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Transfer Tuesday: Set to light

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The hot stove isn’t quite on, but we’re starting to turn the dial as the mercato inches closer.

ACF Fiorentina v Atalanta BC - Serie A
This guy. This freaking guy.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Luca Calamai, who’s in charge of the Fiorentina bureau for the Gazzetta dello Sport, believes that the Viola are looking to bring in 3 new players in January. Whether that number will change at all with any departures, or if it’s even true at all, is what we’ll find out in a month and a half.

Staff

It’s probably too early to be talking about it, but Fiorentina will meet with Paulo Sousa this March to discuss whether or not to extend him. Obviously, that’s a ways off and a lot could change in the interval, particularly if the Viola are active in the winter mercato. Giving Sousa a bit more time under Corvino seems like a cautious but okay idea; by March, we should see how things look with a reshaped squad.

If management opts not to extend him, the newest name to bubble up as a replacement is that of Maurizio Sarri. According to le Cronache di Napoli, Fiorentina has spoken with both Sarri and Aurelio de Laurentiis, although nobody’s reached any conclusions yet.

A rather less proven option would be SPAL mister Leonardo Simplici. The former Primavera boss is a Florence native and says he’d love to come back and coach the senior side, but emphasizes that it’s way too early to talk about such things.

Goalkeepers

Marco Sportiello has been frozen out of the Atalanta setup in favor of the unheralded Etrit Berisha, leading to heightened interest that the highly-rated 24-year-old wants out of Bergamo. His agent has been talking up Napoli and Fiorentina as possible landing spots, although it sounds like neither club wants to make a move for a goalkeeper in January. The agent has now gone back and said that they’re not discussing a move at all, citing a “delicate” situation. Looks like a full-blown saga in the making.

Defenders

Gonzalo Rodriguez continues to work on his extension with the club, which is, as we expected, taking awhile. Both sides are pretty relaxed, but that hasn’t stopped the rumors from springing up that several Argentinean clubs are interested in bringing him back to South America. Given that both Corvino and Gonzalo’s agent indicated that a deal would probably take until February or so, there’s not really anything to see here.

Chelsea are reportedly sniffing around Nenad Tomovic. We’ve got a full report/incredulous “Whaaaaaa?” right here.

Here’s your surprise of the week: Pantaleo Corvino is weighing up a move for a relatively unknown Balkan teenager. This time, he’s looking at 19-year-old Dinamo Zagreb centerback Filip Benkovic. He’s a fixture on the U21 Croatian national team and is now in his second season as a full-time starter (where he’s got 2 goals and 2 assists already). Also capable of playing in the midfield, he likes a crunching challenge and has a bit dribbling technique than you’d expect in such a hulking figure, along with the passing range that’s so important to the modern game. He’d probably cost about €7 million, and could be worth it: he looks like he’ll be world-class sooner rather than later.

It sounds like Corvino recognizes the weakness in the fullback spots and is looking to correct it. The most interesting option is Pescara rightback Francesco Zampano, who’s having an excellent season for the Serie A stragglers. A converted winger, he’s excellent going forward, with the expected pace and technique. This one almost feels too obvious, but we’ll be keeping an eye on it, even if it sounds like Roma may be leading the chase right now.

A more Corvino-level signing would be 23-year-old Romanian leftback Bogdan Vataleju, who currently plays for Universitetea Craiova. His game is all about pace; he’s simply Tello-level fast. He also just got his first senior cap for Romania, so he’s an ascending player, at least.

We’ve also heard reports of Viola scouts at Romanian international matches to watch rightback Romario Benzar. He plays his club football for Viitorul Constanta, where he also occasionally fills in on the right wing. He likes to get forward and he packs a decent cross.

With so many rightbacks tapped to join, it seems like Kevin Diks may not have any room in the squad this year. He’s thus expected to leave on loan if any other rightbacks sign up in January, with Pescara a possible destination, especially if Zampano does end up in Florence.

Midfielders

This whole Milan Badelj business is getting ridiculous. The Croatian international’s agent insists that he’s desperate to move to AC Milan this winter, and Sky Sports at least think that it’s almost certain to happen. However, interest from Chelsea and Inter Milan (which his agent has denied) muddies the waters, as do reports that Fiorentina don’t want to sell him in the winter. The player, though, and fellow Croatian Hrvoje Milic both say that Badelj wants to stay; the midfielder adds that he wishes to see out the remainder of his 2-year contract. With so many competing narratives, pretty much all we can say is that he’s certainly going to leave within 18 months.

Not surprisingly, the Viola remain linked to a whole raft of replacements. The most popular one is probably still Novara star Paolo Farago, who’s been in fine form even played out of position wide on the right in a 4-2-3-1, although he’s a better fit in a deeper and more central role.

After hearing his name all summer, we’re back to Mauricio Isla. The Chilean, now at Cagliari, is a very different sort of player from Badelj, but his mobility and versatility—rightback, anyone?—would certainly make him useful. Whether he’d uproot himself from Sardinia after just arriving this summer, or whether the Etnei would let him, are pertinent questions.

Another rumor rearing its head again is the one about West Ham’s Pedro Obiang. He remains sparingly used by Slaven Bilic and is a likely budget signing. Any move for him would probably be a loan until the end of the year with a fee due in June. The Spaniard is a hardworking, technically capable midfielder, similar to Matias Vecino.

A younger option is Brescia star Leonardo Morosini, who’s looked quite good in Serie B this year. Just 21, he’s got room to grow, leading to interest from Fiorentina, Juventus, Inter, and Sassuolo. He’s more of an attacking midfielder than a pure central midfielder, a clever dribbler with surprising pace and an eye for the killer pass.

The latest addition is Danish maestro Lasse Schone of Ajax. Now 30 years old, he’s a deep-lying playmaker who can also operate wide on the right. He’s spent his entire club career in the Netherlands, so a move abroad at this point seems a bit unlikely. Any move that does come seems more likely to wait until June, as Ajax want to hang onto “the new Liverani” (that’s what the Corriere dello Sport called him) through the end of the year.

As far as wingers go, it’s common knowledge that Fiorentina are light in that department. The most exciting possible addition mooted this week is Inter outcast Jonathan Biabiany. The French winger is a rather limited player, but he possesses raw pace in bags; the prospect of him and Cristian Tello tearing up and down the wings is rather exhilarating. The initial move would probably be a loan, but he’d probably be available for a song in June.

The Viola scouts watching the Romania-Poland match were also keeping an eye on 20-year-old Romanian wide man Razvan Marin. Currently at Viitorul Constanta, he’s one of the most highly-regarded prospects in Romania, which makes sense when you watch his highlights.

The real concern, though, is that Marseille have contacted Cristian Tello’s agent. L’Om manager Andoni Zubizarreta is hoping to lean on his Barcelona connections to get the speedster’s loan switched to France, which is an option per the agreement between the Catalans and Fiorentina. It would be a tremendous loss for Sousa, despite Tello’s lukewarm form this year. Given how much the winger’s playing, though, Barca may opt to leave him at a club where he’s settled and getting regular minutes.

Forwards

According to Gazzetta dello Sport, Napoli are eyeing up another bid for Nikola Kalinic over the break. The Croatian striker is scoring goals again and Napoli desperately needs a replacement for Arkadiusz Milik. Fiorentina is unlikely to agree to a sale, though, unless a real heap of money changes hands, so we’ll rate this one as fairly improbable.

Khouma Babacar, though, could well depart from the team that’s been his home since 2008. Clearly not rated by Sousa, the Senegalese striker remains in demand in England. Indeed, his agent is said to be trying to drum up interest, but so far nothing’s come to light. Babacar himself is said to want to stay in Florence, but if anyone meets the €10 million price the Viola are said to be asking, he could well pack his bags.

Another inexplicably out of favor forward is Mauro Zarate. The Argentinean’s absence from the pitch has been noted vociferously by the tifosi, although the player himself continues to say all the right things and his agent insists that he wants to stay. Sousa also claims that he’s got Maurito in his plans, but interest from England and the Emirates could prove too much to resist should a hefty offer appear.

Clearly, then, Fiorentina needs to consider some depth at striker. Milan hitman and recent Italy debutante Gianluca Lapadula has put the kibbutz on the whispers that he wanted more playing time than he was getting with the Rossoneri. Instead, he’s spoken of his pride in playing for Milan and his desire to stick around for a long time, so we can pretty much forget that one.

Another one that remains unlikely is the return of Stevan Jovetic. One of Florence’s favorite sons, it sounds like the finances just don’t add up to a JoJo return, particularly because new Interr boss Stefano Pioli plans to use him. Anything you hear about a Jovetic/Badelj swap can be pretty well dismissed out of hand, as all sides involved have denied any interest in such a deal.

The top alternative right now looks like Juan Iturbe, who’s frozen out at AS Roma. The Paraguayan’s form has dipped precipitously since his €25 million move from Hellas Verona to the capital, and a half-season at Bournemouth last year saw him hit rock bottom as he made just 2 Premier League appearances. Still only 23 years old and blessed with pace and technique, he could be a high-reward investment, especially as he can play anywhere across a front three.