There may well be no such thing as a one-man team, though this season Torino are showing that two-men teams certainly exist. Powered by the incredible form of attackers and former big-team rejects Alessio Cerci and Ciro Immobile, Toro have defied expectations of a relegation struggle by sitting tenth in the table, just five points adrift of the final Europa League spot with eight rounds still to play.
Of course, describing Torino as a two-man team is an exaggeration, with other players like young full-back Matteo Darmian and playmaker Omar El Kaddouri having great seasons. But given that Immobile and Cerci have been actively involved in assisting and/or scoring 40 of Torino's 45 league goals this season, it's fair to say they've been the most important players on the team. The question now is how much longer the granata will be able to keep the partnership together. With big teams circling, they'll be lucky if Cerci and Immobile last beyond the summer.
Cerci first joined Toro from Fiorentina a couple of years ago, having moved to the viola on the back of a handful of appearances at his boyhood club AS Roma. In Florence, he earned a reputation as a troublemaker; a frustrated talent whose attitude would keep him from ever reaching his full potential. Much like Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano, his erratic behaviour became mythologised, with the lines between truth and fiction blurred with absurd results.
According to newspaper La Nazione, Florence traffic was brought to a halt as motorists by the Porta San Frediano stopped to watch the winger walk a cat on a leash. Various reports have detailed Cerci's flagrant disregard for local parking laws, supposedly telling local enforcement officers that he'd move his Maserati once he'd eaten.
Cerci's relationship with his teammates apparently wasn't too great either. The then-Fiorentina coach Siniša Mihajlović, according to a rumour published in La Repubblica, was delivering a dressing room speech to his squad, telling the players to "pass the ball to Alessio," when goalkeeper Artur Boruc suddenly piped up with a question. "Excuse me mister, can I ask a question? Who is this Alessio?" True or not, it tells you something about the viola team spirit at the time.
It seems an awful long time ago now, but Fiorentina were in a bad way. They were struggling against relegation, riven with dressing room divides, and were playing Amauri up front, something no one should ever have to do. The period wasn't exactly conducive to Cerci showing his full potential, and so, in summer 2012, Fiorentina let the Roman go after 47 frustrating performances, initially on co-ownership for €2.5 million, with Toro buying the other half outright for a further €3.8m last June. Those figures look paltry 67 Serie A appearances, 20 goals and a hatful of assists later.
While Cerci was toiling at Fiorentina, Immobile was tearing up Serie B's defences at the head of Zdeněk Zeman's thrilling young Pescara team. It was only a loan spell at the delfini, with Genoa and his boyhood club Juventus sharing the youngster's playing rights. Genoa had seen enough of the striker to put their faith in him and give him a run of games in Serie A the following season, but it was a tough year for the grifone, who only narrowly escaped relegation. Much like Cerci under Mihajlović, Immobile didn't impress, scoring just five times in 33 Serie A games. At 23, there was a feeling he would never be able to push on and become an elite striker.
Unconvinced, Genoa sold their half of Immobile to Juventus for just €2.75m in the summer, with Juve immediately selling those playing rights to their cross-town rivals. Since then, neither Immobile nor Torino have looked back. Only Juventus' Carlos Tévez has scored more goals in Serie A this season. Immobile's strength, power and aerial ability has complemented the darting pace and ingenuity of his strike partner Cerci. There are calls for the 24-year-old to join his teammate on the plane to Brazil this summer.
"They deserve [Cesare] Prandelli's attention," said Torino coach Giampiero Ventura of their potential World Cup callups. "Cerci is an indispensible player for us and I think for Prandelli," he was quoted as saying in La Gazzetta dello Sport, before ruing the absence of Immobile in their 2-1 win over Cagliari on the weekend. After an extraordinary explosion of form, it's not just the national team's attention they'll be getting, but big clubs' too.
Back in January president Urbano Cairo beamed "this is the most prolific Toro since I took over as president," adding that the "ultimate objective" was to keep their flourishing attacking partnership together. After the duo's rapid rise to stardom, keeping it together will be easier said than done. Unfortunately for Torino, it probably won't be too long before we see Cerci and Immobile on the big stage domestically, as well as internationally.