When Marco Sportiello arrived in Florence last year, we were pretty excited. After all, this was a guy was a regular Serie A starter by the age of 23, a player once hailed as the eventual heir to Gianluigi Buffon for the Azzurri. Sure, that second part seems a bit outlandish now, but landing him on an 18-month loan with an €8 million fee was a coup at the time. Young, Italian, and full of promise, he was clearly supposed to be the Fiorentina goalkeeper for a decade or so.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way. While he’s had stretches where he’s been excellent (the Viola’s record-tying win streak), he’s also struggled with some pretty basic mistakes, particularly on set pieces: the Olimpico that Bologna midfielder Erick Pulgar scored back in February; the Federico Bernardeschi free kick to put Juventus in the lead a week later; Hakan Çalhanoğlu’s rather weak effort for the equalizer at AC Milan to end the season. But again, he’s been brilliant at times, enough so that Napoli was sniffing around earlier this year.
If Corvino and company decide that €8 million is a bit rich for them—and after they’ve doubtless tried to argue a lower fee from la Dea—then they’ll need to find a new goalkeeper immediately. Bartłomiej Drągowski may still come good, but he clearly needs some time to develop, and the next man up is Primavera star Michele Cerofolini. Fiorentina have tapped a possible Sportiello replacement, though, in Udinese prospect Alex Meret, currently on loan at SPAL.
The 21-year-old missed half of the season through injury, but started every match for the Estensi when he was fully recovered. In 13 matches, he allowed 16 goals, facing the likes of Napoli, AC Milan, Inter Milan, and AS Roma. That may not sound too impressive, but without him SPAL allowed 1.72 goals per game and managed just 3 clean sheets; with him, it was 1.23 goals per game and 4 clean sheets, including one against Fiorentina to end the win streak.
While Meret would be a fantastic Sportiello replacement and possibly even an upgrade, we’d suggest that nobody invest in a shirt with his name on it just yet. His parent club Udinese will be recalling him shortly. Common sense says they’ll have to choose between him and Simone Scuffet, another 21-year-old custodian, but it’s not quite that simple. The Pozzo family also owns Watford, and could opt to send one of their talented young goalies there, as the Hornets’ roster features just the aging Heurelho Gomes, the unproven prospects Daniel Bachmann and Pontus Dahlberg, and out-of-favor Costel Pantilimon. Either Meret or Scuffet would expect to start ahead of any of those names, allowing the Pozzos to keep both young keepers.
To further complicate matters, Meret’s contract comes up at the end of next season. If he decides to leave the Friuli nest, he’ll refuse the extension that Franco Soldati is doubtless writing up right now. However, you know that Udinese will squeeze every last ounce of profit from him; it’s what they do best, besides sitting comfortably mid-table every year, and they’re very good at it. We’d be shocked if he moved for anything less than €8 million, and not surprised if that number ended up being higher. His agent, P&P Sport Management, also represents ex-Viola players Giuseppe Rossi and Stefano Fiore, so at least there’s already a line of communication. All things considered, though, we think it’s pretty unlikely that Meret is wearing a Viola jersey next year, especially since his favored number 97 is already taken.