Fiorentina have sunk plenty of resources into the midfield over the past 12 months: Erick Pulgar, Alfred Duncan, and Sofyan Amrabat will cost a combined €45 million or more, depending on bonus payments. Even with the rise of Gaetano Castrovilli, though, there simply aren’t enough competent midfielders on the roster; Marco Benassi, Kevin Agudelo, and Szymon Zurkowski simply aren’t at the level required for a team that wants to play in Europe.
Since Sandro Tonali isn’t likely to arrive despite Rocco Commisso’s obvious interest, the Viola have, according to CalcioMercato, turned their attention to a nearer and more attainable player: Empoli’s Samuele Ricci. The 18-year-old from Pontedera (just 60 km down the Arno from Firenze) has been excellent in his first senior campaign, making 30 appearances for the unruly Tuscan neighbors and mostly keeping Żurkowski out of the side.
He’s been used all over the midfield for Empoli this year but looks like he’ll eventually settle in as a tempo-dictating passer with the skill to dribble his way out of trouble and the ability to contribute defensively as well. There’s really not a team in the world that doesn’t need more hardworking midfielders who can pick a pass, and Ricci looks like he could be all that and more.
Fiorentina are supposedly in the lead and merely awaiting the okay from Daniele Pradè, in part due to the rapport they’ve developed with Empoli over the past year following deals for Bartłomiej Drągowski, Pietro Terracciano, and Żurkowski. It’s also worth noting that his agent Federico Pastorello has a long history of working the the Viola, as he represents Terracciano, Federico Ceccherini, and Gerson. Napoli were apparently interested as well, but Ricci already rejected a move there on the grounds that he doesn’t want to go out on loan and wouldn’t play much in the first team.
The downside is that Empoli aren’t likely to let go of their top prospect for a sum less than €10 million. However, it sounds like he’s ready to make the jump, provided he gets regular first team minutes. That could be what separates the Viola as a landing spot from the likes of AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund, whom CalcioMercato also listed as interested parties. Ricci wouldn’t likely start many games for Fiorentina, but he’d be one of the top bench options, especially if Benassi moves on this summer.
All in all, this is the sort of deal that Pradè should be focusing on: promising young players who’ve flown slightly under the radar but represent, at worst, good resale value. The Viola don’t really have any can’t-miss teenage midfield prospects at the moment, so grabbing a local kid who to grow in the system for a year or two before he’s expected to start every game fits the bill nicely. €10 million is a lot for a teenager, but Ricci seems to be as close to a sure thing as you’re likely to find and fills a glaring need in the squad. We sure hope this one has some legs to it.