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OFFICIAL: Lirola joins Marseille, Zeki Çelik rumored as replacement

The soap opera ends. With it Fiorentina need a right-back, and the Lille man is in pole position

Lille OSC v Olympique de Marseille - Ligue 1 Uber Eats
The only Lirola-Çelik picture I could find
Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

One of European football’s longest sagas this summer finally came to an end yesterday, as Pol Lirola’s long-awaited transfer to Marseille went through.

Lirola joins Marseille for a reported €13 million, of which half is an initial fee while the rest is tied up in easy-to-reach bonuses. I’ll commend Daniele Pradè and Joe Barone for actually getting that amount out of L’OM, who clearly expected to pick up Lirola for cheaper than the €12 million buy option they declined last May. Calling their bluff and getting more money is a good thing, even if it meant dealing with a flood of Marseille fans bleating “Free Lirola” on twitter.

It’s a good deal and fair price for Fiorentina, and the same goes for Marseille, who were in desperate need of a right-back. Lirola was excellent there on his loan spell last spring, and he’ll fit back in and contribute right away.

I won’t linger too much on this, because we’ve all wasted a lot of words on him already. I soured on him following his Instagram post in June, but at least he left a nice goodbye message unlike a certain Federico Chiesa.

It’s a shame because he could have been a great fit under Vincenzo Italiano, who reportedly wanted him to stay and be the starting right-back. But if he didn’t want to in Florence, then I don’t want him here. Lirola ends his Fiorentina career as a flop, and never showed the potential that had Daniele Pradè sign him for €13 million in the summer of 2019. His final Fiorentina stat line: 52 matches, 1 goal, 3 assists. There’s a great player in there, however, and Marseille is the perfect place for him to show off his talent.

What’s far more interesting than Lirola is who will replace him. It seemed to be Davide Zappacosta, but Atalanta hijacked the deal by offering €10 million on a permanent basis (no thanks), so the Viola were left in the dust. Gianluca di Marzio, who broke both the Nico Gonzalez and Matija Nastasic deals, is saying that Lille’s Zeki Çelik is the #1 option to replace him.

Di Marzio says Fiorentina has offered €8 million on a loan with an obligation to buy if certain conditions are met, which Lille wants €12 million. If Çelik is really available for that price, then the Viola should have paid it yesterday. Lille is in extreme financial difficulties, but it’s hard for me to believe that such a good player is available at that price. A 24-year-old Turkish international, Çelik was bought by Lille from Instanbulspor for €2 million back in the summer of 2018. Since then, he’s become one of Europe’s best right-backs, anchoring a Lille defense that won the Ligue 1 title last campaign. There are richer clubs, such as Arsenal or Everton, who should be interested in him, but right now the Viola seems to be the only club in pursuit.

Çelik’s played in a pressing system under Christopher Galtier, where he was often asked to press all the way up to the wingbacks of the opponent, which is a job of the midfielders under Italiano. He was in the 91st percentile of fullbacks for pressures, something Italiano would love. Similar to Lirola his strengths lie offensively, where he’s in the 90th percentile of non-penalty goals, and 80th percentile for progressive passes. He is an aggressive and excellent tackler, with many of them coming high up the pitch. While he commits a lot of fouls, his aggression would play right into Italiano’s hands. This is a Champions-league level fullback, and Fiorentina should be doing a full-court press to secure his services. Should he and Domenico Berardi join in the final days of the window, this Fiorentina team can finish in the top seven. It’s time to start refreshing constantly, because these last few days of the mercato are going to be action-packed.