Sebastian Cristoforo (Getafe—Spain)
What happened: The 25-year-old Uruguayan returned to Spain on loan (but didn’t request a transfer). Landing with los Azulones should have been perfect, as manager Pepe Bordalás runs a system requiring furious effort and defensive nous more than silky passing in the midfield. Given Cristoforo’s skill set, it seemed tailor-made for the former Sevilla man, and we fully expected him to work his way into the rotation and wind up as an important piece in the team.
That didn’t quite happen. While he had a few bright moments, he was mostly a bench option and starter in the Copa del Rey for Spain’s biggest surprise package, unable to supplant Nemanja Maksimović or Mauro Arambarri in the middle of Bordalás’ 4-4-2. When the club brought in veteran Mathieu Flamini in January, it was hard to read as anything but an indictment of Cristoforo, who mostly vanished once the French veteran was acclimated.
Final stats: 20 appearances (8 starts), 2 assists, 4 yellow cards
Best moment: He has one game every year in which he looks like one of the top midfielder destroyers in the world, and this year it came against Deportivo Alavés. In a slight break from tradition, though, Cristoforo not only dominated the center of the park with his typical energy, but showed off some ability on the front foot as well, notching two assists and winning a penalty while showcasing some genuine talent on the ball.
What’s next: His contract at Fiorentina doesn’t run out until 2021, so he could well be back at Moena with Vincenzo Montella this summer (he was in town with Maxi Olivera to discuss his future last month), which would be enough to make you question what year it is. As we’ve already seen that he doesn’t really fit in Vinnie’s squads before, it’s hard to imagine that anything has changed. Don’t be surprised if he ends up back in Spain on loan again next season.
Final grade: C- No shame in losing out to Maksimović and Arambarri for a starting berth, especially when he had some strong performances in relief, but Flamini’s addition casts a pall over his entire season.
Valentin Eysseric (Nantes—France)
What happened: After spending much of the first half of the season on the bench in Florence, Corvino sent the 27-year-old French attacker to Brittany. After a brief period spent settling in, Eysseric looked to have hit his stride as les Canaris’ number 10, notching a goal and 2 assists in March.
That’s when he went down with a knee injury, knocking him out for the remainder of the season. It wasn’t a very long time for Nantes to evaluate whether or not to exercise its option to buy him, but he showed them what we know he has: clever movement, nifty little touches to involve his teammates, and a lack of pace. The last we saw of him, he was in the club’s official photos for next year’s jerseys, which you’d think portends well for him.
Final stats: 7 appearances (4 starts), 1 goal, 2 assists, 1 yellow card
Best moment: Assisting both goals for his side against Vitre in the Coupe de France was pretty cool.
What’s next: Despite earlier reports that Nantes would snap him up, it now sounds like they’ve opted to return him to Tuscany. He’s got the technique to be a decent reserve for a Montella side, so don’t rule out another year of Eysseric on the bench, but we’d guess that he’ll wind up elsewhere next season.
Final grade: C- Wiped out by injury just as he was starting to click, but was doing nicely Eysseric-ish things before that.
What happened: The 26-year-old Brazilian rightback has fully recovered from a knee ligament injury last year and has looked sharp for Flu this year, playing all 90 minutes in their first 10 matches and even captaining the side a couple of times. However, because things never seem to go smoothly for the Rio de Janeiro-born former U23 international, he’s currently exiled from the side due to an ongoing dispute about wages; he claims that the team hasn’t been paid in three months and is sitting out in protest, which seems entirely fair. Given that the European and Brazilian seasons are backwards from each other, this doesn’t really qualify as a recap of the past year, but it’s the best we can do.
As a player, Gilberto has matured considerably. While he’s never going to lock down his wing defensively, he’s quite dangerous going forward. Boasting pace, clever passing, some dangerous dribbling, and a desire to overlap whenever possible (and sometimes when he shouldn’t), his forward-thinking style leaves him out of position at the back all too often; the other side to that coin, of course, is that he’s basically an extra winger, although he also maraudes infield at times. Basically, he’s become the platonic ideal of the attacking Brazilian fullback who looks quite shaky when asked to defend.
Final stats (or current stats): 10 appearances (10 starts)
Best moment: Helped his side keep their only clean sheet of the year in the Copa Sudamericana draw with Chilean outfit Antofagasta. Hit the post with a header and had a perfect cross that only an inexplicable miss by the striker prevented from being an assist. More importantly, didn’t have any huge lapses at the back.
What’s next: Fluminense have an option to buy him at the end of December, but that doesn’t sound very likely right now. Now São Paulo have registered interest in him, so he could move west. He’s apparently been in touch with Joe Barone, too, which speaks well of the new management team in Florence, but it’s a near certainty that he’ll stay in Brazil; the Viola will probably get a cut of any fee paid for him.
Final grade: C+ He’s established himself as a starter in Serie A; unfortunately for the Viola, it’s the Brazilian version rather than the Italian one, but hey, at least he’s finally starting to figure it out. If he ever learns how to defend, he’s going to be fantastic.
Maximiliano Olivera (Olimpia—Paraguay)
What happened: The 27-year-old Uruguayan leftback returned to South America on loan after David Hancko arrived to back up Cristiano Biraghi, landing on his feet with Paraguayan champions Olimpia of Asuncion. We always expected him to kick on quickly, given his performances for Montevideo Wanderers and Peñarol, and he sure looks to have done so.
He’s been a regular presence on the left flank in the Cop Libertadores and even got into a couple of clausura matches. You know what to expect from Maxi at this point: he’ll churn up and down the left flank, give it his all, show off some grinta, and probably get booked a couple of times. He’s now off until the Apertura begins, so we hope he’s spending his time doing fun stuff.
Final stats: 12 appearances (12 starts), 7 yellow cards, 1 assist
Best moment: This mortar-shell assist for Olimpia’s opener in the Libertadores match against Universidad de Concepción was fun.
What’s next: He’s on loan until January and Olimpia have an option to buy; given that he’s already one of their stalwarts, he’s probably done in a purple shirt. He should bring in something like €3 million for Fiorentina then, which will represent a slight profit. He was always a hard worker and seemed like a cool guy off the pitch, so we’ll miss him for that.
Final grade: B- He’s getting booked too often and it’d be nice to see him add a little more going forward, but he’s been a good addition for Olimpia and should prove to be an excellent member of the outfit for as long as he wants to stay.
Rafik Zekhnini (Twente—Netherlands)
What happened: The 21-year-old Norwegian seemed to be blocked from significant minutes in Florence by the likes of Marko Pjaca, Kevin Mirallas, and Valentin Eysseric (whoopsie) and moved to the Dutch second division. Given the nature of football in the Netherlands—an appreciation for wingers who can stay wide but still provide a goal threat—it seemed the perfect landing place for him.
And so it went. The Big Z hit the ground running, notching 4 goals and 4 assists through the first half of the season and generally looking like one of the deadliest players in the league, helping his side push for promotion (which they eventually obtained). A hamstring injury, however, derailed him in late January, and he didn’t make another start until April, which he celebrated with another assist. Despite the leg issues, though, there’s no way to look at his season and call it anything but a ringing success as he showcased the pace and dribbling we knew he had, but connected them to an appreciation for space and tactical intelligence he hadn’t really displayed before.
Final stats: 27 appearances (13 starts), 5 goals, 4 assists, 2 yellow cards
Best moment: The 2-0 win over NEC Nijmegen was pretty cool. Zekhnini scored the first with a genuinely spectacular solo effort and assisted the second while generally looking like the best player on the pitch. When his thoughts catch up to his footspeed, like they did here, he’s special.
What’s next: He and the Tukkers seem to want another year together, which should suit the Viola brass perfectly. If he can rise to the challenge and shine in the Eredivisie, then he’ll definitely be ready for the purple spotlights. We’re quite pleased that he’s found his feet so nicely in the Netherlands and still expect big things from him.
Final grade: B+ Heck of a year for the Big Z. He’s probably still a year or two away from being ready for Serie A, but he showed improvement this year and definitely deserves a place in Fiorentina’s plans going forward if continues like this.