Great things were obviously expected of Italy on the brink of the 2002 World Cup; Giovanni Trapattoni had amassed a well-balanced squad of hard-working professionals willing to get the job done in pragmatic yet stylish fashion, whilst the Italian Serie A remained full to the brim with some of the most standout names in the whole of world football.
From the widely noted likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Christian Vieri and Pippo Inzaghi, to some of Italy’s slightly lesser known frontmen in the form of Vincenzo Montella and Marco Delvecchio – the notorious Azzurri clearly weren’t lacking among their rather well-stocked striking department in the run up to the summer of 2002.
What a squad Italy had at the 2002 World Cup. So many classic players.
— Thore Haugstad (@Haugstad1006) October 29, 2013
Yet within such an impressive ensemble of truly efficient finishers and out-in-out goal-scorers, there seemingly lie one rather extraordinary centre-forward who sadly failed to capture the attention of his beloved national side in the same rich vein as many of his fortunate contemporaries.
Although Dario Hübner wasn’t exactly much of a household name among the Italian Serie A for much of his top-flight career, the former Cesena, Brescia and Piacenza striker must nonetheless be credited as perhaps the greatest ever uncapped Italian to grace the modern game with his presence.
But why has Hübner’s once glaringly influential contribution failed to stand the test of time? And just what was it about his overall demeanour and character that saw him consistently overlooked by the infamous Italian national side led by the equally flagrant Giovanni Trapattoni?
Dario Hübner was seemingly always forced to prove himself as a worthy Italian stalwart thanks to his noticeably un-Italian surname. The towering centre-forward was born to a German father close to the Slovenian border in Muggia, yet he supposedly never sought to learn the language of his forefathers, choosing instead to wholeheartedly embrace his chosen Italian heritage in order to one day stake his claim among the proud Azzurri national squad.
Hübner nonetheless symbolised something of a stark late-bloomer. He lacked the clear-cut elegance and noticeable technical ability to have been picked up at an early age by one of Italy’s most successful top-flight clubs, but that didn’t stop the young frontman from eventually proving his worth among the lower rungs of Italian football with a growing goal-scorer’s pedigree.
As a result of his deceptive movement and unashamedly bolshie approach inside the final third, he became widely admired as a physical centre-forward with enough prowess about him to battle his opponents into submission. Hübner was uncompromising and steadfast, yet no one could accuse the half-German striker of failing to prove unmistakably effective in his approach.
‘The Bison’ – as Hübner soon became known for his distinctly inelegant style, finished the 2001/02 campaign with Piacenza as Serie A’s leading top goal-scorer at the grand old age of 35-years-old. Whilst such a feat has since been beaten by a 38-year-old Luca Toni while plying his trade with Hellas Verona just a short matter of seasons ago, few among the Biancorossi faithful have forgotten just how potent Dario Hübner could prove on his day.
So how then did the veteran fan favourite subsequently fail to land himself a place among the famed Italian national side on the back of such an impressive goal-scoring campaign? Much of it has to do with the overwhelming sense of competition already taking place within Trapattoni’s enticing forward line…
With each of Pippo Inzaghi, Alessandro Del Piero, Christian Vieri and Francesco Totti each looking to try their hand as the number one striking talent among Trapattoni’s ranks, Hübner’s failure to implement himself at the 2002 World Cup ultimately comes as very little surprise.
‘The Bison’ was arguably somewhat unfortunate to have been playing within such a talented era of top-flight Italian forwards, but perhaps he too could have done much more to help his own cause. Hübner became notorious for a distinct lack of work-rate when the going got tough, which seemingly wasn’t aided by his open admiration for cigarettes and smoking upon the subs-bench.
Roberto Baggio e Dario Hubner con la maglia del Brescia pic.twitter.com/CsD9Ct6tTX
— allafacciadelcalcio (@facciacalcio) September 11, 2017
The well-versed frontman eventually struck up a rather fruitful relationship with the legendary Roberto Baggio among his final stint at Brescia – but after just one single league campaign of the two Italian frontmen doing what they do best together – that too seemingly came to an abrupt and unceremonious end.
As Hübner nonetheless proved himself as a natural finisher who could find the back of the net at an undeniably frequent rate, having been crowned the unequivocal top goal-scorer among all three of Italy’s top divisions – perhaps this no-nonsense attacker really does represent the greatest uncapped Italian of all-time.
Had Trapattoni showed a little more faith in the German-sounding centre-forward and his keen eye for goal, maybe Italy would have marched on at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea with more than just a disappointing second-round knock-out hoisted beneath their names…
Throwback When Korea Beat Italy in The 2002 World Cup pic.twitter.com/PQE7XM6Mbh
— AVESTA (@AVESTA1998) July 20, 2017