It’s been quite the journey for Andrea Belotti. He was playing in Serie B as recently as 2013/14, then spent the following season watching Paulo Dybala and Franco Vazquez fire Palermo to a comfortable mid-table finish in the top flight.
But as the calendar turned to 2016, even that had begun to look like an expensive outlay—Belotti turned 22 years old with just one goal to his name in his first 16 appearances for the Granata.
Fast-forward another 15 months and the world has been turned upside down by the man known as Il Gallo. He has exploded into life, capturing the attention of fans and clubs across Europe, with people now crowing about the quality of ”The Rooster” at every available opportunity.
In December, Torino rewarded his dramatic impact by signing him to an improved deal. The contract extension tied Belotti to the club until June 2021 and contained a buyout clause set at €100 million, which—per ESPN FC—is only valid for non-Italian clubs.
Suddenly, an average striker who had found the back of the net just 31 times in 116 league appearances was worth a world-record fee, yet the answer as to why was simple. He’d started banging in goals. Lots and lots of goals, and he hasn’t stopped scoring since.
Belotti’s emergence began as he added 11 in the second half of 2016/17 and then carried that form into the current campaign; he's now sitting on a total of 22 in just 24 appearances that makes him Serie A’s leading scorer.
He was also called up to the Italian national team and scored three times in his first five games, his sudden scoring outburst making him a wanted man. Turin-based newspaper La Stampa (h/t ESPN FC) named Bayern Munich and Chelsea among his potential suitors, but it was Arsenal who seemed to have moved first.
“Yes, we received the offer, but it does not reflect the value of the player,” Torino sporting director Gianluca Petrachi told Sky Italia (h/t Football Italia) when asked about a €65 million bid from the north London club. “Anyway, he is going nowhere for now. We want to enjoy him, then we’ll see what happens.”
They’ve certainly been doing that as their star man repeatedly carves open defences across the peninsula.
Torino fan and blogger Rob Gillman recently took time to explain his delight at Belotti's performances to Bleacher Report:
"Belotti is a thoroughly modern striker who is quick, strong and can score all types of goals. His work rate is excellent, which was especially important in his early days when the goals weren't flowing as they are now.
"This ensured that the fans never got on his back and that he still merited his place in the team. Great credit also has to go former Toro coach Giampiero Ventura who stuck with Belotti despite his early goal drought."
The 23-year-old has drawn comparisons to Gianluca Vialli and Christian Vieri for his robust style and deadly accuracy in front of goal, netting his current tally in a variety of different ways, as the OptaPaolo tweet below highlights.
His bruising physicality and sheer bulk allow him to win the ball or finish off crosses with aplomb, while he excels at holding defenders off long enough to allow the midfielders behind him to get forward in support.
Belotti has adjusted easily from the 3-5-2 of former boss Ventura to the 4-3-3 favoured by current Torino coach Sinisa Mihajlovic, his tactical flexibility undoubtedly making him even more attractive to would-be suitors.
He is also deceptively fast, the speed at which he moves around the pitch and his off-the-ball running seeing even Serie A’s notoriously well-drilled back lines come unravelled, allowing him to repeatedly find time and space in a league where both are extremely rare commodities.
After he destroyed former club Palermo with the rapid-fire hat trick shown in the video above, Torino president Urbano Cairo jokingly insisted he may have even undervalued the striker with that aforementioned buyout fee.
“We set Belotti’s clause and it’s true that we would be forced to sell him abroad for that sum if he agreed to the move,” he told Sky Italia (h/t Football Italia). “I don’t think we can raise the clause now, as we only just signed the contract. Of course, if I was negotiating it today, it should be €150 million.”
There was undoubtedly some playful hyperbole in those comments, but it is difficult to imagine the player staying where he is given the wages and Champions League opportunities likely to be offered to him this summer.
His case may also be helped by the fact that—after Simone Zaza’s woeful displays at West Ham United—Manolo Gabbiadini’s impact at Southampton has proved that Italian forwards can thrive in England, as David Amoyal of GianlucaDiMarzio.com explained to Bleacher Report:
"While the €100 million fee seemed outrageous when the contract was signed, his impressive scoring rate as well as Gabbiadini ending the streak of Serie A strikers struggling in the Premier League, make it likely that a club with deep pockets could exercise it or negotiate with Torino a price in that ballpark.
"Belotti is still only 23 and many of the clubs he's been linked to like Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have recently put a premium on investing in younger players. He'll certainly be one of the hottest names on the transfer market next summer."
But while supporters of his current club may be resigned to seeing the player move on, their biggest concern is not with the loss of his goals but what would happen to that massive sum of money.
“As a Torino fan, you tend to expect that the better players will not stay at the club for long, as we saw with Ciro Immobile, Kamil Glik and Bruno Peres,” Gillman continued. “Despite Belotti's 22 goals this season, Toro are in mid-table, and this is mainly due to the fact they have the fifth-worst defence in the league.
“Without Joe Hart in goal, it would probably be even worse, but the more important question for Toro fans is, if Belotti departs, would all the money go towards improving the playing squad? Of this, I have my doubts.”
That is a damning indictment of how the situation is viewed in Turin, but while the outlook for the Granata is somewhat bleak, Belotti has the world at his feet and could well become even more well-known in the coming months. As long as he keeps scoring, that is!