We’ve been hearing off and on for months now that Napoli and/or AS Roma are planning moves for Fiorentina captain Germán Pezzella. According to the Corriere Fiorentino (as reported by Violanews), the defender is ready to extend his contract, which expires in 2022, and commit his future to the Viola. In case anyone out there isn’t clear, this is a very good thing.
Despite a somewhat uneven season (just like everyone else in the squad, to be fair), Pezzella remains a very good central defender. His sense of when to challenge and when to stand off is superb: he was second in Serie A for successful pressure percentage, fifth in clearances, and tied for tenth in interceptions. He also chipped in 3 goals on the season and an assist, and his aerial ability—by any metric, he wins in the air way more often than not—means he’s a problem for opponents in either penalty box.
More than the stats, though, the eyeball test shows that he’s still got it. Defensively, he’s brilliant in the middle of a back three, where he can use his reading of the game to sweep up behind Nikola Milenković and Martín Cáceres, who both had the freedom to close down higher up the pitch. Pezzella would fill in behind either one as necessary or drop deeper to ensure that he could catch up to anyone sneaking through.
Pezzella’s not a perfect defender, it’s true. He’s not the quickest, he’s occasionally a bit too robust in his challenges, and he’s never going to be mistaken for a libero. That said, he showed improvement in his distribution this year, and his style of play meshes perfectly with what Giuseppe Iachini wants to do: soak up pressure and hit on the break. Pezze remains a top-notch penalty box defender.
That’s the other reason this deal looks good. Pezzella isn’t the sort of player who relies on his pace or quickness so much as his physical strength and intelligence. That’s the sort of defender who usually ages well; it’s easy to see him remaining quite effective at 33, . Even raising his current €1.2 million salary to something more like €1.7 million makes sense, as Fiorentina aren’t likely to find a better player for the that money.
It’s a smart move from Daniele Pradè and company and a pleasant change of pace from how the club treated captains and leaders under the Della Valles. The problem, of course, is that everyone will now read this as Fiorentina’s acceptance of the fact that Milenković is on the outs this summer, whether or not that’s actually the case. Setting aside the speculation, let’s at least look forward to the official announcement that will keep a very good defender in Florence through his prime years.