Kevin Pogorzelski Date: 15th May 2020 at 1:00pm
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With a habit of knocking the German national team out of major tournaments, defeating them at the semi-final stage of the 1970 and 2006 World Cups and the final of 1982, it is probably unsurprising that there are so few Italians to have plied their trade in the country.

However, with the world’s second largest population of Italian nationals outside of Italy living within its borders at close to one million people, that Italian footballers have struggled to flourish within the German football pyramid is extraordinary.

With the German economic boom after the Second World War, large waves of immigrants from Italy decided to relocate there, with increased freedom of movement regulations in 1961 reportedly witnessing nearly 600,000 migrate.

Despite the increasing dual-nationality footballers, the first Italian to appear in the Bundesliga, Raffael Tonello, was born on the peninsula, but spent the entirety of an unremarkable career in Germany with Sportfreunde Siegen, Uerdingen 05, Kickers Offenbach, Eintracht Frankfurt II and Fortuna Dusseldorf.

After starting his career with Dusseldorf in the top-flight in 1994, the striker proceeded to fall through the various tiers of the professional game and never returned. By contrast the man that followed him, Ruggiero Rizzitelli, was a Serie A star striker, arriving from a spell with Torino where he struck 30 times in 60 league appearances, but was relegated.

Possibly expecting countryman Giovanni Trapattoni to help his integration at Bayern Munich, Rizzitelli scored 11 goals to pick up a title medal in 1996/97 before spending most of his second year in Bavaria on the bench.

The first German-born Italians, Giuseppe Catizone and Luciano Velardi arguably tasted greater success on the wider German footballing landscape, but would only spend fleeting spells in the Bundesliga with Stuttgart and Bochum at the turn of the millennium.

Eleven years after Rizzitelli, the first true Italian star arrived. It cost Bayern a modest €12 million to steal Luca Toni away from Fiorentina a year after he had helped the Azzurri win the 2006 World Cup on German soil.

It appeared to be something of a watershed moment for Italian imports, as 58 goals in 89 games across two campaigns helped secure a domestic double in 2007/08. The second of his two finishes in the DFB Pokal final versus Borussia Dortmund that season was a crucial extra-time winner.

However, a huge row with coach Louis van Gaal and the Bayern hierarchy saw Toni’s contract terminated a year early in June 2010 as he returned to Serie A with Genoa. With on-loan defender Massimo Oddo also falling to settle at the club, their second Italian experiment was over as quickly as the first.

In what appeared a strange attempt to end Toni’s goalscoring exploits ahead of the 2008/09 season, Wolfsburg made the double marquee signings of World Cup winning defenders Andrea Barzagli and Cristian Zaccardo to stunning effect.

The city with the largest population of Italian inhabitants won their first ever Bundesliga title and while Zaccardo returned to Italy failing to build on that success, Barzagli’s three-year spell arguably prepared him for a trophy-laden period at Juventus.

Cristian Molinaro moving in the opposite direction, joining Stuttgart from the Bianconeri, was another success for the defenders’ union, but teammate Mauro Camoranesi lasted less than a year at the club, openly admitting he couldn’t settle in the country.

Around the start of the 2010s Jacopo Sala and Federico Macheda became the first players in the Bundesliga who had been prised away from their homeland in their teens. Sala had an extended spell on-loan at Hamburg from Chelsea, who had taken him from Atalanta and former Lazio youngster Federico Macheda arrived at Stuttgart.

In 2013 Werder Bremen and Bayer Leverkusen plundered the Inter youth system to sign Italian Under-19 internationals Luca Caldirola and Giulio Donati, respectively, and it proved more beneficial than accepting other castoffs.

A core of German-born Italians continued to fill the ranks of German clubs, such as Daniel Caligiuri who has spent more than a decade in the top-flight, Vincenzo Grifo became the first to appear for the Azzurri in 2018 and then there was the curious case of Mattia Maggio.

Born in Nurtingen, Maggio had been released by two German youth clubs and joined Novara in 2011, made one appearance in Serie A against AC Milan and then joined Hamburg back in the country of his birth. Still just 26, the striker looks unlikely to rise above the lower end of the pyramid.

Unfortunately for Italian footballers, Ciro Immobile remains the most recent reminder of imports to Germany from the peninsula.

Arriving in 2014 as the first Torino player in 30 years to top the Serie A scoring charts, 10 goals in 34 games – four in six in the Champions League – was a reasonable return for someone finding their feet in a new country and hopefully has not put future players off taking the plunge.