By Paolo Menicucci
Many football players say that they want to end their careers when they are still at their best, but not many manage it. Livorno ASC's veteran forward Igor Protti has proved a pleasant exception to the rule, by retiring from the game after becoming the first man to become 'capocannoniere' (top scorer) in Serie A, Serie B and Serie C1 during his career.
"I had been top scorer in two different leagues before [this season]. Now that I have also done it in Serie B I feel like a mission has been completed," said the 35-year-old. "Regards my future, I will be only a Livorno supporter now. I have been thinking for a long time about this decision to retire. I'm not mentally ready to restart training this summer. I don't want to fool anybody, especially myself."
Protti started his first-team career in 1985 with Livorno, so there is a pleasing symmetry about the fact he has closed it by scoring 23 goals this season for the Tuscany-based club, topping the goalscoring charts for the second consecutive season. Last term he scored 27 goals in 31 Serie C1 matches and was instrumental in helping Livorno return to Serie B.
'So many good memories'
"I came back to Livorno [in 1999] because I wanted to restart my career where I started it," Protti said. "I had so many good memories about this town and this club.
Here I scored the first goals in my career and here I met my wife. I'm sure it was the right decision to return."
Protti shocks Italy
After leaving Livorno in 1988, Protti moved on to Messina FC, before enjoying spells with AS Bari, S.S. Lazio and SSC Napoli among others. In 1995/96 he shocked the Italian football establishment by scoring 24 goals in 33 games for Bari in Serie A - ending the season joint top of the goalscoring charts with Lazio striker Giuseppe Signori.
Bari were relegated that year but Protti had a fantastic season in partnership with Swedish international Kennet Andersson. The Rimini-born forward used the assists and space created by the powerful Andersson to make his name and gain a prestigious transfer to Lazio the following season.
'I felt like I was flying'
Protti failed to reproduce his best form at the Olimpico stadium, scoring just seven goals in his first season with the Biancocelesti before being loaned out to Napoli the following year, however he refuses to be bitter. "
I don't have any regrets about my decision to leave Bari and move to Lazio," he said. "I had a difficult start with Zdenek Zeman as coach but I played well when Dino Zoff replaced him. I will never forget the [equalising] goal I scored in the derby against [AS] Roma in injury time. It was a great feeling, I felt like I was flying that day."
Despite scoring so many goals in his career Protti never played in the Italian national team. "I could not hide my disappointment [about that]," he admitted. "When you are leading the scoring chart for a whole season, you always hope to be called up for the national team. You start to think that it's not just a dream to wear the Azzurri shirt."
Protti also played for Rimini FC, Alzano Virescit FC and AC Reggiana during his illustrious career. Amazingly, at the beginning of this season he had scored against all his former teams bar one - Messina. He soon set that record straight though by hitting a superb hat-trick against the Sicily-based club in April - earning a standing ovation from the fans at his former club. An appropriate image with which to remember a fine goalscorer.
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