It was only last year that fans of Italian football the world over ridiculed Milan’s newest forward Alessandro Matri. The €12 million signing joined the Rossoneri in the summer of 2013 and scored an awe-inspiring one goal in 15 appearances before being sent off to Fiorentina on loan in the winter. Despite a slight upturn of form with the Viola, Matri’s name became synonymous with wasted money and missed chances within the span of one season. Upon the completion of his loan first loan, Matri was promptly shipped out on a temporary basis to Genoa in the beginning of the summer mercato. Nothing much was expected of the former Juventus forward’s temporary relocation 150 km south, but Matri has surprised the entire country with his stellar performances with the overachieving Grifoni. Sitting on a tidy six-goal haul from just eight starts, the 30-year-old has made it clear that his career is not yet finished.
To fully appreciate Matri’s revival it is key to understand why it happened. During his half-season with Milan the team struggled with creativity. Out-of-form Montolivo and Kaka who tried to do everything himself were virtually the only players who were expected to provide for the forwards. When the midfield managed to piece something together for the attack the balls were mainly aimed at Balotelli, who squandered chances more often than not. With Allegri opting to go with winger-less formations like his now infamous ‘Christmas Tree’, whenever Matri got a start he was given a very limited amount of opportunities to get a goal, or even a shot in. While a forward like Balotelli could create a chance all by himself if so inclined, Matri needed creative players supplying him with good passes.
After Milan dumped their much-maligned striker on Fiorentina in January, Matri immediately experienced an upturn of form, scoring a double and setting up Fiorentina’s third in his debut 45 minutes. Despite his match-winning performance against Catania, Matri only experienced 9 more starts from January until May. Only managing to complete four full matches during this time period, Matri was largely relegated to playing without a capable strike partner following Mario Gomez’s season ending injury, with a midfield that was seemingly focused on its individuals rather than the end product. It was no surprise that Fiorentina won just 50% of their games in the second half of the season, and suffered home defeats to Lazio, Milan, Roma, and Sassuolo.
At Genoa, however, everything changed for the better. It took Matri a couple of matches to find his footing, but once he did, he has not looked back. His first and second goals for Genoa put the club up 2-0 at Hellas Verona, before some shoddy defending from the Grifoni cost the club the win and two points. His next goal came on his next start two weeks later, salvaging a win for Genoa against Parma with one of the last kicks of the game. In his next four matches Matri played a direct role in at least one goal a game, including a match-winning performance in Genoa’s 2-1 victory over Chievo and the assist for Luca Antonini’s goal to beat Juventus after coming on as a 87′ substitute. He scored additional goals in victories over Udinese and Cesena.
Why the sudden upturn in form? First of all, at Genoa there is much more emphasis on the team as a whole rather than individuals. Milan had Kaka and Balotelli playing for themselves, Fiorentina had Cuadrado and Gomez. Gian Piero Gasperini’s side has much less of this in part because the team cannot attract players of the same calibre as Fiore or Milan, and as a result rarely get players with the arrogance of Balotelli. The Genoese midfield comprised of creative players like Bertolacci and Marchese coupled with decent wingers like Antonelli have greatly helped their loanee rediscover his scoring boots. Not to be upstaged, Matri has set up four goals for his teammates, and comfortably sits at the top of Genoa’s goals and assists table. Second, and most importantly, it is seemingly now clear that Matri will thrive with small teams. Brilliant at Cagliari and not so brilliant once picked up by some of the bigger sides in Italy, Matri has proved unable to play in a highly tense and competitive team environment. However that does not mean he cannot be successful, just that future moves to Roma or Napoli are not good ideas. At a club with less pressure, Matri has more freedom to play without worrying about whether his starting spot will be in danger should he fail to net a hat-trick.
Once he returns from Genoa, Matri’s first order of business should be a transfer request away from Milan. With his contract expiring in 2017, small clubs will be able to pick up Matri for fairly cheap either this or next summer, and Milan will be entirely rid of their poor purchase. In the meantime, Matri will continue doing what many once thought would never happen again- scoring goals.