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Toni shooting his way into fans' hearts

Hamburg - Luca Toni's right hand goes to his ear when he scores and he turns his wrist in a screwing motion which seems to say, "Have you understood?" In Germany, they've certainly got the message. Toni is an out-and-out goalscorer who has had little problem finding the net in the Bundesliga.

"He has radar system in his head and is always in the right place," said Bayern Munich coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.

 "He is always available for the ball, lying in wait. I've rarely experienced a player who is so cold-blooded in front of goal."

   "We looked for a striker who scores a lot of goals. That's something he does," said club general manager Uli Hoeness.

 Eight goals in his first 10 games propelled Toni to the top of the Bundesliga scoring list, alongside strike partner Miroslav Klose.

 A brace in the cup last week kept the goals rolling for Toni, who arrived in the close season for 11 million euros (16 million dollars), a relatively high fee in the German league, especially for a player now already 30.

 However the Italian is a late starter, whose career has only really developed in the past few seasons. The man from Modena must feel he is making up for lost time.

 Toni did not make his debut in Italy's Serie A until 23 after playing in the second and third divisions. He'd almost given up dreaming of making it to the top when the breakthrough came with Palermo in the 2003/2004 season when he scored 30 goals in 45 games.

 Moving to Fiorentia, he nabbed 31 goals in the 2005/2006 season to win the "golden boot" as Europe's top scorer. By then he had made his debut for Italy and was a World Cup winner last year.

 "For me he is among the best 10 strikers in Europe," said Germany coach Joachim Loew.

 "I put him on the same level as (Samuel) Eto'o, (Didier) Drogba, (Thierry) Henry and Klose. He scores important goals as if on a conveyor belt. That is really top class."

   At 1 metre 94 centimetres tall, Toni can appear ungainly at times, but it is an impression quickly dispelled when he moves - "like a gazelle," according to Hitzfeld - to put the ball into the net, left or right-footed or with his head.

 With the looks and the impeccable grooming of a fashion model, he cuts a fine figure off the pitch as well, and training at Bayern these days attracts a good deal of young female followers.

 However, there appear to be no distractions for Toni, who has a long-term relationship with Italian TV presenter and model Marta Cecchetto. They are, according to the German tabloid press, the Bundesliga's new "glamour couple."

   "I was fortunate to meet Marta when I was playing for a third division team. She was my lucky charm. Since we came together my football has taken off," Toni has been quoted as saying.

 There were one or two raised eyebrows when Toni agreed to join Bayern. While there has been a tradition of German stars moving to Italy, top Italians in the Bundesliga are a rare breed.

 However, he was carefully wooed by Bayern, who have had an Italian coach in the past in Giovanni Trappatoni. He may have also been persuaded by a reported net wage of 5.5 million euros a year.

 Any doubts were also dispelled by Ruggerio Rizzitelli, the only other Italian to switch from Serie A to the Bundesliga. Rizzitelli, who won a league title with Bayern in 1997 after moving from Torino, is full of praise for the German club.

 "Luca was a bit worried about going to Germany - because of the language and because only one Italian had previously moved from Serie A to the Bundesliga. That's why he phoned me up," Rizzitelli explained at the beginning of the season.

 Toni's German is still rudimentary, but his understanding with Polish-born strike partner Klose appears near perfect, even though they can only communicate in broken English.

 It is perhaps also fitting that a player nicknamed "Il Bomber" in Italy after the great Gerd Mueller should join Mueller's old club.

 Mueller's goal-scoring records will probably never be matched, but if the first few months of the season are anything to go by there are a lot Toni goals - and Toni goal celebrations - to come. By Barry Whelan, dpa

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