Lazio’s new signing Marco Parolo must display his undoubted qualities at his new club to silence his critics, argues Alasdair Mackenzie.
On Tuesday, Marco Parolo completed his much-anticipated move to Lazio for a fee of around €5m. The central midfielder was an integral part of Parma’s impressive campaign that saw them finish in the top six for the first time in 10 years, scoring eight goals and making seven assists in his most prolific season ever. This was capped off by two appearances for the Azzurri at the World Cup, a remarkable rise for a man who was plying his trade at lowly Cesena only two years ago.
Parolo is the sort who would be a great addition to any of the top Italian sides - he has good feet, a great passing range and ability to create chances, as well as a good goalscoring record and a knack for timing his runs into the box expertly. However, much uncertainty still surrounds the role he will fulfil in Stefano Pioli’s side for next season.
After a hugely disappointing campaign in which the Biancocelesti finished ninth in Serie A, failed to defend the Coppa Italia and were knocked out of Europe by minnows Ludogorets Razgrad, much of the blame was directed at an ageing, disorganised defence. It seemed obvious that the summer transfer activity must be focused on strengthening this area.
However, following the mess of Edy Reja leaving the club and eventually being replaced by Pioli, Claudio Lotito has instead set his mind on the midfield. Antonio Candreva was bought outright from Udinese and Dusan Basta came with him before the arrival of Parolo from Parma. Despite the struggle to find consistency last year, Lazio’s midfield is undoubtedly the strongest area of the squad and already features quality in Senad Lulic, Lucas Biglia, Cristian Ledesma, Eddy Onazi, Stefano Mauri and Candreva.
It presents Parolo with the challenge of proving himself worthy of a starting place. The arrival of Pioli as Coach could work to the midfielder’s advantage, as the former Bologna boss is a fan of the 3-5-2 that Parolo excelled in under Roberto Donadoni last season and the 29-year-old is comfortable performing any role inside a central midfield three.
Another boost for the Italian international is that he is an attack-minded central midfielder, the kind of player Lazio have been missing since the departure of Hernanes in January. He has said that Steven Gerrard was his hero growing up and this can be seen in many elements of his game, from the blockbuster 30-yard efforts, to sweeping cross-field passes, to the late breaks into the box in search of a goal.
Arguments against the player’s arrival can be found though, and the first is his age. Signed on a five-year contract, many doubt whether Parolo has the quality to still be performing at this level well into his 30s, and Lotito has been criticised for his naivety in offering such a lengthy deal along with a reasonably hefty transfer fee.
Also, Parolo was unable to impress in his brief appearances during the World Cup and many see this as evidence of an inability to perform at the top level, as he struggled to make any sort of impact despite playing 55 minutes of football in his two games.
However, the midfielder was not the only player who failed to impress during the Azzurri’s ill-fated efforts in Group D and, having only previously made four appearances for the national side, familiarity may well have been the biggest problem.
Parolo’s capture goes against type for Lotito - in the Lombardy native, the President has picked up someone already proven in Serie A. In recent years the likes of Lulic, Felipe Anderson, Biglia, Ederson and Alvaro Gonzalez have arrived from abroad to mixed results and in most cases have needed at least a season to settle.
He should slot right in to the side and will be comfortable in the formation and style of play that Pioli is likely to introduce. Only after a season playing for an Aquile side with a point to prove can we really judge whether or not Marco Parolo is a top-level midfielder. One thing is for sure – he will be doing everything possible to ensure his story with the Azzurri does not end here.