Football fans were left giggling like schoolchildren during registration when Carpi’s first Serie A line-up was confirmed. Number seven: Ryder Matos; number 10: Andrea Lazzari; number 15: Kevin Lasagna. Cue laughter. Writers fizzed with excitement at the pun-based headlines to be had –‘Genoa choke on…’ you get the drift.
Lasagna, try as he might, struggled to be taken seriously during his debut campaign at the highest level. People were more enthused by the fact he shared his name with an internationally renowned pasta dish. However, in his second season of Serie A football, this has begun to change. So far this term he has scored 12 goals in 27 league outings; sitting alongside Mauro Icardi, Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Edin Dzeko in the scoring charts, his surname doesn’t seem so comical.
The striker’s route to this point was long and winding. There were many signs that he simply wasn’t going to make it as a professional; that he ignored every single one of those signs and ploughed on regardless is testament to his desire. He has been, throughout his career, utterly dedicated to the idea of being the best he can be, and he is now reaping the rewards of this commitment.
As a youngster Lasagna spent time with Chievo, but he was unable to make an impact. A shortage of physicality was the reason behind his lack of opportunity, and, rather than sticking around in the hope of securing his dream, he decided to leave and play at a lower level more locally. He trained as a left-back, then a left winger, while he progressed through his teen years, becoming more tactically astute while also doing all he could to ensure physical deficiencies would never again be held against him.
He was an amateur, but he behaved like a professional. While in Serie D he studied to be a surveyor, spending time on construction sites. At the same time, he consulted a nutritionist. Essentially, he was preparing for the best and worst possible outcomes. It wasn’t until Carpi came calling in 2014 that the idea of football as a job, the best outcome, became tangible.
During the 2013/14 season, he caught the eye of a prominent sporting director: Cristiano Giuntoli. Playing in the red and yellow of Este, Lasagna found the net 21 times in 33 appearances. At 21 years of age, he had established himself as one of the finest prospects outside of the paid ranks. Impressed, Giuntoli recommended him for a trial with his club.
Carpi had just survived their first-ever season in Serie B, finishing comfortably in mid-table. With modest resources at their disposal, they had little choice but to look further down the Italian football hierarchy for talent. Lasagna was one of six players to be taken on trial by the club in the summer of 2014; he was the only one to be offered a chance with the first team. Having endured numerous injury setbacks and broken promises in the past, he played through an ingrown toenail to secure the move. Giuntoli signed him for just £23,000.
In a small way, the success of this particular deal led to Giuntoli’s appointment as Napoli sporting director one year later. And, in the same pre-season the Partenopei hired Maurizio Sarri – who, like Giuntoli, also lacked top-level experience – as their head coach in a bid to rebuild after the departure of Rafa Benitez.
Between Lasagna’s arrival at Carpi and Giuntoli’s departure for Napoli, there was another historic promotion. Carpi, miraculously, made it to Serie A. They did so as champions, having finished nine points clear of second-placed Frosinone. Lasagna played a key role, earning the nickname ‘KL15’ in the process.
Many onlookers sniggered at his surname, but the striker was quietly achieving something sensational. Having been overlooked and rejected as a youngster, it started to feel as if he could do no wrong. In August 2015, he told La Gazzetta dello Sport: “I dream of scoring at the San Siro against Inter.” Five months later, he did just that.
Into the second minute of second-half stoppage time on 24 January 2016, Carpi launched one last futile counter-attack. A pass out from the back, along with some poor pressing from the Milanese giants, saw space open up. Lasagna, a lifelong Interista, made his move. Darting behind the Nerazzurri back line, he received a through ball before angling a left-footed shot beyond Samir Handanovic.
That goal didn’t help Carpi stay up. And the 14 that Lasagna scored in the next campaign didn’t help get them back up. But what all of this did do is attract the attention of serial scouters Udinese, who paid just over £4 million to beat Sampdoria to his signature in January 2017.
Lasagna made a fast start to life in Udine, scoring on his debut in a Coppa Italia win over Frosinone. Since that maiden finish last August, he has hit the net regularly in bursts. He scored in five consecutive league matches between November and December, and scored in four straight games during April. Between those streaks, he asserted himself as a strong, hard-working team player who led effectively from the front. Massimo Oddo, who was Udinese head coach between November and April, described him as a ‘unique player’.
Unique is the right word. The 25-year-old has a distinct, bustling running style. He uses his arms and his body well to beat his markers, and he is also a direct, pacey presence. On top of all that, he has grown into a frequent taker of chances. In an up-and-down side, he has been a model of consistency.
Everything has changed for Lasagna over the last four years, and yet much remains the same. The foundation of his game remains the work ethic that propelled him from the amateurs. When asked recently about his time at Udinese, his reply was succinct but informative: “I am very happy in Udine. I enjoy the fans’ appreciation and I will always give my best.”
His best might be enough to earn an international call-up in the future. Italy have a number of quality strikers, including Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti, but he fits the mould with his combination of physical and mental strength and tactical astuteness. However, whether or not that call comes is irrelevant in the grand scheme. Finally, Lasagna is gaining attention for his football, not his surname.
Also published on Medium.