Italian striker Mirco Antenucci has made a brief return to the ‘old country’ but has every intention of continuing his career in the Championship – with Leeds United. Leon Wobschall reports.
MIRCO ANTENUCCI may have had a mixed time of it this so far this calendar year at Leeds United, but he insists that he remains content with life at Elland Road – and is keen on staying put.
The Italian striker heads back to the ‘old country’ for a short break this week, fortified by the knowledge that his first season in English football has been a satisfactory one, statistically speaking at least.
Granted, 2015 has not been one to write home about too much thus far.
But successive goals after coming off the bench for United in their last two appointments against Fulham and Blackpool has ensured the Italian has entered the two-week international hiatus in a positive frame of mind.
Now the next step is claiming back a starting berth in the side, with head coach Neil Redfearn acknowledging after his weekend goal against the Seasiders that Antenucci is ‘doing his talking on the pitch’.
Antenucci has started just one Championship match in 2015, but he has given Redfearn a fair old nudge ahead of United’s return to action at home to Blackburn Rovers on Easter Saturday.
Antenucci’s recent lack of game time prompted rumoured interest from Norwich City, who were reportedly keen on taking him on loan.
Redfearn quickly scotched those suggestions and reiterated his desire to keep the frontman and the player himself is equally keen to remain at Leeds.
Unequivocal on his future, the forward added: “I was (linked with Norwich), but I want to stay here and I am happy here.
“It is difficult not playing, because it is my work and I want to play always. It’s our work, it’s normal.
“But I have no problem because it is the coaches’ choice.”
On his contribution at Blackpool, which followed his strike late on at Craven Cottage in Leeds’ 3-0 win at Fulham last Wednesday, head coach Redfearn commented: “Mirco is doing his talking on the pitch. Which is what we want.
“To be fair to the lad, he has worked hard in training.
“He has bided his time and kept his counsel and he has played well when he’s come on the pitch.
“He is playing himself back into the side, which is what we have asked him to do.”
Antenucci’s coolly-taken second-half leveller on the awful Bloomfield Road surface in Saturday’s 1-1 draw, eight minutes after entering the fray, not only earned a point for Leeds, but proved a landmark personal milestone also.
It took his seasonal goals tally up to 10, which may not be earth-shattering, but represents a decent haul with the promise of a few more to come between now and May 2.
Antenucci’s tally also compares favourably with fellow Championship strikers across Yorkshire – his tally being higher than that of £800,000 Sheffield Wednesday signing Stevie May and his Owls strike partner Atdhe Nuhiu.
His haul also surpasses that of Huddersfield Town’s James Vaughan and Kike and Jelle Vossen, part of the strikeforce at promotion-chasing Middlesbrough.
Given that the former Catania striker, who arrived at Leeds last summer, has almost exclusively been utilised from the bench so far in 2015 also affords a certain amount of perspective too.
On his tally reaching double figures, Antenucci said: “It is satisfaction for me as it is my first year in England.
“Before I came here, I did not know the level or the squad and other teams that are here.
“Now I can say I am happy for the 10 goals and I hope to keep going.
“When we play, we have to show the maximum we have.
“It is more physical than Italy and less tactical with more pressing.
“I give my maximum and I am happy with it being my first season, having not known the players. It is satisfaction.”
Antenucci has sampled plenty during his first season at Leeds.
But as for playing on a surface as wretched as the one at Blackpool, that represented a first.
To his credit, he negotiated the horror surface with a fair amount of aplomb, with his 62nd-minute lob to cancel out Gary Madine’s opener on the stroke of half-time a rare exquisite moment in a game which was somewhat forgettable.
It was a pitch that he admits just would not be tolerated back in his homeland in Serie A.
Antenucci, United’s top scorer and two goals clear of nearest rival Alex Mowatt, added: “The match was no good after their goal until we scored in the second half.
“It was difficult to play on this pitch for us more than them as they play here every (other) Saturday.
“It’s not simple and this match was different.
“It was the most difficult pitch I have played on. Difficult for us, but also for them, as we play just one match here. It is very, very difficult.
“In the winter, it is possible like that in Italy, one pitch or two. But not in Serie A, but in the Serie B championship.”
After eight months in England, Antenucci is sampling a few home comforts for a few days with his young family, with his baby daughter Camilla making her first trip to Italy.
She was in the stadium on the day when Antenucci enjoyed his finest afternoon in a Leeds jersey when he netted both goals in United’s outstanding 2-0 home victory over high-flying Derby County on November 29.
That double helped Leeds secure a first win over the table-topping Rams in 13 games since Rob Hulse’s treble in a 3-1 home win in September 2005 and represented a real high for the forward.
Antenucci is someone who is embracing life in Yorkshire off the pitch too and while a return for a brief break in his mother country is welcome, life back in England is just fine. He said: “I miss friends and family, but the weather in England is okay, but just the rain that is not.
“But there’s still sun and I get Italian food. I am happy to stay here.”