Life at Espanyol has been complex for Samuele Longo since completing a loan move from Inter late last August. The position of back-up striker to favored frontman Diego Milito was available after Giampaolo Pazzini crossed the city divide to join Milan, but in the end the decision was taken to loan out the promising youngster. “It was agreed quietly and calmly, but it happened very quickly,” explained the 20-year-old.
The Italian striker hit the ground running at the Estadio Cornella-El Prat with a strike in the opening minutes of his debut against Levante that nestled into the top corner less than a week after his presentation. After waiting two weeks to make his next impression, the Treviso native did not disappoint as he notched his second goal against Atletico Bilbao, but managed to receive a second yellow card just over a minute later.
Longo’s flying start to life in La Liga left Coach Mauricio Pochettino in little doubt, and the Spanish media leaked that he had formally requested to keep him past the June 2013 return date. The Nerazzurri hastily rebuffed the request, insisting they had every intention to take him back. Meanwhile, it was already being reported that Cesare Prandelli was considering including him in his next Italy squad.
Espanyol excelled in early September, but much like Longo’s form, they took a nosedive over the last two months and devastating results have left them rock bottom of La Liga with nine points. Last Saturday’s defeat to Valencia was the first time the striker scored since his second appearance at Bilbao. Both Hector Moreno and Sergio Garcia seeing straight reds for protesting a late penalty that cost the visitors the points summed up the recent squad moral issues.
Longo’s loan to the Catalan club did not come as a surprise to the majority of sectors of the Nerazzurri faithful, as it was judged that he was simply following in the footsteps of teammate Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian playmaker excelled during his time in La Liga, and has since cemented himself a place in Coach Andrea Stramaccioni’s mind since returning this season.
Milito is not getting any younger despite his impressive performances to date this season, and with Rodrigo Palacio and Antonio Cassano employed behind him, perhaps there was a place for Longo at Inter after all. The fact that younger strikers such as Marko Livaja and Luca Garritano have been kept in the squad ahead of him has also been questioned, as the former has featured predominantly in the Europa League.
The guarantee of consistent playing time and experience in a different country at Espanyol are still exciting prospects for Longo, but the possibilities that Stramaccioni could have given him a chance this season even in just the Coppa Italia and Europa League is arguably a better choice. A dragged out relegation battle in La Liga or European football alongside daily interaction with the players that he will ultimately end up playing with has to be weighted up, and it is hard to see past the latter at times.
Former Milan and Italy boss Arrigo Sacchi backing him for big things in June was a mark of how far the 20-year-old has come since he was a back-up to Mattia Destro in the Primavera only several years prior. “If he was playing in any other country he would be starting week in and week out in the first team,” explained the legendary tactician. Perhaps Longo left the peninsula when it was just about to hand him that chance.