Goal.com 50: Giuseppe Rossi (38)

Goal.com's Top 50 of 2008/09 continues with the Villarreal forward who is set to become the Azzuri's great young hope...

39. Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy & USA)

38. GIUSEPPE ROSSI (Villarreal & Italy)

37. Pepe Reina (Liverpool & Spain)

In many respects, the 2008/09 campaign was a rite of passage for Giuseppe Rossi. His €10m move from Manchester United in the summer of 2007 saw him attempt to fill the considerable shoes of Diego Forlan, who had departed for Atletico Madrid, and his 11 goals in 28 La Liga appearances represented an encouraging if understated start to his Villarreal career.

Manuel Pellegrini’s side had a wonderful second half of the season that year, losing only one Primera Division match in seventeen as Los Submarinos Amarillos infiltrated the Barcelona – Real Madrid duopoly to finish second.

Rossi played his part, but would have been aware that with a season under his belt, the expectations would be greater as his club prepared for a three-pronged assault on La Liga, Copa Del Rey and Champions League.

As the season commenced, the 22-year old took on the mantle as the focal point of Villarreal’s attack with gusto, and after initially struggling to gain a foothold in Pellegrini’s formation, come October had formed a lucrative partnership with new addition Joseba Llorente.

Villarreal, and Rossi, were on fire; six goals in six consecutive appearances including three in the Europe against Aalborg kept the El Madrigal side unbeaten while easing through to the Champions’ League group stage along with Rossi’s former employers Manchester United.

Even as his side's season came off the rails, Rossi remained affluent in front of goal, and had it not been for his intelligent front running, lethal finishing and the intuitive manner in which he brings teammates into the match, then Villarreal may not have landed their Europa League slot for finishing 5th.

Explosive | Rossi blasts home his first Italy goal

It is no exaggeration to suggest that the Italian dragged his side, kicking and screaming, through their barren spell. Six goals in seven fixtures after the winter break helped alleviate the strain during a troubled period, and included a crucial equaliser against Panathinaikos at the super 16 stage that proved pivotal in qualification to the quarter finals.

Arsenal ultimately ended Villarreal’s campaign, comfortably seeing off the Spaniards 4-1 on aggregate, and Rossi’s season in front of goal became defunct after that exit. Fifteen games without a goal represented a hugely disappointing end to a campaign that at one point had appeared so promising.

Despite that setback, Marcelo Lippi saw fit to hand Rossi his debut full international cap against Bulgaria in World Cup Qualifying, an honour that may be deemed controversial given his American upbringing, but one that the player had dreamt of achieving.

Indeed as the season ended the New Jersey-born star notched his first international goal, a stunning strike in a friendly versus Northern Ireland, and his double strike against the USA in the Confederations Cup symbolized one of the few positives from what was a dismal campaign for the Azzuri.

His performances for the national team appeared to remind Serie A sides of his abilities, and both Juventus and AC Milan have been linked with €20m bids to secure his talents.

But he has yet to truly prove himself as the prolific marksman he has the attributes to become, and with transfer talk seemingly cooling, he appears ready to begin the season under the tenure of Ernesto Valverde.

The shrewd coach has already conveyed his desire to build his side around the diminutive frontman, which is testament to how crucial he sees the Italian being as Villarreal strive to return to Euope's top table.

With Rossi leading the line, Los Submarinos Amarillos followers can be confident of another exciting campaign.

Paul Macdonald, Goal.com

39. Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy & USA)

38. GIUSEPPE ROSSI (Villarreal & Italy)

37. Pepe Reina (Liverpool & Spain)