Forget the Capocannoniere race, that uncouth, unsophisticated scrum that it is. This season there is a much more refined, gentlemanly contest demanding of your attention.
The assists column is where Serie A’s intellectuals and artists congregate. There you’ll find Andrea Pirlo sipping a brandy, Marek Hamsik thumbing through the Financial Times, Francesco Totti and Antonio Cassano fencing one another.
This season, however, there is an Iberian invader disrupting the peace of the assist provider’s society. A follically challenged, West Bromwich Albion reject who has, within the space of a few months, become the Italian top flight’s number one creative influence.
Andrea Cossu and Pirlo topped the assist charts with 13 apiece during seasons 2010-11 and 2011-12 respectively. This term, with over half of the campaign still to play, Fiorentina’s Borja Valero already has eight, two more than the nearest contender Hamsik.
With Florence’s finest sat fourth in Serie A, just two points behind second placed Inter, every part of the Viola’s summer strategy looks masterful, from the hiring of Vincenzo Montella, to replacing sporting director Pantaleo Corvino with Daniele Prade, to the myriad sales and purchases the latter oversaw.
But there was arguably no wiser move made than the recruitment of Valero, taken from fallen power Villarreal for just €7m. The Real Madrid youth product had rebuilt his career at El Madrigal, after three unhappy years with West Brom, two of which were spent out on loan.
At the Stadio Artemio Franchi, Valero has settled into a role on the left of central midfield in Montella’s 3-5-2, able to dictate play from deep or roam forward into the box, as he did to great effect against Milan at San Siro last month, flummoxing Philippe Mexes before passing a shot into the bottom corner.
He was at it again last night in Udine, jinking in off the left wing before thrashing a finish into the top corner and ensuring Fiorentina’s passage to the Coppa Italia quarter-finals. Alright, it took a deflection, but we’ll conveniently ignore that here if you don’t mind.
Another impressive facet of the 27-year-old’s game is his set piece delivery. Valero favours the wicked, out-swinging corner, and it’s with that method that he set up goals for Gonzalo Rodriguez and Stevan Jovetic in the 4-1 rout of Cagliari.
The Gigliati are by no means a one man team, with Jovetic, David Pizarro, Facundo Roncaglia and various others all impressing, but Valero certainly performs an important function, and will be crucial to their efforts in trying to secure Champions League qualification next year.
In the meantime he can don his monocle and settle into a nice chair by the fire in the assist provider’s society. He’s earned it.
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