THE ‘Bosman law’ has turned most club squads into such cosmopolitan mixtures that it was no surprise when newspapers and magazines began referring to Dario Hubner as a ‘Germany-born Italian’.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Serie A’s surprise leading scorer is Italian through and through. It’s just that his family come from Trieste, up in the north-eastern corner of Italy with its historical links to the Habsburg empire. Had any other Italian scored a dozen goals in the opening 12 rounds of the Serie A season, outstripping the likes of Argentina’s Hernan Crespo and Ukraine’s Andrii Shevchenko (not to mention Italy’s own Roberto Baggio, Christian Vieri and Alex Del Piero), then he would be hailed a certain candidate for World Cup superstardom.
Not Hubner, nicknamed The Bison for his bulk and power. For one thing, he plays for unfashionable, provincial Piacenza. For another, this is only his third season in Serie A. For yet another, he is 34 years of age. Also, he cost Piacenza only œ1.5million last summer and that hardly ranks him alongside the high-cost superstars vying to catch the eye of national team coach Giovanni Trapattoni.
‘The World Cup? That’s a very pretty dream,’ says Hubner. ‘Honestly, who knows? To be realistic, it’s highly unlikely. But stranger things have happened. If I go on scoring goals as I have then maybe I might get a chance. But it’s a big ‘maybe’. I have learnt down the years that nothing in football comes easily.
‘Last season, for instance, when I was playing for Brescia, I scored a hat-trick against Udinese at the start of the season, and everyone wanted to know me. Then, after a few weeks without any more goals, everyone had forgotten me. It was as if I didn’t exist.’
Hubner’s background in the game is astonishingly modest, while the forward has shown great perseverance and faith in his abilities. He started right down in Serie C2 with minnow clubs Pergocrema and Fano. Hubner earned promotion to the second division equivalent, Serie C1, with the latter; and his top-scoring 13 goals for Fano in 1991-92 earned him a further step up the ladder – this time with Cesena in Serie B.
Cesenawere a club with Serie A ambitions, having tasted life in the top flight, albeit briefly. However, they lacked the necessary finance. Hubner spent five seasons there, scoring 74 League goals and another eight in the Italian Cup. His physical strength – despite a back problem – and cool temper meant he missed very few matches through either injury or suspension. That consistency, in turn, caught the eye of Brescia, who had beaten Cesena to gain promotion to Serie A.
Thus, on August 31, 1997, at the ripe old (footballing) age of 30, Hubner made his long-awaited debut in the Italian top flight. His presence went largely unnoticed since a somewhat more famous centre-forward was making his own debut for opponents Internazionale: Ronaldo. Yet, funnily enough, it was Hubner who marked the occasion by scoring and the Brazilian who went goalless. Brescia lost 2-1, however. It set the pattern for the campaign: Hubner scored consistently but Brescia lost consistently. He ended the term with 16 goals in 30 matches but the club were relegated.
That promised to be the beginning and end of Hubner’s career in Serie A. But he proved as prolific a marksman as ever in Serie B, scoring 21 goals in each of the next two seasons to shoot Brescia back up to the top flight. Last term he top-scored with 17 goals in 24 games – only to be rewarded with a place on the transfer list.
Hubner took the decision phlegmatically, saying: ‘The coach felt a different sort of centre-forward was needed to play alongside Roberto Baggio. It was disappointing but I could understand it. They signed some other attackers so it was obvious they were looking to the future and I wouldn’t get many games. Moving on made sense.’
Signing him for a mere œ1.5m has certainly made sense for promoted Piacenza, their ambition limited to nothing more basic than survival in Serie A. Two-goal hauls in successive matches against Chievo, Torino and Parma edged him to the top of the national goalscorers’ chart and raised questions about why no grander club had ever pursued him.
‘There have been whispers every now and again,’ says Hubner. ‘When I was at Cesena there was some interest from Inter but it never came to anything.’
Torino,Parma, Roma, Verona and Chelsea were reported to have considered a bid during the summer then decided that he was too old for the job.
Their loss, Piacenza’s gain.