Francesco Caputo – The lower-league talisman who became Italy’s oldest-ever debutant scorer

Photo: Sassuolo Official Twitter Account

Once in a while, you come across a story that makes you fall in love with football more than you already did. Some stories are about how football has changed lives, some might be about how football was a way to stay on the right path in life, and some, like the one of Francesco ”Ciccio” Caputo, is about how it’s never too late to make it in football.

Caputo has like Jamie Vardy moved around in the lower divisions for most of his career, before he moved to Empoli in 2017. Ciccio was born in Altamura, Bari, and moved around between local clubs Toritto, Altamura, and Noicattaro before he was signed by Bari in 2008 – where the now 33-year-old became a victim of his own loyalty.

Caputo is a natural goal scorer, capable of playing anywhere across a front-three, and impresses a lot with his movement off the ball and his anticipation.

In his first season with Bari, in 2008-09, he scored ten goals in 27 Serie B-matches and helped Bari gain promotion to Serie A – but then he got left behind. As Bari went into Serie A in the following season, Caputo was left out of the plans and got loaned out to Salernitana instead. Ciccio had to stay in Serie B whilst the rest of his teammates advanced to Serie A.

At Salernitana, he scored six goals in 36 Serie B-matches. Not really impressive at all, but the following season he got the chance to stay with Bari in Serie A. However, he only got to feature in 13 games before getting loaned back to Serie B half-way through the season. 

But then Bari got relegated to Serie B and thought ”let’s keep Ciccio now”. Caputo spent the following four seasons with Bari in Serie B, where he featured in 106 games and scored 38 goals before he once again got sent on loan. This time, it was to Serie B-side Virtus Entella – where he got his big break.

In the loan deal, Entella had an option to buy Caputo, and after 17 goals in 40 games in his first season, it was a no-brainer for Entella to buy him outright from Bari. In total, Caputo scored 35 goals in 80 games for Entella over two seasons. 

Caputo impressed so much so that Empoli opted to sign him. While at Empoli, he played a key part in Aurelio Andreazzoli’s Empoli side that dominated Serie B, won the league by 13 points, and gained a promotion to Serie A. Ciccio scored 26 goals in 41 matches, which won him Serie B’s top scorer in 2017-18.

Caputo became the talk of the town for the first time in his career, as Empoli prepared for the Serie A season in 2018-19. Whilst it was an impressive achievement to score 26 goals in Serie B and win the golden boot, could he do it in Serie A where the quality-level was so much higher?

He could. In his first full Serie A-season, at 31-years-old, Caputo continued where he had left off in Serie B. He scored 16 goals in 38 Serie A-battles. But, unfortunately, Empoli got relegated in a dramatic manner in the last 15 minutes of the season.

So what would happen to Ciccio? Surely he couldn’t go back to the Serie B yet another time?

No. Roberto De Zerbi, one of Italy’s highest regarded up-and-coming managers at the time, who had impressed with Sassuolo during his first season in charge, had identified Caputo as the man to be his talisman. 

De Zerbi and Sassuolo signed Caputo for €2,5 million. But the question was; could Caputo replicate his previous season? And was it smart focusing on a 31-year-old striker who was about to turn 32?

The answer to both of those questions was yes. Caputo paid back De Zerbi’s confidence in him, which was one of the first times in his career where someone had really taken a chance on him, and Caputo even raised his level. This time, he scored 21 goals in 38 matches and helped Sassuolo finish 8th in the Serie A-table.

That leaves us to now. Caputo has currently scored three goals in three matches this Serie A-season. That, combined with his great results from the season before, resulted in him getting the nod from ”Gli Azzurri”-manager Roberto Mancini who called him up to the Italian national team.

To think; ten years prior he didn’t receive the confidence from Bari to be included in their Serie A-squad and now he got called up to the Italian national team after being one of the biggest goal threats in Serie A.

But the story doesn’t stop there.

On October 7th 2020, Caputo got to make his national team debut for Italy, where he once again showed that if you believe in him he will pay you back for the confidence. Only 23 minutes into his debut against Moldova, he scored on a pass by Cristiano Biraghi – making him Italy’s oldest debutant goalscorer in history.

You see, just as Jamie Vardy, Francesco ”Ciccio” Caputo is the perfect example that it’s never too late to make it. As long as you believe in yourself and have a dream – anything is possible. Especially in the beautiful game.