It should have been Ciro Immobile’s day. Having returned from ill-advised stints with Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla, the Italian international had returned to Torino, the club where just a season earlier he had plundered 22 goals in 33 appearances. That tally saw him become the first Granata star since Francesco Graziani in 1976/77 to be named Serie A’s top scorer.
On a bright but chilly January afternoon the former Capocannoniere season was welcomed back to the Stadio Olimpico by the vociferous home support, who chanted his name repeatedly in the build up to the meeting with Frosinone. Their faith in the striker was rewarded after just nine minutes, Immobile netting a well-taken penalty beyond visiting goalkeeper Nicola Leali, even after being forced to retake it when a number of players encroached into the area.
Yet while the Italy international had his moment of glory, the game would soon belong to one of his team-mates as Immobile quickly discovered that this was a very different Torino side to the one he left behind. A raft of recognisable names including Matteo Darmian and Alessio Cerci were no longer around, instead Giampiero Ventura had filled the team with young hungry players, eager to prove they could comfortably carry the weighty history of the Granata.
When Bruno Peres picked out the returning hero with a wonderful cross from the right flank, Immobile could have secured the glory with a header, only to find Leali was equal to his effort. The same could not be said of Andrea Belotti, the young forward nipping in to smash home the rebound and running off to the corner flag.
As he had done for some time, he did so while waving his hand above his head in a what has become a trademark, all thanks to a lifelong friendship. Juri Gallo’s surname – which is Italian for “the Rooster” – inspired the celebration and is now also Belotti’s nickname. “When he joined Palermo, he called me in tears at 3am,” Gallo told Il Giornale di Sicilia, “he just wasn’t ready to be that far away from home.”
The two men grew up together near Bergamo, but the 2013 move to Sicily did not go well for the striker. He scored just 16 goals in 62 appearances, stuck on the bench as the likes of Paulo Dybala and Franco Vazquez shot to prominence, leading to the Rosanero selling him to Torino in August 2015 for a fee of €7.5 million.
Clearly talented, he also laboured during his early months in Turin, netting just one league goal before Christmas. The team needed goals and turned to Immobile, hoping he could recapture that sparking previous form, but instead they injected a new lease of life into Belotti who shrugged off competition from Fabio Quaglirella and Maxi Lopez just to get into Ventura’s first choice XI.
He would bag a second goal in that clash with Frosinone, running onto a perfectly timed through ball from Marco Benassi and again leaving Leali with no hope of making a save. Between that fixture and the end of the campaign he had scored eleven goals, and the 22 year old has begun the current campaign in similar fashion.
In just four 2016/17 appearances, Belotti has grabbed another five goals, scoring against AC Milan, on the opening weekend and scoring a hat trick in a 5-1 demolition of Bologna. Injury prevented his international debut in September, but his third start of the season last weekend saw him once again grab the headlines.
“Ventura knows me well and I know what he wants… He’s a unique tactical master.” – Andrea Belotti on the new Italy Coach
Francesco Totti travelled to Turin hoping to mark his 40th birthday in style, but Torino and Belotti had other ideas, blitzing the Giallorossi in the lunchtime fixture. He struck after just eight minutes, scoring a free header after a terrible mistake from Wojciech Szczesny, winning a second half penalty that was converted by Iago Falque before laying on another for the midfielder to seal the 3-1 victory.
6 – Andrea Belotti has won 6 penalties since January 1st 2016, more than any other player in the top-5 European leagues. Productive.
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) 23 August 2016
His form has been nothing short of sensational, averaging a goal every 58 minutes of play, the best return of any player in Europe’s top five leagues. Belotti has hit the target with 67 percent of his shots according to squawka.com, an increase from his 50% mark last term and the best among any striker in Serie A to have taken more than ten shots.
The speed at which he moves around the pitch is tormenting Serie A’s notoriously well-drilled defences, many unable to track his superb runs off the ball. Belotti’s passing is much improved, WhoScored.com showing that he creates a clear scoring opportunity for a team mate once every 36.75 minutes, ranking second in the league in that category among forwards.
Only Mauro Icardi (6) has scored more this term, with the squad depth of many teams meaning that Torino’s star striker has a chance of emulating Immobile and walking off with the Capocannoniere trophy. He may well find his former Coach Ventura handing him a place in the regular Azzurri XI as the World Cup approaches too, particularly given Italy’s lack of genuine goal scoring forwards.
“The Rooster” is now crowing loudly and Italy is beginning to pay attention.