One month after stealing the limelight in the first match at the new Wembley by scoring a hat-trick in the 3-3 draw between England and Italy's Under-21s, Giampaolo Pazzini is still struggling for first-team football with ACF Fiorentina in Serie A.
The 22-year-old striker might have appeared 20 times this season in the Italian top flight but he has started only five games, scoring four goals, and continues to play second fiddle to Viola forwards Luca Toni and Adrian Mutu. In mitigation, that duo have contributed 16 and 15 goals respectively. Nonetheless, Fiorentina still have faith in Pazzini who will lead Italy's line in next month's UEFA European U21 Championship in the Netherlands.
With rumours that Toni could leave Florence at the end of term, Pazzini may even be ready finally to meet the expectations surrounding him since his teenage years in Atalanta BC's youth ranks. Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli said: "He is not under threat for next season - I know the value of Giampaolo. He is continuing to improve and has already done a tremendous job for the team. He has been patient and has waited for his chance, and if the club decide to sell Toni then we have a ready-made replacement."
Team-mate Mutu added: "He has everything to replace Toni in the long term." Until such an eventuality, Pazzini has twin objectives: helping sixth-placed Fiorentina secure UEFA Cup qualification (despite having kicked off with a 15-point deduction) and winning the U21 finals with Pierluigi Casiraghi's Azzurrini. "I'm ready to take responsibility," said Pazzini, who joined the Viola from Atalanta in 2004/05. "I want to end the season on a high with Fiorentina and then help Italy win in the Netherlands. This campaign has been very important for me. I feel I have improved both physically and mentally. I feel in great shape." The future seems to be safe with Pazzini.
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