Graziano Pelle’s move to the Premier League and Southampton brings to an end a remarkable two seasons with Feyenoord.
His return of 55 goals in 66 appearances for the Rotterdam-based club is the best figures that any Italian has produced abroad.
For a player whose best season in Italy yielded ten goals for Cesena in Serie B, it’s a notable and unexpected turnaround.
Pelle first took a chance with the Eredivisie as a 22 year-old. Frustrated at a lack of opportunities with Lecce and the prospect of a fourth loan spell away from the club, he chose to join AZ.
The Apulia native was part of a side that won the 2008-09 Eredivisie title, but he managed just 16 goals in 90 appearances and was released in June 2011.
Parma picked him up soon after, but following a difficult six months back in Serie A, he ended the season on loan with Sampdoria.
Unwanted in Emilia Romagna, Pelle’s future was unclear, but he was presented with a surprising offer to return to Holland.
Ronald Koeman, his Coach at AZ for a brief spell in 2009, was now at Feyenoord and needed a striker. John Guidetti, who had scored 20 goals in 23 appearances the previous season was returning to owners Manchester City.
Koeman's choice of Pelle, a player who had been named one of the biggest Eredivisie flops of the last ten years by Voetbal International, left many baffled, but ultimately proved to be a masterstroke.
Pelle arrived at Feyenoord with a renewed sense of purpose. He trained harder, was more disciplined off the pitch and ultimately rewarded on it. “I always remember what Arrigo Sacchi once said: ‘if you want to perform like a Ferrari at the weekend, you cannot train like a Fiat 500 during the week’. This has become my motto,” noted the striker.
His first season back in Holland yielded 27 goals in 29 matches and earned him a permanent transfer to De Kuip. In his second season, he got 23 goals to help De Stadionclub to a second place finish.
When Koeman left for Southampton in June, it was inevitable that his star striker would soon follow.
“Everything comes natural between him and me,” insisted Pelle. “I respect him as a person and he’s shown his quality. We had good and bad moments together, but when you are honest with each other - you can see that he is an honest person.”
One of those bad moments saw Pelle lose the captaincy for insulting a television interviewer, but it is clear Koeman can bring the best out of him, both as a player and a person.
The challenge now for the goalscorer is to prove that he can regularly find the back of the net in the Premier League. Free scorers such as Mateja Kezman and Afonso Alves have struggled to make the transition from the Eredivisie, but Pelle is aware of the task ahead of him and is embracing the challenge.
“I did well in Holland, but the Premier League is a step up. I have to show what I can do. It’s really important for me to work as hard as possible.
“I’m a typical English striker - tall and strong. Italy a few years ago was one of the strongest competitions, but it’s got down with many problems. If I was not in Italy I wanted to be in England and the Premier League.”
Pelle’s damning assessment of the current state of Italian football is relevant, but also to be expected from a player it struggled to find a home for. His belief that Sebastian Giovinco “would currently be playing for Barcelona or Arsenal” if he had been developed by Ajax highlights his frustration at a system that seems to under appreciate young talent.
Pelle may feel he is a victim of this, but his bold decision to move to Holland was eventually rewarded and he now has the chance to showcase his talents on the most watched stage in football. Should he succeed, then an Italy call up may not beyond this ‘English striker’.
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