As Fiorentina inch closer to signing Spezia manager Vincenzo Italiano, Viola sporting director Daniele Pradè must be getting ready to reinforce the squad to help the German-born coach take the Tuscan outfit back to the status of perennial European challengers. While deals for Nicolás González and Riccardo Sottil await nothing but the official announcements, there are plenty of other holes up and down the roster that Pradè and company need to address.
One easy solution could be raiding Spezia for players already familiar with Italiano’s methods. Having finished their first-ever Serie A season in an impressive 15th place, the Aquilotti have a surprising collection of talent that could fit into most teams in the league. I’ve picked 5 guys who could be both available for the right price (especially with Spezia casting covetous eyes at Riccardo Saponara and Luca Ranieri) and who could add something to the first team next year. I’ll add that DM Matteo Ricci is available on a Bosman and could be a fine depth signing as well, but since he’s not technically on the team, I’m not including him here.
CB Martin Erlić
The 23-year-old Croatian is a big, rugged centerback who could back up or maybe even replace Germán Pezzella. In 27 Serie A appearances (19 starts), he managed an impressive 3 goals to go with an assist and 6 yellow cards. Digging deeper into the stats gives you a good idea of what he’s all about: his tackling and interception numbers are relatively low, but he was in Spezia’s top 5 for clearances, blocks, ball recoveries, and aerial duels.
All of this paints the picture of a defender who’s happiest dropping deep, keeping things in front of him, and making late interventions; that’s the profile that best complements Igor and Lucas Martínez Quarta. Erlić, however, also has surprisingly good passing numbers, showing an ability to hit long balls forward to jump start attacks. Under contract until 2024, he probably wouldn’t cost more than €5 million or so.
CM Giulio Maggiore
The 23 year old Genoa native has spent his entire career with Spezia and frequently captained the side in his first top flight campaign, which indicates a certain level of maturity. That attachment to the club might make him tough to pry away, although a contract running out in 2023 means his value is likely as high as it’ll get; I’d guess that something like €10 million would be enough.
As a player, he’s primarily a defensive-minded runner, as evidenced by his 20.1 pressures and 2.93 attempted tackles. He’s a bit limited technically and won’t burst forward from deep or play the killer pass, but he’s tidy enough on the ball and scored a very respectable 5 goals from open play, often with neatly-timed late runs into the box. That sort of hard work and verticality could make him a decent backup to and eventual replacement for Giacomo Bonaventura.
LW Emmanuel Gyasi
At 27, the Palermo-born Ghanaian international is more established than anyone else on this list, and offers one very specific attribute: speed. He’s as quick as anyone in Serie A and was mostly used as an outlet to start quick counterattacks last, staying high and wide to keep opposing defenses honest. It worked out pretty well, too, as he scored 4 goals and added 6 assists. That kind of production combined with his pace means that he’s got attributes that currently don’t exist on the Viola roster.
Unlike the stereotypical speed demon winger, though, he’s a pretty smart player. He doesn’t take on terrible shots and he doesn’t constantly try to beat everyone he sees on the dribble; rather, he looks to bring teammates into play, especially on the counter, as evidenced by the fact that he played more passes that led to a shot than anyone for Fiorentina last year outside Franck Ribery. His pace and creativity mean that he may be Spezia’s most important attacker, so €6-8 million feels realistic for him; like Maggiore, his contract runs out in 2023, so the Ligurians will need to cash in on him now if they plan to move on from him.
CF M’bala Nzola
One of calcio’s breakout stars this year, the 24-year-old Angola international scored 11 goals (7 from open play) and chipped in 3 assists in his Serie A debut. He’s a slightly weird player, as he’s big and strong but doesn’t win much in the air—he didn’t score a single header this year—and isn’t great with his back to goal, but he’s deceptively good with the ball at his feet and generally makes the right decision in the final third.
He looks the part of a perfect Dušan Vlahović backup or even partner in a front two, although he lacks the Serbian’s brute force. He seems like the sort of late bloomer who could attract a fee of €15-20 million, but other clubs might be a bit leery that this was an outlier year: Nzola’s only broken double digits one other time in his career, and that was in Serie C. If Fiorentina can get him for €12 million or so, he could be a really good pickup.