Last night Jose Mourinho came just few minutes away from losing his unbeaten record as coach of Real Madrid. Real had looked in control for long periods at the San Siro. However, a thirty minute cameo from, 37 year old, Flippo (Pippo) Inzaghi nearly took the game away from Real. It was not a one man mission of destruction in the style of Gareth Bale. In fact it was a tap in, following some dodgy keeping from Casillas, and a neat finish from an almost certainly offside position. Nonetheless it was Inzaghi doing what he has being doing best his whole career; being in the right place at the right time, reacting first, and applying a composed finish.
His two goals last night took him to seventy goals in all European competitions, more than anyone else. Since his Champions League debut in 1995 he has scored 46 goals in 86 games, a ratio bettered only by Ruud Van Nistelrooy, he has also won the competition twice, with Juventus and Milan respectively. Domestically he has scored 197 Serie A goals, including 10 hat-ricks. His international achievements are equally impressive, he was part of the World Cup winning squad of 2006, and has a more than respectable record of 25 goals in 57 games for the Azzurri.
Yet he is has never been a player who receives much praise, certainly not within the British media. He has been unfortunate in his early and peak years to have been playing at a time when there was a glut of quality Italian strikers. In his early years he had to compete with the likes of Del Piero, Baggio and Ravenelli; later in his career Inzaghi had Totti, Vieri and Montella to compete with. He has also often been overshadowed by other players in his own team, at Juventus Zidane and Del Piero, at Milan Shevchenko and Kaka.
A further reason why he has not been proclaimed as the great player his goals suggest he should be is the style in which he has scored them. His two goals scored last night against Madrid could easily put in a box labelled ‘classic Inzaghi’. He is not a player blessed with fantastic technical ability; in fact he has often been maligned for his lack of it. He has never been a player that will create a lot of chances for others or score wonder goals. In fact a Pippo Inzaghi youtube montage is a mundane collection of tap ins, side foot finishes, and close range headers.
However he deserves to be celebrated because he is one of a kind. He has scored his impressive haul of goals, not through breathtaking skill, or physical power, but through being a master of clever movement, and anticipating where the ball will drop. For his build he is surprisingly good in the air, and he also possesses a remarkable ability to beat the offside trap, although he has, from time to time, been accused of being a bit over enthusiastic on this front! Sir Alex Ferguson once said of Inzaghi, “that lad must have been born offside”. Inzaghi may often be peripheral for periods of games but when he gets a chance he is composed in front of goal, and rarely wastes an opportunity. Carlo Ancelotti described Inzaghi as best striker in the box he had ever seen. High praise from a man who has worked with Ronaldo, Crespo, Shevchenko, Drogba, and Del Piero. In the modern game where top strikers are required to be athletes, Inzaghi stands out as one of the last out and out natural goalscorers. It is his positional qualities that mean he is still capable of scoring against Real Madrid at the age of 37, when most strikers would be on the scrap heap.
Looking around world football there are few like him. Ruud Van Nistelrooy is another pure goalscorer, however he does not play on the last shoulder in the way Inzaghi does. Michael Owen if he was to get some playing time is one who could maybe imitate Inzaghi. However, in reality through there is no one quite like Inzaghi, he is the ultimate poacher, and possibly, the last of a dying breed.
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