He is not exactly an unknown footballer who has suddenly leapfrogged from the lower leagues to a major club and has subsequetly ensured his debut as international player. And he is not a youngster. Still, Italy may have found the alter ego of Totò Schillaci, the legendary Azzurri hero of Italia ’90, 22 years later.
Another “Totò”, Udinese forward Di Natale, is likely to play such a role. Their personal stories have many common features. They both come from Southern Italy – Di Natale was born in Naples, Schillaci grew up in Palermo. They are both tiny and rapid strikers. They both scored in the Italy debut match of a tournament – Schillaci at Italia ’90, Di Natale at Euro 2012 – coming in from the bench and netting after a very few minutes. They both started their career from non-glamorous clubs in lower divisions before turning into sporting celebrities.
Schillaci’s fairy-tale began in beautiful Sicily and Italian giant Juventus signed him from Messina. Differently from him, Di Natale took his early steps as a professional footballer in another charming Italian region, Tuscany.
He was signed by Empoli, which boasts one of the most efficient football acadamies in Italy, and then sent on loan to Varese, then a third-division side. But life was hard over there so he decided to join Viareggio in Serie C2, Italian equivalent of the English League Two.
Di Natale was not completely aware of that, but his career had arrived to a turning point. Following an outstanding season, he was called back by Empoli and, step-by-step, he has peaked.
You can read here the story of one of his key seasons, the one played in Viareggio, my hometown.