Marco Gabbiadini - Profile
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Born Nottingham, January 20, 1968
In the days before foreign imports were commonplace at even the least fashionable Football League clubs if a team like York City wanted someone exotic sounding they still only ventured as far as Nottingham to find them.
Marco Gabbiadini, born to an English mother and Italian father, joined York City straight from school. He was a pacy, instictive player who looked likely to develop an imposing physique. These first impressions were spot on.
At most other times in the clubs' history the youngster would have probably found himself thrown into the first team with indecent haste but York were pretty well off for forwards at the time and Gabbiadini had to get in line at the back of the queue.
John Byrne, Keith Houchen and Keith Walwyn presented formidable competition for the striking positions and had just fired City out of the fourth division.
As York embarked on a highly respectable season in the third division the club agreed to sell Byrne to QPR but any thoughts Gabbiadini might have harboured about this increasing his immediate prospects were dashed as a record fee was quickly splashed out to bring Dale Banton in from Aldershot.
As it transpired the only game in which Gabbiadini would feature during the 1984-85 season would be the 3-0 home defeat to Bolton Wanderers. Not the most auspicious of starts.
The 1985-86 season saw Gabbiadini feature more regularly and he figured in just under half his sides' league games. Although the raw youngster managed only four goals there was enough in his performances to persuade manager Denis Smith that he could sell Houchen to Scunthorpe and not bring in a replacement from outside.
Gabbiadini certainly did not let anyone down at Bootham Crescent but the club could not continue to cope with the drain of talent. In 1986-87 Gabbiadini hit 9 goals in 29 games but the side only just avoided relegation in 20th position.
The striker also demonstrated his explosive potential with a hat trick against Darlington in a Freight Rover Trophy game but having only just broken into the side the immediate burden of responsibility was unduly tough. Had the club kept Houchen and paired him with Gabbiadini then they would have had a truly potent combination.
The season did provide Gabbiadini with his first taste of higher class opposition, he had missed out on the clubs' famous cup ties against Arsenal and Liverpool during the previous two seasons.
York were drawn against Chelsea for a two legged League Cup tie and Gabbiadini provided a fair indication of what his game was about during these games. His genuine pace and strength gave the Chelsea defence plenty of problems as York managed a 1-0 victory at Bootham Crescent but his most notable contribution at Stamford Bridge was the rash challenge that earned him a yellow card as Chelsea ran out comfortable winners overall.
At the start of the following season York began to struggle more seriously. After eight games they had collected just one point and Gabbiadini had found the net just once.
Denis Smith, now in charge at Sunderland, remained convinced of his proteges' ability, however, and was allowed to take Gabbiadini to Roker Park for £80,000.
The move did not take Gabbiadini out of the third division but it certainly took him to the other end of it. Sunderland had a strong side in general and a rare jewel at that level in the wily forward Eric Gates. The strong, fast newcomer was the perfect foil for his clever scheming and the pair ran amok as Sunderland carried off the Division Three title.
Once again Gabbiadini's debut was less than encouraging, a 2-0 home defeat to Chester, but things soon clicked into gear and by the end of the season he had plundered 21 goals in 37 games, earning himself the nickname "Marco Goalo" from the Roker Park faithful into the bargain.
Sunderland continued to progress back in Division Two with Gates and Gabbiadini still highly effective in tandem.
It is tempting to say that Gates made Gabbiadini and there is no doubt that he was fortunate to be partnered by such a quality player at that stage of his career. Gates was a master at finding space, could see a pass instantly, knew instinctively where Gabbiadini wanted the ball played and had the ability to deliver it.
There is no doubt that Gabbiadini had what it took to succeed on his own merits, however. Many of his goals were spectacular efforts which kept the crowds happily reminiscing for weeks afterwards. Easier chances might come and go but they would be quickly forgotten as another 25 yarder yarder ripped into the net at the end of an exhilarating burst of speed.
Gabbiadini was a powerful man and he was never afraid of putting himself about. In the heat of battle he was prone to lose his head and the two suspensions he had to serve during Sunderland's first season back in Division Two possibly cost the club their chance of a play off place.
The team was beginning to really hit form when Gabbiadini was sent off after getting involved in a skirmish with an opponent as he celebrated his hat trick goal in a 4-0 drubbing of Ipswich Town. There really was never a dull moment.
Gabbiadini's excellent goalscoring record on Wearside earned him selection for the England Under 21 squad for a mini summer tournament but he failed to make an impact in two disappointing defeats to Bulgaria and America.
The goals continued to flow in Division Two, however, and the 21 he banged in during the 1989-90 season led Sunderland into the play offs and also gained him further international recognition.
The highlights of his league campaign were a hat trick against Watford and his goal in the 1-1 draw with Newcastle at St James Park. His England call up was this time for a "B" international against Czechoslovakia when he partnered Alan Smith in a 2-0 win, again without distinguishing himself.
The play offs themselves would provide remarkable incident, drama and controversy. This would only be the start of Gabbiadini's turbulent association with the end of season shoot outs.
Sunderland were pitted against their great rivals Newcastle United in the semi finals with the first leg at Roker Park.
Gabbiadini risked losing forever the favour of the Sunderland supporters by wasting three seperate opportunities through woeful control after being put clear by Gates.
Then, in the last minute, he won his side a somewhat dubious penalty after going to ground at the end of one of his dynamic surges. Paul Hardyman stepped up to take the spot kick but only succeeded in getting himself sent off.
John Burridge saved his penalty and Hardyman went for an imagined rebound only to kick the keeper squarely in the head.
The goalless draw looked to have paved the way for a Newcastle triumph but Sunderland struck early at St James Park. This time it was Gabbiadini providing the clever assist for Gates and his finish was unerring.
With both the home supporters and team becoming increasingly fractious Sunderland broke away to confirm a famous victory five minutes from time.
Gates and Gabbiadini exchanged three rapid passes to leave the latter clear of the home defence. This time there was no mistake as the ball was slipped into the bottom corner.
The game was over but the drama wasn't as an ugly mob emerged on the pitch either in an attempt to get the game abandoned or perhaps simply to try and get at Sunderland players or fans.
With both teams dashing for the tunnel and police horses charging across the pitch the night ended in chaos.
The final was equally dramatic though not the actual game. Sunderland were outplayed by Swindon Town who should have won more comfortably than 1-0.
The drama came afterwards when the Football League promoted Sunderland in place of the Wiltshire club as punishment for financial irregularities dating back several years.
This was a mixed blessing, however, as Sunderland were in no way ready for the first division.
There was a promising early victory over Manchester United in which Gabbiadini ran both himself and the United centre halves, Bruce and Pallister, ragged before being substituted.
Relegation began to look inevitable from an early stage, however, and it proved a difficult season for everyone involved, Gabbiadini included.
His 9 league goals from 29 games rated as a decent effort, however, and made him the leading scorer again, he had topped the scoring charts in every season since joining from York.
Back in the second division Gabbiadini carried on from where he had left off scoring 5 goals in 9 games including a hat trick in a 4-1 win over Charlton.
His performances persuaded Crystal Palace that he was the man to replace the recently departed Ian Wright and they paid £1,800,000 to take Gabbiadini to Selhurst Park, £350,000 of which went to York as part of their sell on clause.
The move to Palace never really looked like working out and three months later Gabbiadini moved on again. Despite his failure to gel at Selhurst Park he still managed 5 goals in 15 games, not the worst record in an average side.
His next move saw him returning to the second division as Derby shelled out £1,200,000 for his signature.
Gabbiadini would never be as prolific at Derby as he had been at Sunderland but he scored the winner on his debut at Portsmouth and helped bring about a real improvement in the teams performances.
Six wins in the last seven games left Derby just two points behind Middlesbrough in the second automatic promotion place and facing the play offs.
Gabbiadini and Derby were out of the traps quickly in the semi finals. Facing Blackburn at Ewood Park Gabbiadini gave his side a 2nd minute lead but after going two goals up the Rams capitulated and ended up losing the game 4-2. The 2-1 win they managed in the return was not enough to reach Wembley.
Gabbiadini was voted Derby's Player of the Season in 1993 as the club narrowly missed out on the play offs. The Rams enjoyed a good FA Cup run, however, making it through to the quarter finals which was the furthest Gabbiadini would ever go in the competition.
Derby met Sheffield Wednesday in a thrilling tie at the Baseball Ground. With Wednesday leading 2-1 Gabbiadini brought the teams level after a trademark surging run and blasted finish.
After then taking the lead, however, Derby would have to settle for a 3-3 draw before losing to the only goal of the replay.
The following season Derby made it back into the play offs and met Millwall in the semi finals. Gabbiadini set up both goals as Derby took a 2-0 lead to the New Den for the second leg.
In the return Gabbiadini stoked up a volatile atmosphere still further by putting Derby ahead and thereby all but ending the tie overall. By half time any doubts were over as the visitors raced into a three goal lead.
The rest of the night descended into chaos as Millwall's fans reacted with all too familiar aggression to their hopeless situation.
The players had to leave the field on two occasions as fans spilled onto the pitch, Derby felt obliged to substitute their black players as the hostility towards them increased and the referee probably shaved a few minutes off the end of the game to try and prevent the situation from escalating.
It was Leicester City in the final and Gabbiadini almost gave the Rams the perfect start as he slammed an effort against the post in the first minute.
It would prove a hugely important moment as Leicester ended up 2-1 winners despite being generally second best on the day.
Two years later Derby finally made it to the Premier league without needing to go through the play offs.
A 5-1 drubbing at Tranmere was followed by a run of ten wins and a draw from eleven matches which was crucial in securing the Rams the runners up spot.
This spell also saw Gabbiadini's best run of form in a Derby shirt. He scored eight goals in those eleven games as did Ron Willems with Dean Sturridge popping in another six.
The fact that promotion was also clinched by beating Crystal Palace at the end of April must have made it all the sweeter for Gabbiadini although he was taken off in the second half of the game.
Gabbiadini was beginning to be troubled by knee injuries at this time and the move up to the Premier League actually made his future at Derby less secure.
In a bid to find fitness and form he was loaned back to the first division for spells with Birmingham City and Oxford but his knee problems continued and neither move could be considered a success.
Returning to Derby Gabbiadini remained peripheral although he did have the distinction of being nominated in the "Eric Cantona" role for the reserves in training as the club prepared for their visit to Old Trafford.
How much credit he could actually take for the famous 3-2 victory that followed is debatable, however.
In fact the game highlighted how Gabbiadini had been usurped by the erratically gifted Paolo Wanchope who terrorized United's defence that afternoon. At the end of the season it was time for Gabbiadini to move on.
He went abroad to play in Greece for Panionios but was back in England by Christmas. Disappointing spells with Stoke and York followed and it looked as though Gabbiadini's knees might have got the better of him.
He had entered his 30's and the free transfer move that took him to Darlington had all the hallmarks of a faded star going out to grass.
Suddenly finding himself mainly injury free, however, Gabbiadini began to find something of his old form and he immediately became the star of the show at Feethams.
In two seasons Gabbiadini rattled in 47 goals in Division Three. Still quick and bullishly strong he also had too much nouse for the majority of defenders at that level. His partnership with Peter Duffield was formidable although there was no doubt who constituted the main threat.
A run of six straight wins from the beginning of February launched Darlington towards the play offs in 2000. Gabbiadini's importance to the club was highlighted as the Quakers turned down a reputed £350,000 bid from Rushden & Diamonds on transfer deadline day.
Gabbiadini might well have guessed what was in store as Darlington ended up paired with arch rivals Hartlepool in the play off semi finals.
Sure enough the first leg, at Hartlepool, degenerated into a bad tempered, ugly mess.
Gabbiadini set the pot boiling by slotting home a disputed penalty and remained the obvious target for the majority of the home fans' vitriol throughout.
Darlington ended up winning 2-0 but the game ended in chaos as their manager David Hodgson was struck by a coin after getting involved in an on pitch altercation and Gabbiadini was punched by a fan as the players tried to get off the pitch at the end while many Pool fans forced their way onto it.
The final was free of incident of almost any kind and Darlo seldom posed a real threat as Peterborough edged a 1-0 win.
The Darlington fans then voted Gabbiadini as the clubs' greatest ever player in a poll but this was not enough to encourage the restless striker to stay. Gabbiadini knew his career was entering its latter stages and wanted to play at as high a level as possible.
This led him to refuse a lucrative contract from Scarborough who wanted Gabbiadini to blast them back into the Football League and move instead to Northampton Town in Division Two.
Gabbiadini would spend three seasons at Sixfields but the club could not escape the lower reaches of the division and his time there was spent continually battling relegation.
Not only that but Gabbiadini found himself unable to hold down a regular place up front with Steve Howard and Jamie Forrester often preferred. Much of his time was now spent on the bench or in midfield where he proved himself surprisingly adept.
Northampton collapsed in 2002-03 to suffer relegation, taking only 14 points from the last 27 games of the season after having been 12th after 19 games.
Gabbiadini was eager not to go down to the third division with them, however, and there was plenty of interest in his services from around the lower divisions.
Darlington were particularly keen to take the fans favourite back as they moved into a splendid new stadium but Gabbiadini was still eager to play at a higher level and therefore took the controversial choice of joining the enemy Hartlepool United who were now a second division outfit.
Despite the furore caused by his decision in that part of the world the move augered well as Gabbiadini took his place at the head of a useful outfit.
He had scored 5 goals in 15 league games as Hartlepool showed themselves to be genuine play off contenders and banged in a brace as Whitby were swept aside 4-0 in the FA Cup.
At this point, however, Gabbiadini's knee went again and he had to sit out the rest of the season. It must have been galling to sit on the sidelines as Hartlepool reached the third round of the FA Cup and were drawn against Sunderland but it was perhaps a mercy that he was not involved as they did reach the play offs, given his other experiences in them.
At the end of the season Gabbiadini had to accept the advice of the doctors and retire, knowing the possible consequences of another injury to his knee.
He could look back on a long and full career, however, and take pride in the fact that he had given his all wherever he played and provided goals and excitement for a wide cross section of fans.