Like Bread


Luca Toni isn't the same player he was when he scored 31 goals in one serie A season. He's not the same player who won the World Cup three and a half years ago, either. But he is the first big target player Roma has had since Batistuta passed away during the scudetto celebrations of 2001, and that's plenty for now.
 
I'm not harboring hopes or expectations for Toni to roll back the years and become the present and the future, but for a club that's struggling with very restricted financial leeway, and the absolute void in the opposition penalty box, this transfer makes a lot of sense. As long as our expectations shrink in accordance with the financial health of the club, and the move is seen for what it is, it's hard to complain about a free loan for six months for a player who can completely alter your way of attacking. No, he won't score 15 goals from here on out and lead the way for a resurrected Roma, but - and I'll be careful not to exaggerate here - he changes everything. His success at Roma isn't even necessarily hinged on him scoring goals of his own; his mere presence in the penalty area gives every player on the team a new reference point. He can hold up the ball, he can head in a cross, he can attack open spaces on the first post no one else in the team really knows how to. These are all things I believe will have a positive impact on the team, for the simple reason that it makes Roma more unpredictable again.

I realize passing it to the big guy doesn't sound very unpredictable, but I hold (delusional?) hopes that it will be. And sure, passing it to a technically limited player who's lost most of the agility he did have at one point can sound dreary. But as always nothing happens in a vacuum, and Toni will be playing surrounded by players like Totti, Ménez and Vucinic. The latter trio on its own has some limitations (as evidenced by the Sampdoria away game), but with Toni it is now a highly compatible quartet which can be used in any number of ways. Assuming that, at most, Ranieri will use three of them together at once, there is a long list of possibilities for alternate lineups which can create match-up nightmares for any defense. Toni and Totti too slow, or static? Slot in Vucinic for pace and energy, or Ménez for dribbling and penetration. Lacking a big man in the area? Put Toni on the end of some crosses and you have a lamp post who either finishes himself or lays crosses off for consideration of others. Either way, Ranieri now has options. And considering the relative success he had during the fall and early winter without any whatsoever, that is an enticing prospect.

The state Toni is in now is hard to gauge. Ranieri says he was pleasantly surprised by his general form and shape, which I guess counts as much as anyone's opinion. It's not until you go back and look at his actual numbers in Germany that you start to realize how much the media narrative of the washed-up Toni has influenced us all. He hasn't played for six months now, which in itself has led to him becoming less and less relevant, and the circumstances makes him an easy target for the media, always ready to exploit a disagreement between player and coach for stories and headlines of the former being "unprofessional". But I never bought into that, even before Roma entered the frame, because I know the reputation van Gaal has; he is a rabble rouser who rouses rabble wherever he goes. Arguing with him is more of a testament to being in possession of a fraction of a backbone than it is being a troublemaker who will only cause rifts in a locker room. But before that, when he actually played football regularly last he was averaging more than a goal every other game. That's not half bad, but it's been treated with such secondary importance after his fights with van Gaal that it's not strange if you weren't aware of it. I know I wasn't, until a few days ago.



But still, for some perspective: it's one thing to invoke Batistuta as the last time before now that Roma had a great prima punta leading the line, but it's a completely different thing to get carried away and make more serious comparisons between 2010's Luca Toni and the Batistuta of 2000. There's a world of differencence, so please, chill. Toni should only looked at and judged for what he is, and even if it's not the most exciting thing in the world, it's hard to imagine a player filling more of a purpose for his new club than this.