Scamacca put PlayStation away and started scoring. Now game time could come as Italy center forward

The message was clear from Italy coach Luciano Spalletti

Andrew Dampf
Friday 03 May 2024 16:47 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

The message was clear from Italy coach Luciano Spalletti: Put your PlayStation away and start focusing more on scoring goals.

The results have been wondrous for Gianluca Scamacca, who has scored nine goals in 11 matches for Atalanta since Spalletti dropped him from the Azzurri squad in March for his video game obsession.

“If someone wants to waste their time, that’s their choice. But then don’t come on my national team,” Spalletti said, noting how several players were up all night before a decisive European Championship qualifying match against Ukraine in November. The Azzurri drew 0-0 — just enough to qualify.

“It would have been the same thing if they were watching a TV series. It’s an addiction and it’s not good for sleeping, doctors say,” Spalletti added.

Now Scamacca is ready to fill Italy’s gaping hole at center forward just in time for Euro 2024 in Germany.

Ciro Immobile has been Italy’s go-to man at center forward for years but has never performed as well with the national team as he has at Lazio and, at 34, is likely to have his best years behind him.

The crisis at center forward grew so severe that previous Italy coach Roberto Mancini recruited Argentine-born striker Mateo Retegui to join the Azzurri. And Retegui has performed admirably with four goals in six matches.

Scamacca has just one goal — scored against England — in 15 matches with Italy. But over the past two months he’s developed into a new player, finally realizing the potential that has hovered over him ever since he came up through Lazio and Roma’s youth systems.

He is a player who is physically and technically complete, capable of blasting powerful shots at the goal while standing still with both feet or pulling off leaping, acrobatic efforts.

His talents have been on full display recently with a brace in Atalanta’s 3-0 win at Liverpool in the Europa League quarterfinals, a goal and an assist to help overturn a first-leg deficit against Fiorentina in the Italian Cup semifinals, and the opening goal in a 1-1 draw at Marseille on Thursday in the first leg of the Europa League semifinals.

“He was exceptional against us -- really, really good. He was difficult to play against,” Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp said. “He was great in the air and great on the floor. I didn’t know him too well when he came to West Ham. It didn’t work out well 100% there, but it can happen because the Premier League is a difficult league to play. You can see he has great quality.

“But for a specific way of play, I think he is a fantastic option. A really focused player who can bring the ball down and give time to push up. He is a threat in the box. It’s a really interesting package,” Klopp added.

Italy hasn’t had a true center forward since perhaps the days of Christian Vieri, Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino.

So if Scamacca can produce from the No. 9 position, he’ll provide a reference point for the likes of fellow forwards Federico Chiesa, Giacomo Raspadori and Nicolò Zaniolo

Atalanta is a team that usually relies on developing home-grown talent or purchasing young foreigners with hidden potential on the cheap. But the Bergamo squad spent 25 million euros ($27 million) to bring Scamacca back to Italy from West Ham, where he scored only three goals in 16 Premier League matches and had his season cut short by a knee injury.

But Scamacca did excel with West Ham in the Europa Conference League, and he now has six goals in this season’s Europa League — demonstrating an affinity for continental play — which could also bode well for the Euros, where Italy is in a group with Spain, Croatia and Albania.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer

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