Italy has produced an abundance of talented goalscorers down the years. From the class of Alessandro Del Piero and the talisman-like qualities of Francesco Totti to the seemingly inexhaustible goal return of Filippo Inzaghi, the list in the modern era alone is both lengthy and star-laden.
However, one Italian striker tops all others when it comes to sheer productivity in front of goal. Patrizia Panico’s football resume is quietly simply extraordinary. Nine Serie A crowns and five Coppa Italia wins tells just part of her story. Though now 38 and ostensibly in the twilight of her career, Panico shows no sign of slowing down.
The most recent season saw Panico claim an astonishing twelfth Capocannoniere as the league’s top goalscorer; a crown she has assumed in seven of the past eight seasons. Now her focus is on success at next month’s UEFA Women’s EURO, where Italy will line up against Denmark, Finland and hosts Sweden in Group A at the 12-nation tournament.
Seeking to restore former glory
Although one of the first nations to compete in international women’s football, recent years have not been so kind for Italy. They have failed to reach a FIFA Women’s World Cup™ since 1999, and though they have featured in the past three Euro’s, the Azzurre must go back to the 1997 continental tournament for their last notable achievement, when they reached the final only to be toppled by Germany.
Guiding the team in Sweden will be someone who knows all about success on the big stage, with 1982 FIFA World Cup™ winner Antonio Cabrini assuming the national team reins 12 months ago. And though known as a rugged defender in his playing days, the former Juventus stalwart is blessed with a significant attacking arsenal at his disposal. Among the options in attack alongside Panico is Melania Gabbiadini - older sister of Juventus striker Manolo Gabbiadini - who also boasts a strong international and domestic goalscoring record.
Unlike many competing nations at Sweden 2013, Italy have preferred to focus on intra-squad activity rather than matches. “We are working very hard with some intense training and I hope that we can reap the reward for these efforts in Sweden,” Panico told FIFA.com from the Coverciano national team training base in Florence.
Approaching 200 international appearances Panico is her nation’s most-capped player, and she is currently just two shy of joining a small band of players with a century of international goals. The Rome-born Panico says achieving 100 international goals is a goal, but winning silverware with the Azzurre “would mean even more”.
Though success with the national team is an obvious accomplishment in itself, Panico believes that breakthrough achievement in Sweden could lift Italian women’s football to a new level. “Unfortunately in Italy, football is still considered very masculine, a sport exclusive for men,” she said. “Therefore, a good result at the European Championships in Sweden could really change some of these beliefs in Italy, something that until now has made it difficult for the women’s game to grow.
“Many of the female footballers in Italy have much potential to not only become big international footballers, but also a great ability to continue to give this sport a helping hand off the field when they finish playing.”
Panico set the tone for a goal-laden international career by scoring just five minutes into her debut against Portugal way back in 1996. Now, having played club football in various Italian cities including Rome, Turin, Milan and Verona, Panico is enjoying the slower pace of life on Sardinia, where she plies her trade with champions Torres. It seems life in the Mediterranean island, where there are “beautiful places and friendly people”, is proving beneficial for the evergreen Panico who gives no hint of giving the game away.
“I can’t say that I have any particular secrets [to my longevity],” said Panico. “I challenge myself each day, maybe even more than I did when I was younger, training as though it is a Champions League final or a World Cup final. I think that this sort of motivation gives me new goals to keep improving and give me more in my performances.”