It’s been pretty clear since Patrick Cutrone’s loan deal was cut short early that Fiorentina were in the market for another striker. With the youthful duo of Dušan Vlahović and Christian Kouamé, it always seemed like a veteran equally capable of scoring goals and mentoring youngsters was the profile that Viola DS Daniele Pradè wanted, and that makes sense. What makes less sense is that the man he settled on to fill that role is Aleksandr Kokorin.
Kokorin, 29, may look the part at first glance. With 48 caps and 12 goals for Russia and 48 and 14 in the Europa League, he’s got the sort of experience you like to see. He’s also twice been named the player of the season in the Russian Premier League, where he’s spent his entire career, mostly playing for Dynamo Moscow, Zenit St. Petersburg, and Spartak Moscow; as you’d expect, he’s won every trophy available in his home country. It appears a sparkling CV, to be sure.
As a player, he can fill a variety of roles. Usually used as a center forward domestically, he’s also operated on the wing and as a 10. He’s got good pace and loves working the channels, showing a knack for finding creases in the defense, and he’s got the technical ability to both beat a defender with the ball at his feet and to bring his teammates into the game with good passes.
However, he’s never been especially prolific; he’s never surpassed 10 league goals in a season and has 2 through 507 appearances in all competitions this year. Equally concerning, he’s already missed 11 games through injury, although he’s proven fairly durable in previous seasons. What’s really worrying, however, is that Spartak Moscow are willing to sell him so soon after signing him on a free transfer. He’s the sort of player you expect to be a marquee signing and instead is being shuffled out of town after half a season.
While we haven’t heard any of the financial details of the deal, we know that the Russian international has signed a 3.5 year deal, which feels like a massive commitment to a player with question marks stepping out of Russia for the first time. Too, he was on a €3.3 million salary last season; perhaps that’s why Spartak were so ready to ship him out. Perhaps the change of scenery will do him well and he’ll settle into his mentorship role in Florence without a hitch.
As a mentor, though, it’s hard to imagine a worse option. Kokorin spent a year in prison for two separate assaults, one of which left his victim with permanent brain damage and the other of which involved the striker using racial slurs as he struck a government official. That both incidents featured Kokorin and a group of friends attacking lone strangers without provocation only makes it that much worse. He’s also had numerous other brushes with controversy that have tarnished his reputation, but a racially-motivated assault is about as low as you can go.
He’s in Florence now and training with the team, wearing number 91 and saying all the right things. The racist assault and violent conduct in his personal life, though, seem to fly in the face of owner Rocco Commisso’s previous denunciations of racism in Serie A. If we’re being honest, this signing is about as difficult to get behind as any Fiorentina have made in recent memory. But, as we say after ever transfer signing, Forza Viola. I guess.