One goal in 18 appearances. Expectations surrounding Alessandro Matri’s return to Milan may never have been high to begin with, but the magnitude of the forward’s struggles upfront this season have bordered on the ridiculous.
Watching the club part with €11m they could ill afford to spend to reunite with their youth product last summer, the Rossoneri faithful have spent all term gnashing their teeth in frustration as Matri played like the pressure was constantly bearing down on his back. With his main benefactor Massimiliano Allegri axed from the dugout, the misfit has exited on loan to Fiorentina for the rest of the season, with San Siro’s jeers still ringing in his ears.
Enter Viola boss Vincenzo Montella, the man with a need. Any Coach who loses both Mario Gomez and Serie A Capocannoniere Giuseppe Rossi, who hobbled off in his first match of 2014 after taking new ligament damage in his right knee, to crippling injury setbacks in a single campaign is bound to suffer.
Forced to reshuffle his pack last Sunday away to Torino, Montella started midfielder Josip Ilicic as a striker. Fiorentina duly drew 0-0. “We tried to win the game, but we didn’t manage it,” L'Aeroplanino sighed after. “It is evident we have been unlucky with Rossi’s injury, as there aren’t many great strikers on the market. Who is the perfect forward for our style of football? The one who guarantees goals.”
Could Matri be this ‘perfect’ interim for the flashy Franchi outfit then? Sporting director Daniele Prade, whose work in Florence has been characterised by sniffing out opportunity where others see none, appears to have made his choice.
After being trapped in a state of inertia feeding off scraps beside Mario Balotelli, a breath of fresh air would do the struggling Matri a world of good. Seeing perennial enigmas Robinho and Antonio Nocerino in support sheds some light on the 29-year-old’s paltry goal tally in Milan. The same complications should not arise again with creative forces Borja Valero and Juan Cuadrado behind him instead.
Never quite the A-list scoring presence fans craved since leaving Cagliari to join Juventus in 2011, Matri will likely still fall short of matching Rossi’s goalscoring greed, but he can regain some dignity in front of the Fiorentina support with his hard-working displays for the team. In spite of his failings at the top level, he remains a committed and reliable entity that has consistently won the backing of his Coaches.
Good value on the loan, the Italian international adds crucial depth and experience to Montella’s beleaguered strikeforce as they chase Champions League qualification for next term and strive for Europa League success. With his all-round game still intact, could Matri’s shrewd movement and clever interplay even see him good for a couple of Viola goals en route? Quite frankly, yes.
With no room for him now in the Clarence Seedorf-led era at his parent club, Matri may as well start getting comfortable in his new surroundings. If Montella can just invoke the same Midas touch as he did when first rehabilitating Rossi back to his full health, it might yet turn out to be a profitable stay.