In case you needed a reminder that transfer rumors are frequently bad and pointless, the current crop involving Fiorentina have served as an excellent reminder. While we’ve already heard about the slightly baffling interest in Sampdoria’s Abdelhamid Sabiri, the content mill (of which VN is definitely a cog!) has spit out some other names over the past week, most prominently those of Lazio’s Luis Alberto and Empoli’s Nadim Bajrami. What do those three players have in common?
If you guessed that they’re all central attacking midfielders, you win the prize that is more confusion. While Vincenzo Italiano’s recently rejiggered his side to feature a 10, the Viola already have a pair of competent players in that role in Giacomo Bonaventura and Antonín Barák. Between the two of them they’ve scored in 3 straight games, so it’s pretty clear that they’re firing on all cylinders.
And, of course, January also heralds the return of Gaetano Castrovilli from injury. The man wearing the number 10 is presumably a candidate for the same role on the pitch, as his incredible dribbling and eye for the spectacular are just what you’d expect from that role. Having him start higher up and making those late runs into the box could finally unlock him (I’ve been banging the drum for years that he needs to make late runs into the box to add goals to his game, and now that’s likely what he’ll be doing).
So Tanino, Jack, and Ant are all vying for one spot. That’s not necessarily a problem for a team competing on three fronts, but there are only so many minutes available, especially since all three are likely here for at least another year. While Bonaventura’s in the back half of his career, Barák’s squarely in his prime at 27 and Castrovilli’s only 25 and presumably remains one of the squad’s foundational players.
We’ve already talked about Sabiri’s (lack of) fit with this squad, and the same arguments apply to Luis Alberto and Bajrami. Luis Alberto, at least, is an unquestionable upgrade over everyone as a 10; he’s got a heck of a body of work in Serie A and would doubtless add some quality to the side, especially in terms of breaking down deep defenses.
Maurizio Sarri is clearly ready to shuffle him off at Lazio, so he’d likely be available for €20 million, although he’d likely require a significant investment in wages. At 30, too, there’s some worry about an age-based drop-off in ability, although his style means he’ll likely age gracefully and should have another few seasons as a genuine star, even if there’s no real room for resale value.
Bajrami, on the other hand, would offer plenty of resale value. The 23-year-old has 10 caps for Albania and is may be the crown jewel of a fascinating bunch of prospects breaking through at Empoli. His contract expires in 2024 and he’s represented by none other than Fali Ramadani, which always seems to help the Viola sign someone. He’d probably cost about €15 million, which seems to be Fiorentina’s sweet spot of late, although he might offer some resale value.
He’s been a first-team regular at Grasshopper and then Empoli since he was 18, so his trajectory seems to be pointing the right direction. Bajrami’s a neat and tidy player, sure, with an impressive range of passing and an eye for the final ball (6 goals and 7 assists last year), but like Sabiri, is he really an upgrade on Bonaventura? On Barák? On Castrovilli? Probably not. He can play out wide, but is he an upgrade on Nicolás González? Riccardo Sottil? Christian Kouamé? Jonathan Ikoné? Riccardo Saponara? Again, at this moment, probably not.
To be clear, I don’t know if Fiorentina is actually considering moves for any of these players. Everything I’ve heard so far is just rumor, even if it’s coming from folks I generally trust on Fiorentina stuff, and patterns like this are frequently evidence of what the brass is thinking about generally rather than specifically. If Daniele Pradè and Joe Barone think the squad needs another attacking midfielder, these kinds of stories consistently linking the Viola with a move for one can provide us with a clue.
But holy smokes does this team not need another number 10. What’s not working here is pretty much entirely at the back, where Igor has taken a step back after a breakout last year and Lucas Martínez Quarta, while improved from his nightmare beginning to the season, still has the occasional error in him. Moreover, having just three central defenders while competing on three fronts is ludicrously bad planning; nobody wants CB Sofyan Amrabat again.
And, while Amrabat’s been extraordinarily good this year, Rolando Mandragora hasn’t convinced as his lieutenant, despite a surprisingly robust statistical profile, and there’s no other recognized holding midfielder available except for teenager Alessandro Bianco or an out-of-position Alfred Duncan. Lorenzo Venuti and Aleksa Terzić, too, don’t inspire too much confidence as fullbacks.
What I’m saying is that this mercato really doesn’t need to be focused on another number 10. It’s like driving down the highway and wondering if you should change out the pine tree air freshener hanging from your car’s rear view mirror when you’ve got two flat tires. The way to build a good team isn’t to improve the best parts of the team and ignoring the worst. The key is finding the weak link every year and strengthening it.
Especially in a market that’s going to be outrageously complicated, there’s no reason to complicate it further. Don’t buy more number 10s. Don’t buy number 10s standing up, don’t buy number 10s in the missionary position, just don’t do it. Now here, everyone take a trequartista.