Fiorentina have opened their January transfer market with the most predictable possible move: Riccardo Saponara has left to join Spezia on loan with an option to buy. It’s a winter event as predictable as the swallows flying south. He’s already chosen number 23 and is in the squad to face Napoli tomorrow. Nobody in the know has mentioned the finances, but the scuttlebutt is that it’s a 6-month deal with an option to make it permanent for €2.5 million at season’s end.
It’s as good a place as any for the Cheese. Manager Vincenzo Italiano could probably use a bit more creativity in his 4-3-3 and Saponara could be just the man to help set up the impressive M’bala Nzola (7 goals already). He’ll likely push for a spot in central midfield, although there’s a chance that he winds up competing with Juan Agudelo (Fiorentina beffata!) for minutes on the right wing as well.
I’ve written elegies for Saponara before; take a look at the language in the stories about his loans to Sampdoria, Genoa, and Lecce if you don’t believe me. I love Ricky and think he’s a wonderful player who’s been rather left behind by the modern game’s privileging robotic fitness over louche style. He’s a trequartista, a luxury player, in an era that doesn’t use them (Javier Pastore and Christian Eriksen send their regards).
More than that, he seems like a lovely man. He’s hilarious on social media and wrote perhaps the most piercing farewell to Davide Astori of anyone on the team. He’s the kind of player you want to succeed. But he’s also 29 and not the kind of player Fiorentina wants to build around for the long term at this point. He’s played all of 146 minutes this year and they’ve all felt like throwbacks. His deal expires next year. After Valentin Eysseric, he was always the most obvious candidate for a departure this winter, although he leaves some great memories.
- C’mon, did you really think I wouldn’t find an excuse to squeeze this in somehow? Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
- The Cheese Shark, recently introduced into Liguria. Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images
- Remember when he set up Cholito’s goal to beat Roma? Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images
The real frustration will hit if he gets hurt and Spezia become the fourth straight team to decline his purchase option, leaving him on the Viola books for another year. With 28 players and no European competition, this roster is far too large. That’s not Saponara’s fault in the slightest, but rather falls on Daniele Pradè, who’s been unable to find him a permanent home, leaving him bouncing between relegation scrappers for the past couple years.
As always, we wish the Cheese nothing but good luck. Hopefully he can shoulder his way into the Aquilotti XI and show enough to trigger a purchase; he deserves a team that wants him, and being confined to Spezia isn’t the worst possible outcome. We’ve said it before but hopefully this will be the last time: thanks for everything, Ricky, and best of luck on your new adventure.