MACCARONE wants first team football. He wants to end his Riverside hell. So why didn’t he go to Siena when they were desperate to have him last summer? When he was the hero fresh from his goal-scoring burst that kept them up then? Oh yes, he would have to take a pay cut.
Now, calculator in hand and slapping his forehead in belated recognition of the obvious, he has finally worked out that his Boro career is over. Now the maths of staying don’t add up he is suddenly relishing the appeal of that fresh challenge back home. But for Massimo the time to take up that particular challenge was two years ago. Now there is a danger that he is too late, that he has missed a golden opportunity to be one of the calcio greats.
Maccarone’s career at Boro was doomed from the moment he was first touted around Seria A on loan. He always had a chance in his first year when his competition at the Riverside was Job and Nemeth but after Steve McClaren bought JFH and Viduka in a week that underlined his attacking intentions and cast big question-marks over his existing frontline, Massimo’s number was up – although as Boro most frequent benchwarmer he was used to that.
That was when he should have demanded a transfer and been willing to take a hit in the pocket to get it. Then his reputation was still sky high in Italy. Then his sparkling goal for the U-21s that had swung the Boro deal and his net-busting domestic record was still fresh in the memory of coaches and chairmen. Then he could have gone on his own terms. Instead he had to endure being dropped, snubbed and forgotten for months on end before being hawked around on loan by a club that clearly saw him as a failure.
Yes, he would almost certainly have had to take a pay-cut to return to Italy because Boro had given him the silly money that reflected his ÃÂ£8.15m fee. But what he lost in cash he would have made up in other ways: the joys of home, a culture that appreciated his style of play, job satisfaction and the chance to pick up his career path and revive his international hopes. And let us be clear, taking a pay-cut, even by half, would not leave him in poverty in Italy.
So I wonder about his personal desire, his hunger to play, to score, to show people what he is capable of. He arrived at Boro as the hot young thing of Italian football and as the first players from Serie B to be called up for the Azzuri in 30 years yet has sat glumly in the dug-out – or brooding over a coffee and a fag in Sassari’s – and let cobwebs and dust gather on what should have been his goalscoring prime. Had he biten the bullet at the end of that first season, or even the second, he could have got back in the goalscoring groove, moved onto one of the giants, who knows, played in a World Cup winning team. Instead he has wasted two, maybe three crucial years of his career. And it is not all down to the club. Had he wanted to leave he could have, but he chose to stay for the money. That can’t be right. What about sporting glory?
He arrived as ‘Alistair Brownlee’s ‘Gladiator’ but often looked more like one of the Christians, hopelessly out-muscled by the lions, the crowd baying for blood and with his own faith simply not enough. He looked good for spells and was brilliant in a 3-0 destruction of Spurs at White Hart Lane in that first season but he was unable to cope with the physicality of the Premiership. We heard talk about him being ‘the best natural finisher at the club’ but he lacked the power to barge defenders aside and get into the box to prove it. He scared no-one.
Massimo had frustrating spells where he would come off the bench and look lively and having a couple of cracking shots and prompt demands for yet another chance but when he was given a start he was largely anonymous. It is all very well running at tired defences in the last 20 minutes but he repeatedly failed to have an impact when given the opportunity in the first 20.
And he had plenty. His supporters – and he has many, just listen to that roar cheer whenever he appears – insist he was never given an opportunity but he did. He made 55 starts (and was on the bench 47 times). He has played alongside every striker on the books over the past four years and never shown anything to suggest he could gel with any of them in a way that would be viable in the Premiership. McClaren persevered with him far, far longer than any similar player would have got if only because of that increasingly embarrassing price-tag.
His supporters say ‘at least he tries’ but the club have moved beyond the stage where honest endeavour, running around a lot and fruitlessly chasing stray balls like a demented terrier was any kind of qualification for a first team place. Every player now must justify their inclusion through strength, physical presence, ruthless consistency and an ability to influence every game, no matter how robust and Massimo can’t in truth claim that.
And his supporters say his last gasp goals that sealed those two UEFA Cup comebacks straight out of a football fairytale prove his worth. Certainly they sealed his immortal place in Boro legend and went some way towards paying back the investment made in him – but you can’t indulge highly paid fringe players for purely sentimental reasons or we would still have Cardiff goal hero Joseph Job on the books, we’d keep Ugo on because of his late save at the Millenium and we would bring back Juninho as a ÃÂ£30,000 a week mascot.
And it is no good saying if it wasn’t for him we would never have got to Eindhoven. If he had gone when he should have then Boro may have had the money and wages to bring in someone better who may have been not only good enough to score those goals just as sweetly but also able to explode off the bench – or from the start – in the final and win it.
Massimo has been surplus to requirements at Boro for two years now. Assuming he earns ÃÂ£20k a week, if he goes before the end of the transfer window he will save the club ÃÂ£380,000 in wages. He may also save himself the indignity of being released as a failure.