Life in the fast lane

Luca Toni featured in the Italian side that won the World Cup last year; he scored another 16 goals in an injury-hit season to help Fiorentina into the UEFA Cup. The striker has now decided to try his luck with Bayern Munich, writes Andy Hampson.

Luca Toni is a strong and tall Italian World Cup-winning forward who toiled in the lower divisions before hitting the big time at a relatively late age with Palermo and Fiorentina.

He enjoyed a prolific 2005-06 season and after another successful campaign, joined German giant Bayern Munich this close-season in a deal worth around 11million euros (GBP7.5 million).

Toni, son of a house painter and a school worker, grew up in the village of Serramazzoni, north of Florence. He began playing football at the age of six with his older brother Andrea.

He was good enough to turn professional at the age of 17 but after four years of struggling in the lower divisions with Modena, Empoli and Fiorenzuola he considered retiring and looking for a different job.

He eventually decided to give it one last shot and did enough in one season with Lodigiani to earn a move to Serie B Treviso.

Toni then fired in 15 goals to earn a move to Serie A for the first time with Vicenza. From there he went on to Brescia — where he played alongside the great Roberto Baggio and learnt quite a bit from him — and then Palermo, where he really started to come good. He scored 50 goals in two seasons there, including 30 in 2003-04 to help his side to the Serie B title.

International recognition soon followed and other clubs became interested. Fiorentina paid 10million euros (GBP6.7 million) for him in the summer of 2005.

His goals helped Fiorentina into the UEFA Cup and the following season his European Golden Shoe-winning tally of 31 took the club into a UEFA Champions League-qualifying position.

Unfortunately for him and his team-mates, the club's involvement in the match-fixing scandal that rocked Italian football led to a deduction of points and the place being lost.

On a personal level, Toni's star continued to rise. He featured in the Italian side that won the World Cup last year and then scored another 16 goals in an injury-hit season to help Fiorentina into the UEFA Cup. He has now decided to try his luck with Bayern.

Toni married his long-time girlfriend, Marta Cecchetto, one of Italy's most famous models, last year.

They met dramatically in a nightclub in Florence in 1998 when Cecchetto slammed a door in Toni's face. When she stopped to apologise she agreed to his request to have a drink and they have been together ever since. Cecchetto hit fame long before Toni and she once jokingly remarked, "I knew him when he was a loser".

Toni believes his struggles in the lower divisions are a good example to aspiring youngsters of what can be achieved with dedication and persistence.

"I was in Serie C, had a fight with my coach, was playing very badly and then broke a knee," said Toni. "That was when I wanted to quit, but I didn't and tried to fight back. I didn't give up. The result is that I got my breakthrough at an older age than normal. I believe that everybody gets what he deserves, so I feel I deserved this. I hope I can be an example to a lot of other players."

Toni was once described by a German newspaper as a "truck with the engine of a Ferrari", which is fairly apt as he does actually drive a sportscar of the famous Italian marque.

Despite his celebrity lifestyle, movie-star looks and model wife, Toni is popular for his lack of pretension. His down-to-earth attitude comes much from his humble childhood and slow rise to stardom.

FACTFILE Name: Luca Toni Position: Striker Club: Bayern Munich DOB: 26/05/1977 Italy caps: 27 Italy goals: 12 Italy debut: v Iceland, August 2004 Moment to remember

Toni went to the 2006 World Cup with expectations high but he had a quiet tournament on the goals front. He did make an important contribution to Italy's successful campaign, however, scoring two goals in the 3-0 quarterfinal win over Germany in Hamburg.

Moment to forget

Toni missed the end of the Serie A season after aggravating a recurring foot problem in a match against Lazio in April 2007. It transpired he had broken a metatarsal and would require surgery that would bring about a low-key end to his Fiorentina career.

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