In July 2002 Massimo Maccarone arrived at the Riverside Stadium for a then record £8.15m transfer fee. He came via Italy with two nicknames, ‘The Gladiator’ and ‘Big Mac,’ but most intriguingly of all it looked as if English football was about to gain one of the most promising striking talents in Europe.
I remember at the time that I became quite envious with Middlesbrough’s capture. Not long before he signed from Empoli I had been glued to the TV, looking on in marvel as his sublime finishing destroyed England’s under 21’s, when playing for his Italian counterparts. It was his performances for the National team that played an integral part of generating noticeable interest in the player, particularly as part of the side that reached the semi-finals of the UEFA European under-21’s Football Championships. His record at that level was outstanding, scoring 11 goals in 15 games. His performances also allowed him to become the first Serie B player to be picked for the senior National team in twenty years.
The early signs at Boro looked promising, with the bald youngster scoring two against Fulham in only his second game. But very soon his goal scoring habit became as premature as his follicular make up. His total count for the season ended with a showing of 9 goals in 34 games. His second season was leaner, only managing 7 in 30 appearances, a statistic that saw him sent out on loan to Parma and Siena.
It was only on his return to the Riverside that he produced a couple of memorable moments, that may see him viewed as a ‘cult hero’ rather than a ‘flop’ in the eyes of many Boro fans… but that is for them to decide? Maccarone scored two last minute winners during Middlesbrough’s 2006 UEFA Cup campaign. The first was during a 2nd round leg against Basel in the quarter finals, a game where Boro overturned a three goal disadvantage to win 4-3. His semi-final exploits were even more remarkable. Coming off the bench he scored twice, again one in the 90th minute, to beat Steaua Bucharest 4-3. It was an act that caused Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to say, "Massimo, I love him until I die... it's unbelievable."
After living off those goals Maccarone survived until the January transfer window the following season. His inconsistency and poor form saw him moved back toItalyon a free transfer. He had scored 24 goals in 102 appearances but, blamed Steve McClaren’s “ineptitude” for his failures. It was a statement that caused Boro Chairman, Steve Gibson, to retort by calling Maccarone a “fool.”
The once promising striker is now seeing out his final years inItaly. He has been loaned out from Sampdoria to Empoli, where he has scored 7 in 20 appearances to date.
Was I right to term Maccarone as a ‘Flop,’ or is he more of a ‘Cult Hero.’ I guess the answer is probably both?
image: © steenbergs