Alessandro Matri’s Milan return was met with uncertainty. Luca Cetta charts the path to his return and wonders where he fits in.
Adriano Galliani promised action post-PSV. A lean summer to that crucial Champions League play-off was filled mostly with talk surrounding Keisuke Honda and Adem Ljajic. The former remained in Russia, the latter chose Roma. Galliani urged fans to sit tight and wait until progression was confirmed. In customary fashion, the Vice-President left big moves until late in the window.
In adding to the squad, Galliani looked to the past. One player stole the headlines. The 2007 Ballon d’Or winner and Rossoneri favourite son Kaka was released from Real Madrid to ensure a smooth passage back to Milanello. Galliani was coy on whether he could land the Brazilian, but then he usually is. And so, Kaka returned amid much fanfare.
Before Kaka was another return, one met not with enthusiasm, but apprehension. Nine seasons after leaving the San Siro, with stops in Prato, Lumezzane, Rimini, Cagliari and Turin, Alessandro Matri wears the black and red again.
News of a potential move was met negatively during the PSV qualifier. A banner reading ‘Matri, no thank you’ was unfurled, amongst others. Fans perceived the signing as unnecessary given their attacking strength in comparison to that of the defence, highlighted during the opening round defeat at Verona.
Yet Massimiliano Allegri claimed the €11m move was required given Giampaolo Pazzini’s knee injury. Galliani and Allegri deduced their last pieces of the summer puzzle lay in attack, not defence. There, Milan’s main signing was Matias Silvestre, arriving on loan from Inter as cover for the injured Daniele Bonera. Regular central defender Cristian Zapata has struggled through the opening fortnight this term.
Adding a dimension to the Matri switch is his understanding of Allegri and his tactical system. They both enjoyed a fruitful time at Cagliari towards the end of the last decade. In his first season Allegri guided the Rossoblu to ninth. In Matri’s second season he notched 13 goals in 38 games. It opened their paths to Milan and Juventus respectively.
In Turin, Matri became an Italian international and won consecutive Scudetti. Antonio Conte admitted he wanted the player to stay, calling the sale a sacrifice. “Matri is the striker who has scored the most goals here over the last two years. Technically speaking, I wasn’t expecting his sale or that of Emanuele Giaccherini. But Milan made an offer. I would never have sacrificed him if we were not in an economical crisis.”
Matri scored 27 Serie A goals in 69 appearances for Juve. The goals were instant following his January 2011 switch. Nine in 16 games was a good return, even if it was felt he arrived overpriced at €18m.
Matri was leading scorer with 10 strikes in 2011-12 as Juve pipped the Rossoneri to the championship, plus a further eight in their title defence, generally as a reserve. He netted a goal every 125 minutes last term, the best of any Juventus player. As a comparison, the player he replaces, Pazzini, scored 12 goals at a rate of every 136 minutes.
Despite his penchant for goals, the welcome home was mixed at best. Galliani evoked memories of Filippo Inzaghi’s 2001 Milan switch last week. Since then, only Nicola Legrottaglie has moved directly from Juve to the Rossoneri. Matri joins illustrious company in making such a move – Fabio Capello, Paolo Rossi and Roberto Baggio amongst the names. He also takes Pippo’s No 9 shirt. That furthers the narrative, but we are talking about two different strikers, even if they share a fox-in-the-box instinct.
Allegri sees his role as a critical one: “Matri played a crucial role for Juventus and he is the player we were looking for. Mario Balotelli, who is extraordinary, needs someone of Matri’s characteristics by his side. They make the perfect partnership.”
It’s a reunion for the pair. Both Matri and Balotelli wore the Rossoblu shirt of Lumezzane in 2005-06. There, Balotelli made his professional debut aged 15. He featured twice, although Matri did not take the field on either occasion, out injured. When Matri returned, Balotelli was off to Barcelona for a trial. It didn’t work out and once back at Lumezzane, Mario resumed in the youth sector.
Gazzetta dello Sport suggested on Sunday Matri and Stephan El Shaarawy will contest for the starting position alongside Super Mario in a 4-3-1-2 formation. This was pre-Kaka. On Monday the pink paper opted for a Balotelli-Kaka frontline, with Riccardo Montolivo behind. That could also be the role the Brazilian takes. Allegri has a week to figure that out.
Allegri was steadfast in his desire to land Matri, whom he believes can aid Milan in the upcoming months of the season. Conte’s words after the sale were also telling. But the fans must now be convinced he is worth the price-tag and the fuss in gunning for his capture compared to a defensive reinforcement.