Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Bourne's Player Review : Central Midfielders

In order to celebrate what has been an excellent season, I invited Torino fan Peter Bourne to discuss each member of the member, with a focus on which players should be retained for next season.

Migjen Basha (ALB, 27), 24 appearances, vote 6
One of Ventura’s loyal foot soldiers. In all honesty, I was surprised when Basha was retained for the club’s first Serie A campaign, the fact that he has managed two top flight seasons is credit to his professionalism and adaptability.  Not the most deft player but tactically useful to the Ventura cause given his versatility across midfield and on occasions at right back.  The classic tigerish water carrier. Collected one of Toro’s two red cards, for a second yellow card at the end of the 2-0 defeat at Napoli.
Verdict: His contract expires in 2015 and will be interesting to see if the club offer an extension. On a technical level, a player who the team has outgrown. In terms of dressing room importance and tactical robustness, perhaps still an important character to have around. The confirmation of Europa League football may have secured his place in the squad.

Nicolo Bellomo (ITA, 23), 7 appearances (1 goal), vote 6
One of the most exciting summer signings having excelled in Serie B with Bari. Was expected to bring some creativity as a deep lying playmaker. The Giuseppe Vives-lookalike struggled to adapt to Ventura’s tactics and the top flight. The highlight of a few timid performances in the autumn was the last minute free-kick he curled into Inter’s net to secure a 3-3 draw. Seems Bellomo lacked the tactical maturity for Ventura to give him the keys to the midfield. He only featured 7 times in 21 games before a decent loan spell back in Serie B with Spezia.
Verdict: Clearly a player the club should not risk losing given his vast potential, although his contract is still half owned by Chievo. In an ideal world, Ventura will take a closer look at him in pre-season and assess whether he has matured sufficiently for a second chance.

Matteo Brighi (ITA, 33), 16 appearances (2 goals), vote 6,5
A useful addition to the team on their return to Serie A, given his wealth of top flight experience. Brighi’s spell at the club was a mix of solid performances, muscle breakdowns and an apparently uneasy relationship with the coach. Missed just four games (two due to injury) before he was sold to Sassuolo in January (as part of the Kurtic deal), partly owing to wanting more first team football. Reality may have been he felt his place in the team was under threat. Sassuolo bought Brighi more joy in a Torino shirt given his two goals this season were both scored against the Neroverde (including the Granata’s first of the campaign). His time in Emilia Romagna has so far been disappointing.

Alexander Farnerud (SWE, 30), 23 appearances (4 goals), vote 7
First player signed last season, his arrival marked the beginning of a forage into the overseas market. His record suggested a steady but unremarkable midfield player (only 8 caps for Sweden and arriving from the Swiss league). At first it wasn’t apparent what Farnerud was, he didn’t seem to have any dynamism, his distribution was wayward and games passed him by. Ventura persisted though and his well taken strike in the home draw against Inter suggested greater potential. A couple of goals before Christmas (away at Genoa and Udinese) pointed to an eye for goal and rare ability to break into the box. As spring approached, injuries set in and his crucial goal away at Catania marked his last contribution of the season as a serious knee injury set in.
Verdict: Overall a positive first season in a new league, some important goals and offered something different tactically. His ‘shoot on sight’ policy was not always successful. Will be part of the squad next season although likely to miss much of pre-season through injury. A squad player for the future rather than a first choice.

Omar El Kaddouri (MOR, 23), 29 appearances (5 goals), vote 7
Arguably the most enigmatic player in the squad and outside of the Cerci-Immobile partnership, the most menacing creative threat. Taking away injury and suspension, the Moroccan only sat out three Serie A games and became integral to Ventura’s thinking as the season developed. On the positive side, El Kaddouri represented an alternative attacking headache for opposition defences when the front two were denied space. His mazy dribbles, turn of speed and neat finishing showed a player of promises. El Kaddouri’s main weaknesses are his habit of drifting out of games (perhaps typical of most creative players) and his lack of conviction in some 50/50 situations. He needs to take on more responsibility and assert himself in matches. His goals and stronger performances tended to arrive against weaker teams.
Verdict: El Kaddouri’s loan spell from Napoli has ended. The club are keen to invest in the player but with half-sharing contracts no longer permitting in Serie A, Cairo will probably have to spend 4-5 million on the player. Has he done enough?

Alessandro Gazzi (ITA, 31), 11 appearances, vote 6
Perhaps the player to have regressed most from last season, when he was a mainstay of the side. Gazzi’s relative absence from the team has been quite strange given how much Ventura had relied on the player. Missed the first seven weeks of the season due to calcioscommesse and like Paulo Barreto never seemed to recover. Four of his eleven appearances arrived immediately after the suspension was lifted after which Gazzi started just once. Giuseppe Vives’s splendid form left the ex-Siena man in the shade while Basha was often preferred when the dirty work needed to be done. In addition to the suspension it seems Ventura wanted a more creative option in midfield in contrast Gazzi’s more aggressive style.
Verdict: One year left on his contract. A full pre-season without a suspension cloud hanging over him may revitalise his chances and form. Potentially a useful option in Europe. My suspicion is he will move on.

Jasmin Kurtic (SLO, 25), 16 appearances (2 goals), vote 7
Arrived on loan as part of the Brighi deal with the option for a permanent switch this summer. During his spells at Varese and Palermo had shown potential but seemed to be heading into a rut. His early displays were not encouraging, ponderous, wayward shooting, sloppy in possession. Ventura persisted and his faith was rewarded. Kurtic added energy to a tired midfield in the closing months, scored two important and well taken goals (at Lazio and Fiorentina) becoming one of the first names on the team sheet.
Verdict: Likely to be signed in the summer, providing a relatively average midfield with a mix of energy and creativity. Also likely to bring some experience and guile in Europe.

Panagiotis Tachtsidis (GRE, 23), 11 appearances (1 goal), vote 6
Like Kurtic, arrived in January in need of resurrecting his career. After a terrific Serie B season with Verona in 2011-12, struggled to adjust to the top flight at Roma and Catania. Best suited to the playmaker role, was drafted in to provide cover for Giuseppe Vives. It wasn’t until a substitute appearance at Inter in early March that the Greek international made his debut. He featured more regularly after that but only completed 90 minutes three times. A well taken goal away at Lazio being the highlight of his time at Toro so far. Seems to lack a bit of mobility and probably needed a great run in the side. Selected for the Greece World Cup squad.
Verdict: The team needs a general overhaul in midfield especially in terms of creativity. Based on what we have seen on the pitch, Tachtsidis is not necessarily the answer. That unless Ventura has seen something more in training.

Giuseppe Vives (ITA, 33), 33 appearances (1 goal), vote 7,5
The reverse Gazzi, ie. the most improved player in the squad. Vives missed just five games this season (three due to suspension) and completed the full 90 minutes 24 times. Impressive for a player who had been steady during his first two seasons with the club but was expected to feature little this campaign. The signs were encouraging from the start, Vives was man of the match in the season opener against Sassuolo and seemed revitalised (perhaps due to escaping any punishment in the calcioscommese scandal) but also by his new role as deep lying regista. His passing was crisp, often spectacular (see Immobile goal away at Roma), energy impressive and leadership skills exemplary. His contract was extended to 2015 once survival was achieved, just reward for his performances. In the final weeks of the season, he began to look a bit sluggish but it doesn’t overshadow his impressive year. A master of the tactical yellow card.
Verdict: Important in the dressing room and on the field, will be part of the squad next season which should take him past the 100 appearance landmark. Unlikely though to reproduce this season’s form, he should be used more economically.

Plan for 2014-15: The area (sales pending in attack) which needs the greatest injection of quality. Only Farnerud and Vives (contractually) are certain to stay. Gazzi and Basha offer cover and nothing else. If the club have their way El Kaddouri and Kurtic will be signed up and potentially starters. Tachtsidis and Bellomo are question marks. If Ventura sticks to a three man midfield or two man and a trequartista, three quality signings are needed. Emphasis on quality.

TORO 2014-15 (so far) - FORECAST


For more from Peter you can follow him on Twitter here and his book about his experiences following Torino can still be purchased from Amazon here.

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