When thinking of proven Serie A goalscorers, minds jump to players like Antonio Di Natale, German Denis, and Carlos Tevez. Rarely is Milan’s 30-year-old forward Giampaolo Pazzini mentioned alongside these semi-prolific strikers. Despite good records with his multiple Italian clubs, he is thrown in the same boat as Giovinco, Matri, and Sau- those who just didn’t quite make it on the big stage. However the player nicknamed “Il Pazzo” did not earn his moniker just by holding the record for fastest Azzurri sending-off. His knack for bundling the ball into the net inside the penalty area led to not only transfers to bigger and better clubs, but a quarter of a century of Italy caps as well. Even so, Pazzini is perceived as a second-rate forward who only produces in Serie A because of it’s at times open nature, and one who would be unable to cut it anywhere else. Giampaolo doesn’t seem to mind though, as he quietly and consistently continues to be one of the top Italian strikers still residing in the league.
Starting off at then-Serie B club Atalanta, his exploits in front of goal as a youth earned Pazzini a move to giants Fiorentina. Despite limited first team starts, Il Pazzo managed to be a major contributor to La Viola’s three fourth placed finishes from 2006-2009, scoring upwards or close to 10 league goals in all four of his Fiorentina campaigns. In the summer of 2009, he left for greener pastures at Sampdoria after then-coach Cesare Prandelli opted to play Mutu and Gilardino up front. With the Blucherati, saying that Pazzini exploded would be somewhat of an understatement. Linking up with national teammate Antonio Cassano, the duo combined for 28 league goals in the 2009/10 season, with Pazzini scoring 19 of them. His brilliant campaign included match-winning performances against clubs like AS Roma, Inter Milan, and Napoli. Sampdoria ended up finishing in 4th in Il Pazzo‘s debut campaign, gaining qualification to the Champions League play-offs. It wasn’t to be though, as i Blucherati were knocked into the Europa League by a spirited Werder Bremen side over two legs. After scoring six goals in the opening half of the 10/11 season, Inter made a successful bid for the forward’s services in January of 2011.
Pazzini scored 11 goals in his debut half-season with his new club. Adjusting well to his surroundings, the forward justified his fee fairly quickly, standing out in both league matches against Fiorentina as well as against Cesena and Palermo. In addition to consistent minutes with both Sampdoria and the Nerazzurri, Pazzini also added 11 international caps to his collection as he featured in all of Italy’s Euro qualification matches and several friendlies. The poacher was now becoming somewhat of a household name amongst Italian fans, but outside of Italy was still relatively unknown. Despite his success with Inter in 10/11, his next season was full of frustration and anger. First under Claudio Ranieri and then Andrea Stamaccioni Pazzini was used sparingly as a starter, making only 22 starts and playing just 17 full league matches. As a result Il Pazzo‘s form plummeted, and he scored a measly five league goals for Inter. This would prove to be his final season on Inter’s side of the San Siro. In the summer of 2012, he was offloaded to AC Milan in a part-exchange deal for Antonio Cassano and €7.5 million.
Pazzini had his reasons for leaving the Nerazzurri, and in an August interview with Gazzetta Dello Sport following his move to Milan, Pazzini revealed that “The night before the summer training camp I had a phone call telling me I was out of the team. And the following day I was told: ‘You won’t be playing in any of the friendlies’, but it wasn’t Stramaccioni.” The desire for Pazzini to leave seemingly stemmed from the top, and the forward was dumped to Milan in what was at first seen as a brilliant piece of business. In his very first start in the Rossoneri colors Pazzini proved all his critics wrong. A hat-trick in Milan’s 3-1 win at Cagliari acted as the statement of his intent for the season. However following that match, Pazzini failed to score in eight successive outings with Milan. Just as the calls for him to be dropped started to grow in volume, Pazzini found his scoring boots again. From matchday 11 until the end of the season Pazzini racked up 12 goals from just 10 starts. Looking like a clear pick for the Azzurri‘s Confederations Cup squad, heartbreak struck as Il Pazzo had to undergo a knee operation in May that was to keep him out for up to six months. Sebastian Giovinco was taken instead. Due to the knee operation, Pazzini missed the entire first half of Milan’s disastrous 13/14 campaign, and made his first start of the season on February 1st in a 1-1 draw at home to Torino. He was not the same after coming back though, and scored just two goals from his return to the end of the season. At that point many thought Il Pazzo’s time with the Rossoneri was done. Moving to the twilight of his career off the back of a horrific injury, he was expected to leave Milan in the summer of 2014. Linked to Napoli among other Serie A clubs, it came as a surprise to many when instead Mario Balotelli was the one cashed in on. When the sale of Balotelli happened, there was a little revival in hope for Pazzini. He was now expected to be the focal point of Milan’s attack, and a lot of hope was placed into him. But just as soon as the hope was given, it was taken away. The loan deal for Fernando Torres and Jeremy Menez’s revelation as a false 9 has once again frozen the former Sampdoria star out of the first team. Three disappointing substitute appearances were all Pazzini could put together so far in the campaign.
It might be time for the striker to leave Milan and go to a club where he’ll be treated as the star forward rather a backup. A move to Parma, a club he was previously linked to, is an attractive destination. Not only will he be the focal point of the attack, but he’ll be linking up with former club and country teammate Antonio Cassano, with whom as previously mentioned, Pazzini had a very fruitful partnership.
The reason that many do not rate Pazzini amongst the league’s premier goalscorers may lie in that Pazzini is not an ordinary forward. Moving past his uncanny ability to score headed goals, situational awareness in the box, and premier finishing skills, what sets Pazzini apart is that he is not a forward that is well suited to playing the full 90 minutes, especially now with the onset of age. His legs are good for around an hour or so of productive work, which leaves two options- give him the start and sub him off before or around the 60′ mark, or put him on in the middle of the second half to wreak havoc. Both are equally attractive choices. Having him on for less than an hour per match would allow Il Pazzo to maximize his physical output and not have to worry about saving up for the final stretch of the match. Played from the start Pazzini would establish a clear connection with his teammates and likely get multiple scoring chances in before being taken off for a younger, speedier forward around a third of the way through the second half. Used as a super sub, Pazzini’s limited stamina is used to the maximum. Despite not necessarily having the same connection with the wingers and midfielders as somebody who started the match, Pazzini’s advantage is that he can slip past opposition defenders who are not yet used to marking him and use his excellent off-the-ball movement to get a clear scoring opportunity.
Pazzini has almost never been rated highly and likely won’t be in the future. But there is no denying that the forward whose nickname mean “madman” has been one of the top Italian Serie A strikers in the past 7-8 years.