The hitman

Kalinic is looking for the first goal with Verona. The rise of a great forward

di Richard Hough

The column of the week from Richard Hough for all the Verona-lovers speaking english. 

Only two players have scored more than 10 Serie A goals in a season for Hellas Verona in the last 20 years. Nikola Kalinić is certainly capable of adding his name to that short list, and he could make a good start by scoring against Sassuolo on Sunday afternoon.

Kalinić began his playing career with his hometown club, Hajduk Split, notching up an impressive 32 goal tally in 59 appearances. In 2009 he moved to Blackburn Rovers for a reported fee of £6 million, but after falling out of favour with coach Steve Kean, he left the Lancashire club having scored just 7 goals in 44 appearances.

He enjoyed more success with Ukrainian side Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, with 37 goals in 86 appearances, including the opener in the Europa League Final against holders Sevilla.

Arguably the happiest spell of his playing career came at Fiorentina, for whom he signed in August 2015, just as Mohamed Salah was heading to Roma. Under the leadership of Portuguese coach Paulo Sousa, Nikola scored 12 goals in 35 Serie A appearances, including a hat-trick in a famous 4-1 away victory over Internazionale, a result that propelled the Tuscans to the top of Serie A for the first time in 15 years! Fiorentina finished the season in 5th place with Kalinić just a goal behind Josip Iličić, as La Viola’s top goal scorer that season.

He went one better the following season, earning the title of capocannoniere with 20 goals in all competitions, although La Viola couldn’t improve on their previous season’s performance and finished in a disappointing 8th place.

At the start of 2017–18 season, Kalinić’s number 9 shirt was handed to the incoming Giovanni Simeone, an indication that the big Croat had fallen down the pecking order under new coach Stefano Pioli. In fact, within a week of Simeone’s arrival at Fiorentina, Kalinić was on his way to Milan.

It proved to be an unhappy spell at AC Milan, where he scored just six goals in 41 appearances. He moved on to La Liga giants Atlético Madrid the following summer where, despite an injury to Diego Costa, Kalinić managed just 17 appearances and two goals, before returning to Italy the following summer on loan to Roma. He scored five goals in 15 appearances, but again failed to settle in the Italian capital.

At the World Cup in Russia in 2018, Modric’s Croatia lost in the final to France, having overcome England in a thrilling extra-time semifinal, but Kalinić declined his runners-up medal after being sent home from the tournament for refusing to come on as a substitute in Croatia’s opener against Nigeria.

Coming to Verona is yet another opportunity for a player who has often found it difficult to settle. He’s an experienced striker and proven goal-scorer – exactly what Hellas Verona have been lacking these past couple of seasons. With emerging talents like Eddy Salcedo, Eb Colley and Andrea Favilli yet to prove themselves, this could be Kalinić’s last big chance.

He’s now made four appearances since joining in October (including one from the bench), hitting the crossbar against Benevento and coming close against Milan. Despite not scoring, his overall contribution has been impressive – holding the ball up well, like he did for Barak’s goal against Benevento, an offensive characteristic that Hellas have been lacking since the days of the mighty Luca Toni.

Oh, and in case you are still wondering, the only two players to have scored more than 10 Serie A goals in a season in the last 20 years are of course Luca Toni, who scored 22 in 2014/15, and Adrian Mutu, who scored 12 in 2001/02.

 

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