Late last week, English and Italian media reported that Arsenal were interested in signing striker Andrea Belotti. It was a story that made sense; the Premier League club linked with a player who had been in irrepressible form in the first half of the 2016-17 campaign, netting 13 goals in 16 domestic appearances. With three assists to his name – plus three more goals in his first five outings for the Italian national team – it seemed only logical that the deadly 23-year-old had found himself on Arsene Wenger’s radar.
When asked on Sunday if his club had been sent a €65 million (Dh250m) bid from Arsenal, Torino Sporting Director Gianluca Petrachi answered in a typically forthright manner. “Yes, we received the offer, but it does not reflect the value of the player,” he told Sky Italia. “But anyway, he’s going nowhere for now. We want to enjoy him, then we’ll see what happens in the summer.”
Unfortunately for Wenger – or indeed any manager interested in acquiring Belotti – the Granata are under no obligation to do business. The prolific forward signed a new contract in early December, tying himself to the club until 2021 and setting his release clause at a staggering €100m (Dh388m) for any club outside of Italy.
Events this past summer were the reason for the latter stipulation, Juventus signing both AS Roma’s Miralem Pjanic and Gonzalo Higuain of Napoli without entering negotiations with either club. They simply paid the release clause stipulated in each player’s contract, strengthening Coach Max Allegri’s hand at the expense of their two closest rivals, something their neighbours were clearly keen to avoid.
Yet if the anti-Juve clause in Belotti’s deal was understandable, the fee set by Torino has raised more eyebrows than a Carlo Ancelotti press conference. He has scored goals at a spectacular rate this season but is he really worthy of a sum that would currently be the third highest ever paid for player after Paul Pogba and Gareth Bale?
Belotti is obviously not on their level, but he has spent the last twelve months laying waste to Serie A defences, a sustained period of excellence that shows he has lifted his overall play to a level far beyond the early years of his career. Indeed, before last season, Belotti’s 71 appearances in Italy’s top two divisions had seen him bag just 18 goals and he began 2015-16 in much the same vein, scoring just once in his first fifteen outings for Torino.
A January clash with Frosinone would change everything. Billed as Ciro Immobile’s emotional homecoming, the match would instead be remembered as Belotti’s coming out party as the striker scored twice and lay on another in a comfortable 4-2 victory. He would never look back, adding nine more goals before the end of the campaign, his form so good that Torino opted not to take up their option on Immobile, the man who had led Serie A’s scoring charts just two seasons earlier.
Each Belotti goal has been marked by him putting his hand to his head in what has become a trademark celebration thanks to a lifelong friendship with Juri Gallo. After meeting as children, his surname – which is Italian for “the Rooster” – inspired the act and eventually became the striker’s nickname.
His friend helped Belotti deal with severe homesickness during his time at previous club Palermo. “When he joined them, he called me in tears at 3am,” Gallo told Il Giornale di Sicilia last year. “He just wasn’t ready to be that far away from home.” Stuck on the bench as Paulo Dybala and Franco Vazquez shot to prominence with the Rosanero, he subsequently signed for Torino in August 2015 at a cost of just €7.5m (Dh29m).
As well as Immobile, the striker has shrugged off competition from Fabio Quaglirella and Maxi Lopez just to get into the starting line-up, but under new boss Sinisa Mihajlovic it is unthinkable that the Granata would take to the field without him. Belotti has failed to start just three of their league games thus far, the side held to 0-0 draws in two of those and losing the other 2-1, results which only serve to highlight his importance to the team.
This version of Torino play for and through their frontman, wingers Adem Ljajic and Iago Falque supplying crosses while the rest of the team works hard to support them. “He never saves his energy and he’ll play full-back if I ask him to, but if he finds himself in front of goal, he’s ruthless,” Mihajlovic told the Corriere della Sera, a flattering, but deserved, assessment of a willing team player in devastating form.
Belotti plays like few Italian strikers ever have, his bruising physicality often seeing him compared to Christian Vieri. He uses his height well to win the ball or finish those aforementioned crosses, while also being strong enough to hold off a defender and allow midfielders like Daniele Baselli and Marco Benassi to get forward in support.
One of his most impressive traits is the speed at which he moves around the pitch, his off-the-ball running tormenting even Serie A’s notoriously well-drilled back lines. Time and again he finds space in a league where it is a rare commodity, throwing would-be markers off the scent with an intelligent dart into an area they either don’t expect or can’t anticipate.
As his coach suggested, 2016-17 has seen Belotti finish chances in ruthless fashion, hitting the target with 60% of his attempts on goal. “The joy is the same whether it’s a bicycle kick or comes off your backside,” he told La Gazetta dello Sport, with his goals showing no real preference for how he gets the ball into the net. This term he has bagged five times with his right foot, adding four more with his left and the same number of headers, the kind of complete striker that any team would love to have.
That comes at a price, however, and while Torino may sell for less than the €100m stipulation, it still remains to be seen whether Arsenal are willing to pay enough to see “The Rooster” crow.