Christopher Testa on a pair of youngsters from Italy's south who are lighting up Serie B.
Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile were born within 40km of one another and while their origins are similar, until now their footballing paths have been divergent. Born either side of the southern metropolis of Napoli, the two young strikers are igniting dreams on the other side of the peninsula.
They may not yet be household names, not even in Italy, and they only play in the second division but 20-year old Insigne and 21-year old Immobile are well on their way to achieving something special.
It’s the first week of September and the city of Pescara bathes in the Saturday afternoon heat. Girls frolic by the beach and tourists mill in the shopping strips of the picturesque Adriatic city. The night before, Pescara’s football team had continued their exciting start to the season with a 3-2 home win against Empoli. The man of the match, or ‘il protagonista’ as the Italians are wont to label him, was Juventus-owned Immobile.
Immobile has been a sensation in Serie B this season. He spent last season with Siena and Grosseto but provided few glimpses of the talent with which he is tantalising his audiences in a blue and white shirt. Within twenty minutes against Empoli, Immobile had scored twice. Pescara were on their way to what seemed like a sure victory. The Tuscans, however, pulled back the deficit to level and it seemed like being a frustrating night for the home side. Cue young Ciro Immobile, the goalscoring hero duly set up Emmanuel Cascione for a late winner. Blue and white flags and scarves waved wildly and fans screamed on the backs of their scooters long after the final whistle had blown.
The Pescara fans may have been excited, but they needn’t have been surprised. With Zdenek Zeman arriving on the Adriatico bench, the Dolphins were always going to sparkle. Their first game of the season a week earlier had been a tough assignment, an away trip to the hated Verona. The gialloblu may be new arrivals from the third division, but as a former Serie A mainstay, their ambitions are high.
It didn’t even take Pescara a quarter of an hour to open the scoring at the Bentegodi. The goal came from Immobile, the striker scoring a great header from close range. In the second half, an own goal from Verona defender Luca Ceccarelli doubled their lead and despite the gialloblu man making amends by scoring a goal at the right end, it was the Dolphins who ran out 2-1 winners.
Immobile is winning a lot of fans in Pescara and the Juventus supporters keeping an eye on the talent which their club has nurtured for over three years will be beaming too. Yet, despite eight goals in eleven matches, he has a rival for the limelight.
Lorenzo Insigne is over a year younger than Immobile but is matching his dazzling displays. He certainly isn’t a goal-shy character, having scored 19 goals for Foggia in the third division last season. When coach Zeman left Puglia for Pescara in the summer, he ensured that his young wizard would follow him north. He may have stepped up a division, but Insigne’s displays so far only highlight just how special a talent he is.
Insigne was born in Frattamaggiore, an outer suburb of Napoli. Notably, he was born in 1991, the year that saw the end of Diego Maradona’s reign as the king of Naples, having brought unprecedented glory to the underappreciated southern city before leaving in abject controversy. Insigne might not have been old enough to stand with 70,000 fellow partenopei and bear witness to Maradona performing magic with a football, but like most Neapolitan boys, his dream was to wear the blue shirt on the San Paolo pitch and emulate the heroics of their Argentine hero.
In 2006, he signed for Napoli’s youth team and, wearing the famous number 10, began to score goals. It’s something he hasn’t stopped doing. He certainly is diminutive; no taller than Maradona and not as stocky or built. He plays in the same creative role as Diego and creativity, flair and goals are the cornerstone of his game. So far, his experience as a senior Napoli player is an injury time substitute appearance. He is still earning his stripes as a footballer, helping Pescara challenge for glory and a much-coveted place in Serie A.
Pescara fans are certainly dreaming of a return to the massima serie, but they aren’t the only ones dreaming. Lorenzo Insigne is to Napoli fans, quite simply, the subject of many a prayer. Marek Hamsik might have led gli Azzurri to the Champions League and Ezequiel Lavezzi may be reminiscent of another Argentinean wild child of years gone by, but neither is the flag bearer that a team such as this craves. The people of such a beautiful but misunderstood, maligned and certainly underappreciated city desire to be represented by no one more than one of their own.
It is for this reason that Pescara is the unusual topic of conversation in Neapolitan bars. Eager Napoli fans flicking through their daily edition of Corriere dello Sport will, after the customary accusations of biased northern refereeing, cast an eye to the Serie B pagelle, to find out just how their jewel fared in his side’s trip to Cittadella or Gubbio.
It is a question of when, rather than if, Insigne returns to the San Paolo. Emulating Diego Maradona is a pressure that he would do better without, however the Neapolitan dream of a short kid from Frattamaggiore lighting up the city on a European night may become reality.
For now, Insigne and his feet are for Pescara to enjoy. And what of Ciro Immobile? The boy from Torre Annunziata who played his junior football with Sorrento before the Old Lady came calling. He too may be best advised not to settle in too well to life on the Adriatic coast. Each goal he scores brings the delfini closer to their Serie A dream but it also brings him a step closer to returning to cold, wintry Torino, where there is a black and white shirt waiting, with his name on the back.
Juve fans too have a dream and with the imminent retirement of the great Alessandro Del Piero, that dream is to find a new idol of their own. The fertile lands near Naples may have made him, Pescara may be enjoying him but it is the Old Lady of Italian football who purchased him and they will be salivating at the prospect of a young Immobile defying his own surname to return the club to its former glory.
Nonetheless, it is on the sunny shores of the Adriatic Sea that these dreams will continue to unfold. Pescara’s start to the season has been exhilarating; they sit among the best, scoring and conceding freely as Zdenek Zeman’s sides do. Biancazzurri fans have no reason to pinch themselves when Insigne and Immobile astound them on the park; it is reality, not a dream.
Follow Christopher on Twitter @cmtesta.