Using his experience to his advantage, Massimo Maccarone completely outfoxed the Pescara defender, peeling off to latch onto a through ball. Calmly slotting past goalkeeper Albano Bizzarri, ‘Big Mac’ was back.
The goalscorer turned provider as he played a neat side-footed assist just eleven minutes later, allowing Manuel Pucciarelli to slot home, and the former Middlesbrough man himself added another before half time as he ran between two Pescara defenders, slotting the ball home into the opposite corner of the net.
The veteran striker had enjoyed a fruitful campaign the year before, his 13 goals and five assists propelling the Tuscan minnows to a tenth-placed finish. After losing Maurizio Sarri to Napoli and Marco Giampaolo to Sampdoria in two successive years, Empoli’s luck – and indeed Maccarone’s – looked to have run out.
The Tuscan minnows had scored just two goals all season, but in the final match before the international break they lifted the curse in some style, banging in four goals away from home.
Maccarone’s Empoli side had gone no less than eight matches without scoring a goal, but three points against Pescara lifted them to 17th in Serie A.
“The goals? I dedicated them to my family, but above all to those who thought I was finished,” the 5’11” hitman told the press after the match. To them I dedicate these two goals with all of my heart.”
At 37 years old, the Piedmont-born striker has a wealth of experience behind him. Yet only during his two spells with Empoli has he achieved any tangible success. After beginning his career in the youth system at Milan, he was sent out on a series of loans at smaller clubs before joining Empoli for the beginning of the 2000-01 season.
Here, he made his name scoring 16 goals in his first campaign, going on to contribute a further ten the following year, helping the club to achieve only their third ever promotion to Serie A since they were founded in 1920. Maccarone also finished top scorer of the 2002 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, where Italy were knocked out in the semi-final. He appeared on the scoresheet with Andrea Pirlo as the Azzurri were defeated 3-2 by the Czech Republic.
Big Mac was soon on the radar of big clubs, and Empoli received an incredible €12.7m from Premier League Middlesbrough in 2002. Perhaps the club were trying to emulate the success of their former Italian striker Fabrizio Ravanelli, who arrived in very different circumstances after having won the Champions League with Juventus in 1996.
Ravanelli, the White Feather, scored 17 goals in 25 games for the Teeside outfit, including the winning goal in the League Cup final against Leicester, but lasted just one season before moving on to Marseille. Maccarone, on the other hand, lasted five years with ‘Boro, but his time with the club was largely unsuccessful.
Except, of course, for his exploits in the UEFA cup.
Middlesbrough fans have a special place in their hearts for the player who scored twice – including a last-gasp goal against Steaua Bucharest in the semi-final – sealing a place in the final in the competition. He had already netted in the previous round, becoming the hero of that European campaign.
‘Maccarone Middlesbrough Miracle Man’ read the headlines as this bit-part player scored a late goal to take the Teesiders to a final against Sevilla. His side would eventually succumb to Sevilla, who since have become something of experts in the competition, reaching the final in the past three consecutive outings and taking home the trophy on two of those three occasions.
Those European performances weren’t enough to extend his stay however, and in January 2007, ‘Big Mac’ returned to Italy with Siena. Unremarkable spells with Palermo and Sampdoria followed before a homecoming with Empoli five years later.
Ten years had passed since he left the club, but Maccarone was soon involved with dramatic late goals once again. After arriving in January of the 2011-12 season, this time it was not to be the UEFA cup, but a Serie B relegation playoff against Vicenza. The striker netted in the fourth minute of injury time, saving his side from dropping into oblivion at the very last moment.
From there, the Blues went from strength to strength with their returned forward the man leading the line. Scoring eighteen goals during the following campaign, Empoli secured a fourth-placed finish but lost in the play-off final to Livorno. The next year, the team made no such mistake.
Securing an automatic promotion spot alongside Palermo in 2013-14, the Tuscan side needed no play-off match to rise to Italy’s top league for only the fourth time in their history. Maccarone bagged 15 goals that year and – just as his tally has remained over ten goals ever since – Empoli have remained in Serie A.
His two goals against Pescara this season may have signalled that ‘Big Mac’ is back, but at 37 years old, Empoli will need to be on the lookout for a striker to replace the man that has propelled the team to success over the past six seasons.
That victory was short-lived for the Blues, who conceded four goals themselves against Fiorentina and Milan in the proceeding two matchdays. Empoli have just eleven points from the opening 16 rounds of Serie A, and can only hope that the dire form of Crotone, Palermo and Pescara will help them to escape the drop.
Whilst Empoli are used to being on a constant cycle of regeneration – given the fact that they lost Sarri and Giampaolo in consecutive years – replacing their star man up front may prove to be a tougher task yet.