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Who would make a good Borja Valero replacement?

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If you’re going to sell your most consistent player for pennies, you may as well do your research on who else could do his job.

ACF Fiorentina v Borussia Moenchengladbach - UEFA Europa League Round of 32: Second Leg
Never let me go.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Each passing days sees an increase in the probability that Borja Valero will move to Inter Milan next season for a fee that’s probably nowhere near his actual value. This is a thing that is bad, and its badness is not up for debate.

What is up for debate, though, is how to replace Borja on the pitch. The current midfield lacks anyone with his passing technique and vision: Matías Vecino is more of a box-to-box runner who replaces creativity with energy; Milan Badelj keeps possession well but doesn’t play the killer pass and may well be leaving Florence as well; Sebastian Cristoforo is an admirable runner and defender but pretty much can’t pass; Carlos Sánchez is a wonderful destroyer but better suited as defender than a playmaker. Somebody’s going to have to move the ball from the midfield into the attack.

We’ve narrowed the possibilities down to three categories: current and former Viola prospects who deserve a second chance, the kind of player we’d actually want to see, and the realistic options.

Former and current youth stars

  • Rafał Wolski: When he arrived in Florence from Legia Warsaw back in 2011, the rail-thin Pole was hailed as the heir apparent to Valero. Blessed with tremendous dribbling skill and acceleration, he seemed every bit the modern playmaker—easing into space to receive the ball, turning, and playing in a teammate or beating his marker himself. He was the real deal, having impressed in his home country and even earned a few caps. That was the summit of his Viola career, though, as a series of loan moves to progressively less prestigious sides saw him unable to break through anywhere, either due to injuries or something else. However, a return to Poland with Legia Gdansk has him looking like a decent player again, although he may never fulfill that early hype.
    Grade as a Valero replacement: D+ Maybe there’s something in there, but Florence isn’t where it’s going to happen for him.
  • Leonardo Capezzi: One of the crown jewels in the Viola Primavera for years, he was often hailed as the next David Pizarro. After spending a year at Varese, he moved to Crotone on loan in 2015 and helped them win promotion. However, in the confusion around the firing of Daniele Pradè and the hiring of Pantaleo Corvino, nobody extended his contract, which ran out last year. He signed with Crotone as a free agent, but Sampdoria swooped in, bought him for a cool million euros, and loaned him back to Crotone. He was instrumental in their escape from relegation this year, offsetting his disciplined displays in the middle with his obvious footballing intelligence. A former U21 international, it’s only a matter of time until he’s impressing on a larger stage.
    Grade as a Valero replacement: B- He’s more of a regista who sets the tone than a true playmaker, but at minimum he could have done a job.
  • Ianis Hagi: The 18-year-old finally arrived in Florence after spending a couple years with Viitorul Constanța, honing his craft under the watchful eyes of his father, who was the club’s manager. Although he made a couple of cameos under Paulo Sousa, he mostly worked with the Primavera this year, where he made quite an impression, notching 5 goals and 3 assists in 13 appearances. Already a Romanian U21 international, he’s a highly-touted prospect who’s probably ready for some time in the spotlight. His natural position looks to be a bit deeper than the number 10 role he often occupies with the youth setup, but his body probably isn’t ready for a full season in Serie A.
    Grade as a Valero replacement: C+ He’s a season or two away from being ready for the big leagues, but we’re still really excited.

Ideal options

  • Valerio Verre: The 23-year-old was well-regarded in the youth setup of AS Roma, but he’s struggled to find a home. At least, that was the case until 2015, when he moved to Pescara, where he turned heads with his penetrative passing and skill on the ball. Sampdoria bought his rights for €4 million in January, but left him with the Delfini at his behest. Now preparing for the upcoming season with the Blucerchiati, he’s the sort of player who could slot in for Borja in a heartbeat, given his passing range and vision, knack for skipping away from a challenge, and willingness to put in a shift. A core featuring Verre, Riccardo Saponara, and Federico Chiesa would be really exciting, which of course means it’ll never happen.
    Grade as a Valero replacement: A- He’s not at Borja’s level, but he could reach it quickly in the right environment
  • Leandro Paredes: If Stefano Pioli had his druthers, a player like Paredes would be his linchpin in the middle. He’s a brilliant passer who likes a measured ball over the top, but he works hard defensively, packs a dangerous shot from distance, and is a set piece specialist. He never seemed to fit in at AS Roma for some reason, but that hasn’t stopped Zenit St. Petersburg and maybe even Bayern Munich from looking at him. We’ve heard that he wants to stay in Italy, so Florence would be a perfect spot. However, he’s probably too expensive and the Giallorossi are going to squeeze every last penny out of his sale; considering that he debuted for Argentina earlier this month, he’ll go for a hefty sum. But just imagine the midfield duo he’d form with Matías Vecino.
  • Grade as a Valero replacement: B+ He sits deeper than Borja but his passing and set pieces would ensure a minimal drop off

Realistic options

  • Emanuele Giaccherini: The 32-year-old’s agent recently claimed that Giaccherini is “better than Borja Valero,” which absolutely boggles the mind. However, he wants out of Napoli and, as a former Italy international, has at least a little bit of credibility as a decent signing. He’s old and slow, but remains a clever player with some skill in his feet. Expecting him to actually replace Borja, though, would be akin to expecting an AMC Gremlin to replace a Maserati Ghibli.
    Grade as a Valero replacement: D C’mon, bro
  • Miguel Veloso: He’s linked to Fiorentina every year, so let’s just pretend this is the time it finally happens. I’ve always liked Veloso because he’s a good passer, puts in a defensive shift, and hits a good set piece, but he’s on the wrong side of thirty to be a long-term substitute for Borja, and hes always liked to sit in front of the defense, rather than driving forward into the final third. Genoa would probably be willing to listen to offers, but they’d probably come a bit too rich.
    Grade as a Valero replacement:
  • Sebastian Larsson: Perhaps the likeliest option, Fiorentina’s been linked to the Swede since January. In his favor, he packs a heck of a shot, can play on the right or through the middle, and wouldn’t cost much. On the other hand, he’s ponderously slow, defensively vulnerable, and loses the ball way too often. He’s also 32. Sunderland probably wouldn’t ask for more than a couple million euros, but it’d still be too much. Therefore, he’s probably the one we’ll see.
    Grade as a Valero replacement: C- As a backup, he’d be adequate. As a Borja, he’d be catastrophic

But, realistically, we all know who it’s going to be. Everyone get ready to welcome back Houssine effing Kharja.