Fabrizio Miccoli has at least one thing in common with his hero, Diego Maradona. Like El Pibe de Oro, Miccoli is a pint-sized player whose small frame is inversely proportional to his towering talent.

Yet, despite an impressive average haul of just under ten goals per season, there are some who believe that Miccoli has not enjoyed the career that perhaps he deserved. Be that as it may, the forward has achieved enough to be considered one of the finest players in Italy, and is now firmly established as captain of Serie A outfit Palermo.

Originally from Nardo in the province of Lecce, Miccoli was bitten by the football bug at a very young age. “I’ve always had the impression that I was born with a football at my feet,” he told FIFA.com. “Even at the age of five, we wouldn’t eat anything after school just to have time for a kick-around. I used to try to imitate my hero, Maradona, who was playing for Napoli at the time.”

At the age of six, eager to secure a place in San Donato’s youth set-up, Miccoli spent several minutes performing kick-ups in front of the club’s youth coach, Giuseppe Bruno. Right foot, left foot, back-heels and headers – the youngster pulled out all the stops and made an instant impression. Determined not to let this prodigious talent slip through the net, Bruno altered Miccoli’s documents to show him as being eight years old – the minimum age required to join the category.

Miccoli was soon spotted by AC Milan’s scouts and joined the Italian giants at the age of 12. However, after two years in Lombardy with the youth team, his homesickness became unbearable. “It was too hard being so far from home,” said the player known as El Pibe de Nardo. “I was essentially still a kid.” Miccoli was soon on his way back to his beloved Salento, but his return proved to be short-lived.

The forward found there to be little time for sentimentality in the fast-paced world of professional football. He moved from Casarano to Ternana, before joining Juventus and subsequently going out on loan to Perugia and Fiorentina. “It’s the clubs who choose us, so we have to be ready to accept any transfers that come our way,” he said. “That’s the life of a footballer.”

Despite widespread respect for his goalscoring talents and personal qualities, Miccoli struggled to make a breakthrough. However, that all changed in 2005 with a loan switch to Benfica that proved to be a real turning point. A return of 29 goals from 39 appearances over two seasons, including six strikes in the UEFA Champions League and a superb scissor kick against Liverpool, helped him to finally achieve “recognition for my talent on an international scale”.

When Miccoli eventually joined Palermo at the start of the 2007 season, it was almost like a return to his childhood roots. “It’s like Lecce – it’s my home!” he said. “The people of Palermo treat me like one of their own. What more could you ask for?” The explosive, diminutive striker quickly won over the Sicilian fans with his impressive technique and dribbling skills, as well as the personal qualities he displayed as the club’s new captain.

On 15 March 2009, penalty specialist Miccoli refused to take a spot-kick against Lecce – the club he has supported since childhood. He scored a free-kick against the same opponents last season and subsequently broke down in tears, fearing his goal would condemn them to relegation. What is more, the pacy forward has amassed 52 goals from 110 matches and is already Palermo’s all-time leading goalscorer, but he has no intention of stopping just yet.

A committed individual, Miccoli has close ties with the Italian communist workers’ party and bears a tattoo of Che Guevara on his left leg. He named his son ‘Diego’ in tribute to his Argentinian hero, and, in January 2010, paid €25,000 at auction for an earring that was seized from Maradona by the police. “I’m prepared to give it back to him for free,” said Miccoli. “The only condition is that I’d have to do it in person.”

The experienced striker is always keen to share his wisdom with his younger team-mates and fans, and offers them this advice: “Never be scared of your dreams. And, on a more general level, always show respect for other people. Sometimes we argue, but a kind word or a hug can help everything return to how it was before.”

Miccoli may be among the smallest of Italy’s great talents, but he is always one of the first to set the example, as he did against Inter Milan on the opening day of the new season. Indeed, he scored a brace to help inspire Palermo to a 4-3 victory over the Nerazzurri.