It’s been an up-and-down (or rather, a down-then-up) season for Fiorentina thus far, and no personnel group has drawn more criticism than the strikers. Arthur Cabral and Luka Jović came into the season with massive expectations on their shoulders as the replacements for Dušan Vlahović, and it’s fair to say that neither has held up under that burden. The stats are grim and the performance on the pitch is grimmer. Therefore, it’s no surprise that AS Roma outcast Andrea Belotti has been tipped as a candidate to lead the Viola line.
First of all, a bit of background. Cabral and Jović are both fairly young (24 and 25) and have played less than a full season in Serie A, so it’s too early to call either a failure. We’ve seen really good players struggle to adjust to a new league for a year or two time and again, so labeling either of these guys a bust is premature.
Still, they were both relatively expensive (Cabral cost €14 million last January, while Jović earns a €2.5 million salary that could balloon to 6 million in 2024) and look like medium- to long-term investments, so it behooves the Viola to get something back from them. Putting one or both into the Marco Benassi Eternal Dry Loan Orbit of Pain™ means that all that money becomes a sunk cost, and for a club that sure seems to be trying to self-finance without investing some enormous earnings on the mercato, that’s a serious problem.
Even so, the current plan just isn’t working. Jović has 7 goals in 1104 minutes so far (1 every 158 minutes), but that’s just 1 every 250 minutes in the league. Cabral has been even more forlorn, notching just 1 every 205 minutes altogether and 1 every 249 in Serie A. Indeed, the pair have been so hapless that winger Christian Kouamé, famously miscast as a target man by Beppe Iachini, looks like he may be Vincenzo Italiano’s new first choice up front, leading to a cascading set of changes to the attack that could leave Fiorentina very short on wingers.
Enter il Gallo. Belotti’s been an afterthought in the capital this year after a high profile free transfer from Torino, where he scored exactly 100 goals and added 28 assists in 7 seasons, even including an injury-riddled 2021-2022. Still only 29, he was expected to spell Tammy Abraham for the Giallorossi as they campaigned on three fronts, relying on his wealth of Serie A experience to offer Jose Mourinho a different option.
Instead, the former AlbioLeffe and Palermo standout has scuffled with Eldor Shomorudov for scraps, playing just 368 Serie A minutes across 12 appearances (2 starts) and failing to register a goal. It’s no secret that Mourinho doesn’t particularly want him at this point, and with a contract that runs out at the end of the year (Roma have an option to extend him until 2025, but that’s not happening), Belotti will want an audition somewhere.
On the surface, this looks like a perfect marriage. Fiorentina has gotten almost nothing from its strikers, and Belotti, despite his struggles over the past couple years, knows how to score goals in this division. Taking him on loan for the rest of the season with an eye to signing him for free next year if it works out is the sort of low-risk, high-reward gamble that the Viola ought to make as they try to claw their way back into the European places.
There are, however, a couple of stumbling blocks. The first is Belotti’s salary, a hefty €4.4 million. Even prorated over half a season, that’s enough to potentially put a wrench in the contract negotiations for crucial players (yeah, that’s obviously Sofyan Amrabat). Turning this into anything but a 6-month rental could be difficult, although that might be alright if the veteran can get into double figures. With Galatasaray also interested, though, Belotti would have to take a haircut to stay in Italy, since the Viola aren’t going to be able to offer wages like the Turkish giants.
Even if he’s just a stopgap, though, there’s the issue of finding space for him. I’ve written at length about Fiorentina’s bloated roster (see: Benassi, Marco); adding Belotti would pretty much ensure that either Jović or Cabral would have to leave, either on loan or permanently. I doubt that there’s any way to move the former, given the weird terms of his deal, so that would mean getting out of the Arthur business, and it might be hard to find anyone who wants in, given his performances this year. As McMike always says, this is a matter of the club devaluing assets and leaving itself minimal wiggle room.
Too, there’s the health angle. Belotti’s only 29 but he’s put a lot of miles on those legs, and it seems as if they may be catching up to him. He’s missed 25 games since the start of the 2020-2021 season and is currently nursing a hamstring issue that’s dogged him for over a month, although that may just be an excuse not to train and risk a real injury that could jeopardize a move away. Still, relying on a striker with a lot of recent injury baggage in addition to Nicolás González and Riccardo Sottil, who are both currently out with long-term problems, could prove catastrophic.
Still, adding a new striker might be the easiest way to improve the squad, as shifting Kouamé up front would reverberate across the rest of the team, especially since he’s been so good out wide. While Belotti’s rarely played in a side that looks to dictate possession like Fiorentina, his experience in a variety of systems means that he’d likely slot in pretty easily.
I don’t think that il Gallo is a perfect solution to the conundrum up front. He’d doubtless want guarantees of a starting role—which any number of mid-table clubs would willingly provide—that Fiorentina could provide, given that Jović likely has some similar language in his contract. Combined with Belotti’s recent injuries and apparent loss of form, this is the kind of move that could blow up right in Pradè’s face.
On the other hand, this team definitely needs a shakeup at striker, and Belotti’s as good a role of the dice as any. He’d fit into Italiano’s system seamlessly, given his willingness to close down, and he’d probably provide a handful more goals than the Jović/Cabral duopoly. If he was brought in as the backup, he’d be the sort of marginal gain that can take a team over the top. But as the featured addition, well, it’s hard to be quite as excited.