Shirt tucked in. Captain’s armband. Livorno was Cristiano Lucarelli’s ninth club, but the one closest to his heart. A divisive figure, known for having La Bandiera Rossa as his ring tone, he scored one-hundred and one goals in four seasons to fire Livorno from tenth in Serie B to ninth place in the Italian top flight. We take a look at his relationship with the fans, the Livornese culture and how raising an arm cost him €30,000. This is the tale of Cristiano Lucarelli.
“Some football players pay a billion for a Ferrari or a yacht; with that money I bought myself Livorno’s shirt. That’s all.”Cristiano Lucarelli. He took a fifty-percent pay cut to join his hometown club.
Born in the sea-faring town of Livorno, where renaissance-era architecture litters the promenade, Lucarelli garnered an understanding of what it was really like to grow up poor:
“There were five, maybe six families with money in our entire area”. In a right-wing dominated Italy, Tuscany was known for its socialist views, and Livorno was no different. It was in fact the birthplace of the Italian Communist Party. This had a big impact on Lucarelli, both on and off the pitch.
A Cuban, a Capocannoniere and a Hair Transplant
“Cristiano is a bit … problematic”. The words of Italy manager Marcello Lippi as he left the 2004/05 capocannoniere out of his 2006 World Cup squad. He replaced him with Vincenzo Iaquinta, who had nine goals that season (five from penalties). For comparison, Lucarelli had twenty-five.
This was a trend throughout his career. Ever since he revealed a t-shirt with the face of Cuban Marxist Che Guevara, things weren’t quite the same. Lucarelli made six appearances in total for his country, scoring three times. When he got his chance he made the haters pay. It’s just a shame that the hate outweighed just about everything else. Though he did have his fun in Milan, more than often at the expense of Silvio Berlusconi.
Berlusconi was a right-leaning Prime Minister of Italy on two separate occasions. He was the President of AC Milan for 31 years, turning I Rossoneri into a continental superpower. But he also had a hair transplant, and this is key. It’s key because when he met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the world stage, he hid his faulty hairline with a bandana. Fatal mistake.
What we saw next was magnificent. On the opening day of the 2004/05 season, 11,000 Livorno fans, bandanas in tow, made a trip to the San Siro. They had sewn in a message for Berlusconi: “Under the bandana, nothing” and “We are coming for you, Silvio”. Pure shithousery. The match itself finished 2-2. Cristiano Lucarelli scored both that day, one through a glorious free-kick. Thirty yards out too. But his post-match press conference was more of a delight.
“To say scoring against Berlusconi doesn’t mean more is as silly as saying football is just a sport.”Fair to say that Lucarelli’s post match quotes sparked some controversy.
Partnering up with Igor Protti was a pleasure and privilege for Cristiano Lucarelli. Top scorer in the 1995-96 season, Protti ended up with 108 goals in 192 games for Livorno. A retired number ten shirt and the keys to the city, few could imagine that the 37-year-old would then go on to lead a mid-table Livorno to the Serie A for the first time since 1949. With Lucarelli by his side, he dragged Livorno all the way back.
On the pitch, Lucarelli had a good start to his time at Livorno. 29 goals in 41 games in the Serie B, not many thought he would replicate that form once Livorno arrive in the top flight. They were wrong. Here came his one and only Capocannoniere. 24 goals in 35 Serie A games and a ninth place finish, it was quite implausible, but reality.
A Capocannoniere literally translates to ‘Head Gunner’. Given to the top scorer in the Serie A.
A raised fist in front of Livorno’s Curva Nord (a Communist symbol) capped off a magnificent 2004/05 season with a €30,000 fine. Lucarelli wore number 99, a homage to BAL, the ultra group (formed in 1999) and had the Livorno badge tattoed on his arm. It was as if he was to care about a fine. He was the top marksman in Italy, playing for the club of his dreams and a hero to all.
A Final Hurrah and the Decline
Protti had retired and the armband was Lucarelli’s. Another fine season (25 goals in 42 games), but this time it was Luca Toni on top of the goalscoring charts. To be fair, Toni managed to score 31 goals; the first time a player had done that in the Serie A for fifty years.
For Cristiano Lucarelli, a volatile relationship with the fans eventually turned sour and, after beating off deals from all over Europe, he submitted, joining Shakhtar Donetsk. Though favoured out in the Ukraine, this really signalled the beginning of the end. Sold to Parma for €4m, he enjoyed four years at Parma alongside his brother, Alessandro, but he never recaptured the golden years.
Averaging just under twenty games a season, injuries took its toll and Lucarelli faded away. A loan more to a now struggling Livorno almost worked, but his 10 goals in 28 games was not enough and they were subsequently relegated. That was it for Cristiano Lucarelli. He hung up his boots as the final whistle blew in May.
A strange combination of brute strength and positional nouse, it’s hard to pinpoint what Lucarelli brought to the table. He was great with both feet, a fine striker of the ball and was as good as anybody with his head. Goals, I guess. Lots of goals.
He was a dreamboat. A workers’ fairytale brought to life and given a fiery temperament. He put the ball in the goal on a scarily regular basis, but he was so much more than that. A Tuscan symbol, etched in the history of Livorno, Cristiano Lucarelli turned the seaside town into a fortress. In more ways than one.
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