Gianluca Lapadula was one of the most sought after players during last year’s summer transfer window, with the likes of Juventus, Milan and Napoli reportedly chasing after his services. However, his career path hasn’t been all about the Serie A giants; instead, he has gone through many obstacles during the course of his profession. Rossella Marrai-Ricco spoke exclusively to the striker about the interesting route his career has taken him.
Despite having grown up just around the corner from Torino’s Filadelfia Stadium, Lapadula was a fan of the black and white half of Turin, and it was nothing short of a dream come true when he joined Juventus’ youth system as a kid.
It was with the Bianconeri where he learned the tricks of the trade, and largely developed into the player he is today. However, at the age of 14, his time at the club was cut short. After failing to produce the required school marks – Juventus are strong believers in education first, then football – the Old Lady’s youth management opted to release the young Lapadula.
Rivoli, a team from a town on the outskirts of Turin, not too far from home and close enough to be with his family, signed the promising forward, and it was there that he got his first taste of real victory.
“For me, Juventus was very important because I had played in the youth section for eight years and I was happy there – it was a bit like home,” he reveals.
“When they didn’t keep me on that year, it was a proper knock for me, but when I went to Rivoli, it was also another stimulating avenue, where in two years, we won almost everything. We were one of the strongest teams in Piemonte.”
In 2007, Lapadula signed his first professional contract with Pro Vercelli, making just four appearances and failing to score any goals, but that wasn’t the biggest disappointment… the Piemonte outfit was in financial arrears and was later liquidated, forcing the then 20-year-old to move on to Ivrea.
Little did “Lapa” know that it would be his second of four successive teams he joined that would be declared bankrupt, with Atletico Roma and Ravenna both joining the list. It was a situation that saw many of his teammates and colleagues quit their pursuit of making it to the top flight, but one he believes was a catalyst in making him the man he is today.
“I saw many people who, for many reasons, decided not to go forward – also because of the club. Maybe they weren’t all great players, but regardless, there were a number of conditions to not pursue [football] further,” he adds.
“I did think about it [quitting], because at one point the situation became unsustainable. There were definitely signs that came to me, but I continued to have something inside of me that I didn’t understand or know. However, it was there… inside...
“That thing always gave me the motivation and hunger to play football, and to train – that made the difference. Those situations were only managed in the sense that I could not stop, I did not choose, but I had to continue to do what I was doing with lots of passion. We also had faith in those moments even when it was truly difficult to believe.
“Fortunately, my family was with me the whole way, and in that moment, I can say it was fundamental for me. Those moments are the ones that formed me.”
True to his hardworking Italo-Peruviano (Italian-Peruvian) nature, Lapadula stuck it out and pushed through the obstacles, and in 2011, he enjoyed his first real campaign with San Marino, notching up two dozen goals in 35 appearances.
“My first good year was with San Marino, where I scored 24 goals – we won the league, and I won the Golden Boot award,” he continues.
Spells with limited game time followed at Cesena and Frosinone, before his nomadic nature kicked in and he found himself moving to Slovenia to join ND Gorica for 12 months, and then Teramo for a full season. This all whilst being owned by Parma – a team who never truly looked after him.
“After that, I scored 14 goals in Slovenia [with ND Gorica] and 24 goals with Teramo. Even if Parma failed in the act of solidity, and I couldn’t have peace of mind, they were beautiful years. However, on the field, things went great, which I warmly recall together with my family.”
Lapadula’s hard work had paid off and his solid performances with Teramo earned him a move to Pescara, who were coached by Massimo Oddo. It was with the Delfini that “Lapagol” enjoyed his best ever campaign – scoring 30 goals to help Pescara earn immediate promotion back to Serie A.
“Oddo was at a very high level, in the sense that he let me train with a lot of tranquility and in his own methods. The team was very happy and enthusiastic, and you felt this on the field,” reflects the 27-year-old.
“I have always said that I enjoyed my stay in Abruzzo – as a region and the rapport with the Abruzzesi people, etc., they were truly beautiful. I spent two years in that region with Teramo and Pescara, where we won the league with both sides.
“Well, that was unforgettable…”
Having featured in all but two games for Pescara over the course of the 2015/16 season, it came as no surprise that Lapadula was considered the most prized Italian on the transfer market. Scudetto champions Juventus were reportedly eager to bring him back “home”, while Napoli were in potential need of a striker with the possibility of Gonzalo Higuain leaving the club.
Instead, it was Milan who secured Lapadula’s signature in the most quiet of manners, and when he heard the news of the Diavoli’s interest in him, there was only one answer he could give.
“We were considering our options until we heard about Milan. When I heard that Milan wanted me, it was an immediate yes! There was no need to reflect on it. One simply does not refuse a club like Milan,” adds the No. 9 who was scouted by former president Silvio Berlusconi, despite Vincenzo Montella having yet been appointed.
“I found out that it was the president who was the first to want me, and then the club, and also the coaches, who were in pole position [for the job], because there was no coach at the time. For me, it is a moment of great pride to be chosen by someone who has not only selected great players, but champions.”
Lapadula’s switch to Milan meant the Rossoneri were the 12th club in his 10 years as a professional footballer, and one that also saw him go from limited resources to the elite training grounds of Milanello.
“You realise that you never had these things before. But look,” he turns and points to the field and clubhouse. “Here you find everything! It is a paradise for our team. Nothing is missing at this club. It is beautiful to see.”
As he looks back at the pristine green fields and trees that encompass the interview spot, Lapadula comes across as calm and content after working his way to a starting berth under Vincenzo Montella.
It wasn’t until Week 33 – against Empoli – that he was afforded the chance to be present in the starting line-up consistently.
Up until the game against the Tuscan minnows, the striker had been afforded mainly limited cameo appearances off the bench, seeing him score five goals and bag three assists in that time. But regardless of how much game time he was given, Lapadula always handled himself as a professional, playing with motivation, hunger and grit.
“This is one of the fixtures of my work, but this isn’t work – it is fun to live these emotions,” he smiles. “There is a lot of passion in what we do. I don’t only live like this only on a Sunday, but during all the training sessions too – it is a beautiful stimulant. I am happy to have found more space in the team.”
In fact, his colourful emotions were well on display during the Derby della Madonnina against Inter, when he was granted 16 minutes to try to change the scoreline. And whilst it may have been Cristian Zapata who bagged the late equaliser, Lapadula released some of the most picturesque of reactions when the scoreline changed to 2-2.
Reflecting on the dramatic encounter, the former Teramo man pauses and describes the game as, “Bella! (Beautiful!),” before warmly adding: “It was beautiful because it was greatly satisfying to secure an equalising goal late in the game with great desire and force. I believe it will remain in Milan’s history...”
One game that will remain in the club’s history books is the 3-0 triumph over Bologna on the penultimate match day of the Serie A season. It was a game that ensured Milan’s return to European football after three years, and, rather fittingly, Lapagol got on the scoresheet that day too.
“I should have scored all the goals!” he says while laughing. “Firstly, because they ruled out my first goal, which was regular, secondly, because I missed an easy goal, but I was happy with how I was playing. My performance still wanted another goal. Above all, I knew how important and fundamental the game was to Milan – I am very happy with my contribution.
“I believe that this team is capable of doing very important things for Milan. For a club like this, we can certainly bring back the Milan of a few years ago.”
Whilst this season has allowed him to go from Serie B to European football, Lapadula continues to remain humble and remember the source of his inspiration, in particular his brother Davide and his sister Anna, who he often dedicates his strikes to.
“My whole family is very important. In the difficult times, they were always there with me, while in the more beautiful moments they were by my side. They allowed me to experience success first-hand.
“Today, I can tell you that I am very happy with my first year at Milan. We were able to win a cup [SuperCoppa Italiana] and we qualified for the Europa League after several years of failing to do so. With Milan, it was a great satisfaction. Personally, I am happy even if I can always improve.”
The dream doesn’t stop there for Lapadula, though... In fact, whilst many of his colleagues went on holiday, he reported for national team duty in a friendly against San Marino on 31 May, where he walked away with an impressive hat-trick.
From there, he will be looking to continue to impress Italy head coach Giampiero Ventura ahead of next year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia – a dream he is desperate to turn into a reality, even if it means having to compete against the likes of Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile for a call-up.
“When you speak of the national team, you speak about the best Italian players in the world. It is normal that there is this duality, but for me it is an objective to go to the World Cup, above all, a dream! I will give my all to go there…” he concludes.
This interview was exclusive to Football Italia