The Last Word: Ciao Pippo Inzaghi, you made offside an act of sensuality

 

Perhaps Italian men really are more comfortable with displays of emotion; or maybe someone had simply warned Rino Gattuso that Joe Jordan was waiting by the bike shed. One way or another, all those years scrupulously devoted to the cultivation of his image as some hirsute, snarling, tunnelling football nemesis – one who caused effete midfielders throughout Europe to wake up howling, their sheets torn and drenched in sweat – have finally been laid waste.

As one of several veterans making their final appearance for Milan last weekend, Gattuso led a crumple-faced marathon of keening and hugging. Luckily, a rather more characteristic farewell was reserved for the gleefully heterodox minority who grieve most of all – more even than Alessandro Nesta or, at Juventus the same day, the sainted Del Piero – the departure of Pippo Inzaghi.

Now 38, Inzaghi came off the bench to score the decisive goal against Novara, chesting a lob to tee up a booming, angled drive on the bounce. This last, bittersweet taste of the elixir prompted familiar delirium in the great man, this time reciprocated not merely by fans and comrades but also by opponents and officials. One of the Novara players embraced him warmly, while the referee shook his hand and even brushed his fingers through that luxuriant, glossy mane, apparently yet to yield a single grey hair.

Those outside Italy who cannot find it in their hearts to share such affection – and these evidently include Sir Alex Ferguson, who notoriously disparaged Inzaghi as "born offside", and Johan Cruyff, who says that he "can't actually play football at all" – should perhaps reconsider their prejudices in Munich tonight. On one side, they will see a team depicted as on the brink of senility; on the other, one of the most prolific scavengers in Europe. Yet Inzaghi, four years older than Didier Drogba, still hopes to extend his career somewhere; and while Mario Gomez certainly shares a propensity for popping up at the right place (usually about 18 inches from the line) at the right time, for now he has scored exactly half as many goals as Inzaghi in Europe.

In fact only Raul, with 77, has scored more. Two of Pippo's 70, of course, secured Milan's revenge over Liverpool in the 2007 Champions League final. As a starlet at Atalanta in 1997, Pippo was Capocannoniere with 24 goals, at least one apiece against every team in the league. For clubs and country, he has ended up with 313 in all. But if all this accumulation, this bottom line, represents some dazing apotheosis of his training as an accountant, it is its maddening genesis that puts Pippo beyond price.

For this is no classic No 9. He is lanky and brittle. Hopeless from long range, little better in the air, and perfectly capable of missing a sitter. After the Athens final, the match-winner indulged in a delightful self-parody for the fans, deliberately stabbing the ball past an empty net from six yards. His want of technique in training has stupefied team-mates. Yet Ferguson's disdain is clumsier than the offence he perceived.

For here is a player who discovers a nearly orgiastic exultation in his calling. He is so consumed by desire that its satisfaction is immanent: it does not matter how much money he has in the bank, how many goals his team has already scored, how easy a chance he could instead set up for a team-mate. Pippo has sometimes had to apologise to opponents infuriated by his euphoria after scoring the goal that completes a rout. He speaks of a helpless addiction, of the craving for some "mystical" climax.

Time and again, the striker hailed by David Beckham as "the best pure finisher I've seen since Gary Lineker" spirits into the blindside at the front of the six-yard box. Inzaghi, outraged by Beckham's old boss at United, actually takes great pride in his torment of linesmen. It is all about morale, about only needing to time it right once. And really it's terribly sensual, the way he pushes his craving to the limit – this exquisite tension with the last line of defence – before breaking free for the rush of gratification.

Perhaps he can prolong the addiction. After a couple of very light seasons, he remains alert and agile. MLS is an obvious possibility. Beyond the break-up of a golden Milan side, however, Pippo increasingly seems like exotic driftwood on the tide of football. Progressive coaches seek dimensions in their forward lines beyond the purely predatory; yet conservatives, especially in this country, have long dismissed Pippo as puny, as somehow ridiculous. But he remains stubborn in his passion, pride, cunning and heart. There is no such thing as a 50-50 ball if Pippo is one of its claimants. On that basis, looking at the Azzurri squad for this summer, defenders all round Europe may well be relieved he has not been granted the perfect swansong.

This week Pippo bade farewell to Rossoneri fans. "We must part now, because that's the way life is," he wrote. "And because the time is right. You know as much yourselves." Maybe so. But some of us, far beyond that parish, can hardly bear to admit it.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world