Gianluca Scamacca: How the 'Fridge' froze out his family to fulfil Premier League dream

·5-min read
Gianluca Scamacca rises high to head his first West Ham goal against Viborg on Thursday - Getty
Gianluca Scamacca rises high to head his first West Ham goal against Viborg on Thursday - Getty

It was a sight that West Ham fans must hope will become a regular occurrence at the London Stadium this season: a surging run from Maxwell Cornet down the left, an enticing cross into the box and a thumping header by Gianluca Scamacca.

There will be more exacting challenges posed to David Moyes' side than Viborg in the Europa Conference League, but Scamacca's first goal for his new club following his £35million signing from Sassuolo was still a welcome one.

He had served notice of his abilities against Manchester City on the opening day of the season, when he indulged in some physical exchanges with the City centre-backs and generally gave the impression of a man who wanted to make an impression on the Premier League.

This, after all, is where he has always looked to play. The 23-year-old Italian international, who started the Nations League game with England at Molineux back in June, has long harboured an ambition to forge a career here.

With more than passable English learned during his time in Holland playing for PSV, his first words introducing himself on the West Ham’s in-house television station were: “Watcha, me old china”. This, it is clear, is someone confident, out-going, full of swagger. A lad not to be ignored.

Which is a characteristic that seemingly runs in the family. In May 2021, his father Emiliano, a veteran Roma ultra, was arrested after breaking into the club’s training complex and attacking parked cars with an iron bar. He didn't mess about, smashing several windscreens, one of them belonging to the club’s sporting director Tiago Pinto.

Such behaviour was clearly in the genes. In June last year Scamacca’s grandfather Sandro was arrested in a bar in Rome after holding a knife to a fellow drinker’s throat. Following the latest arrest, the embarrassed player was obliged to issue a statement about his antecedents.

“For the second time in just a couple of months, I find myself yet again having to distance myself from violent and unspeakable episodes. I am talking about crimes committed by people linked to my surname, with whom I have closed all kinds of relationships for now.”

And it is true he has long been estranged from his father. His parents split when he was a small boy, and it was his mother Cristiana who was charged with bringing him up. As he made his way first through the Lazio academy, then, unusually given the two club’s antipathy, moved to Roma’s, she supported him steadfastly, her loyalty marked by the sizable tattoo of her face that decorates his neck. When, in 2015, PSV sought to sign him from the Roma academy - where he had scored 34 goals in 30 games in 2014 - they knew the best way to his heart: they offered Cristiana a job in the club as part of the deal.

In Holland, under the personal tutelage of a coach who knew all about scoring - a certain Ruud Van Nistelrooy - he flourished. And, after he was brought back to Italy by Sassuolo, his mother came too. Not that she was able to unpack her bags for long: he was loaned out four times in four years, including a spell back in Holland. He barely had time to settle anywhere before he was off. The lad who was nicknamed 'The Fridge' in his younger days because of his prodigious scale, was obliged constantly to chop and change playing styles, having little time to learn under a single manager.

But through it all, it became clear that this was a young man determined not to allow his family connections to stall his prospects. As the West Ham scouting network will have ascertained, everyone who has worked with him speaks highly of his self-discipline and prodigious determination to improve. A post on Instagram gave a hint of Scamacca Junior’s approach: “Train while others sleep, study while others have fun, resist while others quit, and in the end, you will live what others dream!!”

Moyes, of course, is not a manager known to take a risk on someone of suspect temperament. Indeed, the only moment of personal controversy so far in Scamacca's career came in 2017 when he and Moise Kean were sent home from an Italy Under-19s camp for “disciplinary reasons”, which apparently involved taking “a practical joke too far”.

Gianluca Scamacca playing for Italy against England - Reuters
Gianluca Scamacca playing for Italy against England - Reuters

But it was when he finally made his way into the Sassuolo first team last season that a proper sense of his abilities became clear. He scored 16 goals in Serie A and the range of his striking - with his head, from distance, tap-ins - was indicative that he had advanced from his days as merely an outsized bully. Roberto Mancini, who was looking to rebuild the Italy team following their failure to qualify for this November’s World Cup, gifted him his first international caps at the tail end of last season.

Mancini might have preferred to see his learning continue at Sassuolo under the progressive coach Alessio Dionisi. But the club’s financial model insisted West Ham's bid could not be resisted. So, for the first time in his life, he made his way to London. West Ham will hope that his goal against Viborg was simply a taste of things to come.