed a formidable partnership at Toro with Ciro Immobile, and it will be interesting to see if he can pick up the scoring slack now that his old partner has moved to Borussia Dortmund.
Inter's Mauro Icardi is also worth following. The young Argentine made almost half his appearances from the bench last season but in 22 games managed nine goals. The 21-year-old is clearly a future talent, and 2014-15 could be the season in which he finally makes his mark properly.
Colin O'Brien lives and works in Rome, covering Italian football. You can contact him on Twitter here.