Friday September 22 2017
The Torino Project

Far from just a selling club, Torino have become a sporting and business model to follow, writes Greg Murray.

With the Derby Della Mole approaching, all eyes are on joint league leaders, and perennial winners, Juventus. However, across the other side of town, away from the headlines, the Old Lady’s weekend rivals Torino have been steadily building a team capable of bettering the draw they achieved in last year’s fixture. You can bet on their chances of upsetting the Bianconeri using the Paddy Power promotion code.

Well before the club filed for bankruptcy in 2005, fans of Il Toro had grudgingly accepted their team’s decline. It had been 60 years since the golden days of “Il Grande Torino”, and 30 since their most recent Scudetto. When current patron Urbano Cairo bought, then funded the side in time for Centenary celebrations, it was widely acknowledged that Torino would be a ‘selling club’.

Over the last decade very little has changed in this regard, with the sales of Davide Zappacosta and Marco Benassi for €25m and €10m respectively. This very much followed the precedent for selling star players with club captain Kamil Glik, Nikola Maksimovic, Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci all moving on to bigger clubs over the last three years.

Bizarrely Torino have served as a right-back talent factory, having developed the careers of Roma’s Bruno Peres, Manchester United’s Matteo Darmian, Inter’s Danilo D’Ambrosio, Milan’s Ignazio Abate, as well as the aforementioned Zappacosta. The €50m profit made from these full-back sales helped to protect the club’s financial status, without the revenue of the likes of Juventus or Milan.

This is by no means an uncommon business model in Serie A, with squads such as Sampdoria, Udinese and Genoa all accustomed to yearly departures of their top performers. However, a look at Torino’s results since their return to Serie A in 2012 shows a club vastly outperforming its means. In fact, over the last four years, Toro have twice finished higher than Milan, surpassing the 50-point mark every year bar one.

On further inspection, it’s clear that unlike many other clubs, Torino’s recent sales have been part of a coherent strategy rather than an impulse reaction to a big wad of cash. Over half the money made from the Zappacosta and Benassi sales was reinvested in the summer, with the club bringing in a total of 10 new players.

The most significant, the acquisition of M’Baye Niang on a season long loan with an obligation to buy for around €12m, would have been headline news were it not for Milan’s hyperactivity in the transfer market. Until recently, the Frenchman was seen as the future of his parent club’s attack, and considered virtually unsellable. At only 22 years old, he still has a good chance of realising his potential.

Likewise, the arrival of Salvatore Sirigu, once touted as ‘the next Gigi Buffon’, on a free transfer is a shrewd move for the Granata. With the Joe Hart Experiment an unequivocal failure, the former PSG ‘keeper is both a cheaper and more reliable option.

In addition to these two marquee signings, Toro have been impressive in their focus on bringing in youth players. Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, brother of the Lazio midfielder, has been proclaimed by his agent to be ‘Torino’s Donnarumma’, and will undoubtedly see his value skyrocket in coming years. This summer, highly rated Serbian defender Lyanco, just 20 years old, arrived from Sao Paolo for €7m, whilst Alex Berenguer made the move to Turin despite interest from Napoli. Clearly, the foundations have been set for the future.

Alongside these new acquisitions, loan moves for Tomas Rincon, Cristian Ansaldi and Nicolas N’Koulou have filled the gaps left by recent departures, whilst offsetting the younger arrivals’ inexperience.

As uncharacteristically strong as this summer’s transfer window has been for the Granata, it represents the next stage of development, rather than a completely new plan. Over the past three years, the purchases of former Roma wingers Adem Ljajic and Iago Falque as well as Joel Obi are evidence of a coherent transfer strategy.

By buying “ex-wonder-kids” from top teams that failed to live up to expectations, Toro have been able to get their hands on high quality players for reasonable prices. In a less pressurised environment and with a motivational Coach in Sinisa Mihajlovic, these players have the perfect conditions to discover their potential. Niang and even Sirigu fit this mould to a tee.

Despite all of these strong purchases, the most decisive indicator of Torino’s ambitions this summer was their steadfastness in the face of bids for their €100m rated striker, Andrea Belotti. By keeping hold of their star man, Mihajlovic has at his disposal a front-line worthy of a top five finish, with an average age of just 24.

The Granata’s offensive power has been apparent with the season barely underway, their 10-goal haul only beaten by Napoli, Juventus and Inter. In midfield, the combination of grit and creativity from Rincon and either Obi or Daniele Baselli provides the ideal platform for the front four to express themselves.

Unfortunately for Mihajlovic, he is unable to call upon the same calibre of player in defence. Zappacosta’s deadline day sale left the club without enough time to find a suitable replacement.  Although competent, Lorenzo De Silvestri is far from the same standard, whilst Ansaldi looks much more comfortable on the left of defence.

To make matters worse, the centre-back partnership of veteran Emiliano Moretti and new boy Nicolas N’Koulou has yet to settle. Even when it does, it is highly unlikely that they will even approach the level of the Maksimovic/Glik partnership that helped Torino finish seventh in the 2013-14 season. Perhaps the factory line of quality defenders is finally coming to a halt.

This weakened defence has had predictable consequences, in their last fixture Torino conceded two goals against an Udinese side sitting 16th in the table, just as they had three days before against Sampdoria. Whilst Mihajlovic men are free-scoring this is not an issue, and has yet to impact Il Toro’s unbeaten start. However, against a stronger defence, like the one they will be facing on Saturday, they may not be able to rely on outscoring their opposition.

In an interview this week, Giorgio Chiellini claimed that his weekend’s opponents were the strongest Torino team he had ever faced, and he might well be right.

However, what it most impressive about the Granata this season isn’t their current talents, but their potential. Boasting a young, talented, hungry squad with a point to prove, a like-minded manager, and an owner willing to back them, Il Toro could go far. 

Have your say...
Selling players to survive is not a futuristic project. Rather its a business model called struggling to survive.

I really think the writer of this article lacks any indepth knowledge of the history of the game.

The problem with Italian football is based on what I call "the Italian mentality to business" It is "do business at the expense of others". If Italian clubs got together to put forward a brand that can be marketed globally, they would supersede other countries in quality.
on the 27th September, 2017 at 4:16am
What project? Cairo has sold all his top players over the last 5 years aside from Belotti (who he flukes out with).

Bruno Peres
on the 22nd September, 2017 at 10:23pm
Since 13 the likes of ogbonna ambrosio darmian gilk peres zappacosta maksimovic have been sold they have sacrificed their defence to have quality attacking options. I agree they have turned a corner but for me it started last season than have just capitalised on that progress.
on the 22nd September, 2017 at 7:48pm
Torino have sold well in the last couple seasons and have a squad which should at a minimum finish in the top half with potential to get as high as top 7.

Convincing Belotti to stay is impressive. Defense is Torino's concern. Barreca is a promising player and N'Koulou has great unfulfilled talent, Moretti and De Silvestri are decent options too but not a great defence.

When Belotti does leave, the windfall and its re-investment will shape Torino's future, but management has done well so far.
on the 22nd September, 2017 at 6:46pm

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