Sometimes people enter your life at just the right moment. Sometimes this confluence of energy and environment can be enough to lift you out of the depths of despair. And in the moment, it may seem that this pairing is meant to last a lifetime, but in the deepest recesses of your heart you know that perfection can only be preserved for so long.
Seven years ago this gift was bestowed upon the people of Rome, as a knight reaching the end of his watch removed the shroud of winter from the Eternal City, bringing the Giallorossi tantalizingly close to glory.
We’re talking, of course, about Luca Toni, the author of six of the most glorious months in recent Roman memory, and the subject of the latest installment in our Reliving Roma series, a season long look back at some of our favorite men, matches, and moments in the club’s 90 year history.
After bouncing around Italy’s lower levels for several years, scoring goals for everyone from Modena to Empoli to Lodigiani, Toni’s initial progress in Serie A was a bit stilted. After scoring 24 goals in parts of three seasons for Vicenza and Empoli, Toni once again found himself in the minor leagues, latching on with Palermo in a desperate attempt to jump start his career. After scoring 30 goals for the Rosanero during the 2003-2004 Serie B season, Toni returned to Serie A, and his career really took off, highlighted by a 31 goal haul for Fiorentina in 2005-2006 and two-year stretch in the Bundesliga, where he scored 56 goals in all competitions for German giants Bayern Munich.
So how, then, did he wind up with Roma? Well, we can probably thank a torn achilles for all the joy he brought to Roma fans during the winter and spring of 2010. After rupturing the most mythical of all tendons during the 2008-2009 season, Toni struggled to find minutes under Louis van Gaal the following season, prompting Bayern to loan him to Roma on December 31, 2009, ushering in a six-month spell the likes of which we’ve seldom seen.
It hardly seems fair or even appropriate, but Toni’s Roma career amounted to only five goals in 15 matches, hardly a legendary haul, but this tale isn’t necessarily one of numbers. As we opined at the outset, this is about the convergence of energy and environment.
And at that exact moment in time and in that exact environment—in the middle of a Scudetto dogfight with Inter Milan, the club that denied them glory in three of the previous four season—Luca Toni was exactly what Roma needed. The neutral clef among the cacophony created by Mirko Vucinic, Francesco Totti, and Jeremey Menez among others.
Prior to his arrival, Claudio Ranieri had a vast swath of wide attackers, each adept at slightly different aspects of attacking football, but none could command the middle of the are quite like Toni. None could shield multiple defenders at once, turn, shoot and score, all while looking like a matinee idol. Roma needed a physical presence around whom these attackers could coalesce, someone to draw defenders inwards, giving Vucinic et al. freedom to create and stretch opposing defenses, in turn creating more room for Toni to wiggle into the area—like we said, he was exactly what the club needed in form and function.
And to top it all off, he did it with grace, he did it with gusto, and for one fleeting moment, he did it for the Giallorossi. Luca Toni may not have gotten us to the mountain top, but for those brief six months, he made us feel like we belonged there, and for that I’ll be forever grateful.