First things first, let's get the puns out of the way.
Yes, Kevin Lasagna, the Udinese and Italy striker, is a tasty player. Yes, he has put many a shot pasta goalkeeper. Yes, off the pitch, he doesn't mince his words. And yes, on occasion, he will make a meal of a straightforward finish.
Lasagna may be a headline writer's dream, but the 26-year-old is also a player with a remarkable backstory who in the space of only four years has gone from playing amateur football before paltry crowds in Italy's fourth tier to mixing with Italian football royalty in Serie A and wearing the No. 9 shirt for his country.
"He's a player with an atypical profile. If you want a comparison, he's a little bit like Jamie Vardy," says Gilbert Simonutti, a football writer from Udine who writes for the Calciomio website.
Lasagna was brought up in San Benedetto Po, a small town in Lombardy about 140 kilometres southeast of Milan. (The story goes that he was named after Hollywood actor Kevin Costner and that his sister, Sharon, owes her name to Sharon Stone.)
A boyhood Inter Milan fan, he spent four years on the books at Chievo as a youth player but never made the grade and left the club in 2009. He played for a number of local teams—Suzzara, Governolese, Cerea—and also trained as a surveyor, spending his days working in a studio and visiting construction sites. In the summer of 2013, he took part in a football tournament in Mezzane where one of the prizes was a 160-kilogram pig. He was paid €50 per game (plus petrol money) for taking part. His team missed out on the pig.
The 2013-14 season would be the one that changed Lasagna's life. Playing in Serie D for Padua club Este, he scored 21 goals in 33 appearances and attracted the attention of Cristiano Giuntoli, the bargain-hunting sporting director at Serie B side Carpi.
Carpi paid €75,000 to secure Lasagna's services, and Giuntoli declared: "Kevin Lasagna will one day become the centre-forward of the Italian national team." It was shrewd signings such as Lasagna that would lead to Giuntoli being headhunted by Napoli a year later.
"Between Serie D and Serie B, the quality of the players, and especially the intensity and speed of the play, changes," Lasagna told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "In Serie D, some players train after work. It's another world."
Despite the step up in quality, Lasagna settled quickly and helped Carpi achieve promotion to Serie A for the first time in his first season. He made his top-flight debut at the age of 23 in a 5-2 loss to Sampdoria in August 2015.
Come the following January, he was still waiting for his first Serie A goal when Carpi travelled to title contenders Inter, the club he had supported as a child. In stoppage time, with the visitors trailing 1-0 and down to 10 men following the dismissal of winger Lorenzo Pasciuti, Lasagna raced onto Raffaele Bianco's pass, eased the ball onto his favoured left foot and drilled a low shot past Samir Handanovic into the bottom-right corner.
Lasagna was swamped by the exultant Carpi bench, and when the celebrations had subsided, he could be seen running his hands down his face in apparent disbelief. On the eve of the campaign, he had told La Gazzetta that it was his dream to score against Inter at San Siro. Italian food company Barilla got in on the act by producing a cheeky advert that read: "Our lasagna won't get stuck in your stomach, even if you're an Inter fan."
Nicknamed "KL15" by Carpi's fans in reference to his squad number, Lasagna would score a further four goals that season, including strikes against Roma and Fiorentina, and although Carpi were relegated, his displays did not go unnoticed. When he scored nine goals in his first 21 Serie B outings the following campaign, Udinese made their move, signing him in a €4.5 million deal in January 2017 and loaning him back to Carpi for the rest of the season.
Quick, upright and adept at attacking open spaces, Lasagna is not a conventional centre-forward, yet he proved a handy source of goals in his maiden season at Udinese. After finding the net only twice in his first 11 league outings, he scored in five successive Serie A matches in December 2017, becoming the first Udinese player to achieve such a feat since Antonio Di Natale seven years earlier.
His scoring streak included another goal against Inter at San Siro, this time a close-range opener in a 3-1 victory, and the winner in a 2-1 success at Bologna. He finished the season with 12 Serie A goals and 14 in all competitions, making him the club's top scorer. Lazio's Ciro Immobile and Sampdoria's Fabio Quagliarella were the only Italians in the division to outscore him.
This season, things have not been going quite as well, as a return of two goals from 12 appearances suggests. Lasagna typically played alongside Maxi Lopez in his first campaign at Stadio Friuli, but after the Argentinian left the club in the summer, new coach Julio Velazquez took to using him as a lone striker. With Udinese slipping to 17th place, Velazquez was dismissed last week, to be replaced by former Crotone coach Davide Nicola.
"Lasagna is a forward who serves his team-mates. Unfortunately, he's been playing as a main striker this season, and he's not been at his best," says Sara Puntel, a Udinese fan who grew up a stone's throw from Stadio Friuli. "In my opinion, he's not cut out for playing with his back to goal. He would be better playing where he played before, as a second striker."
For some Udinese supporters, Lasagna's unconventional career trajectory, pacy style and on-pitch tenacity bring to mind Vincenzo Iaquinta, another former amateur player, who played for the club from 2000 to 2007 and won the World Cup with Italy in 2006.
"You could compare him to Iaquinta," says Simonutti. "He's that sort of player. He plays with desire, he fights. He's not a true centre-forward, though. You need him running into space."
After successive summers of major upheaval in the transfer window, Udinese's owners the Pozzo family have made a priority of signing Italian players with whom their supporters can identify and tying them to long-term deals. Lasagna has been appointed vice-captain and signed a new five-year contract last month.
"The supporters are counting on Lasagna at the moment," says Puntel. "He was the symbol of the season ticket campaign, and for the supporters, he represents the new heart of the team."
Lasagna received his first Italy call-up last month as a replacement for the injured Simone Zaza, having never previously been capped even at youth level. He made an immediate impact on his debut. With Italy drawing 0-0 against Poland in Chorzow and at risk of relegation from UEFA Nations League A, Lasagna expertly flicked on a corner for Cristiano Biraghi to slide home a last-gasp winner.
"[Lasagna] is an interesting player," said Italian coaching great Fabio Capello. "I think he can bring something extra to the national team."
Lasagna kept his place in Roberto Mancini's squad for the current international get-together, being preferred to both Mario Balotelli and Andrea Belotti, and made his second Italy appearance in last Saturday's 0-0 draw with Portugal. Mancini has been charged with the weighty responsibility of rebuilding the national team after their failure to qualify for this year's World Cup, and for all the attacking talent at his disposal, he has clearly seen something he likes in Lasagna.
Amateur footballer, trainee surveyor, scourge of Inter, inspirer of pasta adverts, successor to Di Natale, Italy international. Kevin Lasagna is truly a man of many layers.