Why do we always use the term ‘wand’ to describe a left-footed footballer?
There’s something mysterious – magical even – about the artistry of a player who prefers his left peg. The way they caress the ball, stroke it majestically, like an artist splashing a shooting star over a night sky. Ew.
Well right now, Josip Ilicic is bringing every tiresome metaphor and analogy out of retirement with his unbelievable displays in the Champions League.
The Atalanta star has produced so many breathtaking moments of genius throughout his career, but the heights he reached have been seen as spiky peaks amid an array of troughs for a player whose lack of consistency has prevented him from achieving worldwide recognition.
That is, until this season.
How can you perform on the biggest stage if the top teams don’t trust you enough to take a chance in the transfer market? Well, the simple answer to that is to drag your current club by its bootstraps to such competitions.
Atalanta achieved an incredible Champions League qualification last season, and they finished the campaign as the highest scorers in the division. The Slovenian forward posted 13 goals and nine assists in all competitions, and many realised we were then witnessing peak-Ilicic week in, week out.
And now, at 32 years of age, the world has finally awoken to his magic and caught up with Serie A supporters everywhere, who have been labelling Ilicic as one of the world’s most talented footballers for some time.
Better late than never.
But what makes him so special? Tall, gangly and peculiarly-proportioned, the Slovenian star resembles a strapping, no-nonsense centre-back more than an unpredictable and tricky trequartista. But here we have one of the most intelligent footballers on the planet. There are no two ways about it.
Predominantly left-footed, Ilicic possesses the armoury to open up any defence via a number of different weapons. A pinpoint through-ball, a mazy dribble or a long-range curler, he can do it all.
The beauty of it is, you simply have no idea which option he’ll choose. And just when you think you have him sussed out, he’ll produce an absolute rasper with his ‘weaker’ right foot from the edge of the box, just as he did against Valencia three weeks ago.
Ilicic was instrumental in la Dea’s 4-1 victory over Los Ches at San Siro, but he took his performance levels to new heights in the reverse fixture, notching all four goals in his side’s 4-3 win on Tuesday evening.
Demonstrating just how *ahem* ambidextrous he is, Ilicic completed an all left-footed haul, tucking away two penalties before smashing and curling his third and fourth into the net. The Slovenian’s third strike showed great composure, picking the right moment to slam the ball unforgivingly into the bottom corner.
Ilicic boasts the impressive trait of playing the game at his own speed, making it all look particularly easy – something only the truly great stars can manage. It was a fantastic evening for the forward and Atalanta, who cruised to the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time.
In doing so, Ilicic became the first player to score four goals in an away knockout round fixture in Champions League history, writing his name into the history books, too. A hidden gem for so, so long.
But it’s no surprise that the unbelievably gifted Atalanta star has flown under the radar for the majority of his career.
Bonifika, Interblock, Maribor, Palermo, Fiorentina, Atalanta. Hardly an orthodox route to stardom. And yet, we find ourselves in the year 2020, wondering how such a mercurial talent has gone unnoticed for well over a decade.
Let’s just enjoy it whilst it lasts, though.
It’s possible that Ilicic’s efforts this season will earn him a move to a bigger team next year, as the attention and curiosity continues to build around the big Slovenian. But since he is playing under miracle-worker Gian Piero Gasperini, and lining up alongside the criminally underrated Alejandro Gomez, and the selfless Duvan Zapata, why would he want to go anywhere else?
Ilicic and Atalanta have put each other on the map, and they should ride the crest of this wave together for as long as possible, now their talisman has found the loving home he’s needed all along.