The stage was set for an all-Italian Europa League Final in May 2015, Napoli facing Dnipro in the semi, and an admittedly tougher tie awaited Fiorentina as they were paired with Sevilla. But it was never meant to be, as somewhat against the football betting odds in Italy, neither of the two progressed, with the competition’s perennial experts finally triumphing against the Ukrainians. But through the disappointment, the Viola had spotted a player that season who would eventually make a move to Tuscany the following summer.
That man was Nikola Kalinic, a €5.5m capture who was familiar to English fans after a failed spell at Blackburn Rovers. A fairly underwhelming career for the Croatian striker explained the reasonable fee, but now he has finally found form in Italy at the age of 29. He explained in a recent interview that his emergence is largely thanks to unpopular Viola boss Paulo Sousa, but with the Portuguese Coach moving on in the summer, it now seems likely that he will too.
Fiorentina Vice-President Giancarlo Antognoni dropped the biggest hint yet on Monday, admitting that “sacrifices must be made” this summer, the club seemingly ready to cash in on the player’s newly-installed €50m release clause. The forward rebuffed a huge offer from Chinese side Tianjin Quanjian this summer, and now Milan seem ready to make a bid, seemingly undeterred by the set fee in his agreement with the Viola.
With this in mind, it is perhaps difficult to see what all the fuss is about. After bursting on to the Serie A scene in 2015-16, Kalinic helped his new side to the top of the league table for the first time since 1999 in the early part of the campaign. It seemed like Fiorentina had sourced a genuine bargain from Ukraine, as their summer signing had fired in 10 goals by January 6.
However, there was to be a real turn-around as Kalinic finished the season with just two more strikes to add to his tally, and playing with his head down, he seemed to be suffering from a lack of confidence. Reports that Napoli were interested in a move for the striker that summer were welcomed by sections of the Fiorentina support, as they were keen to offload a player that was at risk of having been a flash in the pan.
But this ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ character returned from a successful summer with Croatia in the Euros looking much more like the man that Viola fans had seen in the early days. 15 goals later, and Kalinic is finishing this campaign with a much more consistent set of performances.
This is why clubs have continued to be so interested in bringing him in, and why Fiorentina really can’t lose from this superb piece of business. If he stays, it will likely mean another similar goal tally next term, but if he leaves, there will be room for back-up striker Khouma Babacar to shine, in addition to a tidy profit.