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From €100m Man Utd target to West Ham washout? The steep decline of Andrea Belotti

12:07 GMT+3 28/01/2019
Andrea Belotti Inter Torino
Two years ago, the Torino ace was one of the most wanted strikers in Europe, but now he's struggling for goals and can't even get in the Italy squad

At the height of the hype surrounding Andrea Belotti in the summer of 2017, former Torino striker Christian Vieri weighed in on what his supposed successor should do next.

"I advise him to go to a big team quickly," 'Bobo' said. "He must make another leap in quality."

This was an unsurprising stance from a man who moved clubs almost as often as he changed girlfriends during a peripatetic career. 

However, that doesn't mean Vieri was wrong. 

As is said so often in Italy in relation to the transfer market, 'Certi treni passano una volta sola' (Certain trains only pass once) and, two years ago, AC Milan, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal were all offering Belotti a one-way ticket to superstardom.

Last week, West Ham were linked with the Italian. That is how far Belotti's stock has fallen in the interim.

Of course, it is not exactly Belotti's fault that he failed to secure a move to one of Europe's top sides in 2017. 

He was never going to demand a transfer; it's simply not in his character. He may resemble 'Vieri' on the field sometimes, but he is nothing like him off it. 

Whereas Vieri was in his element, mixing with the rich and famous, Belotti is a humble, grounded individual.

"A life founded on the presumption of your 'status' creates nothing but false relationships," he once argued.

"I haven't changed a bit since I was young. I'm still more eager to be a good person rather than a good player."

Which explains why there was never any chance he would go on strike over Torino's refusal to let him leave two summers ago unless someone met the €100 million buy-out clause in his contract.

It only applied to foreign clubs too. On the back of Belotti's 26-goal 2016-17 Serie A campaign, Torino president Urbano Cairo would have charged Italian clubs even more money for his most prized possession.

AC Milan even tried to make Mbaye Niang – whom the Granata actually wanted and eventually signed – part of a multi-million euro deal for Belotti.

But Cairo refused to budge: either someone would activate or match the buy-out clause, or Belotti would stay put.

Chelsea, Arsenal and Monaco were all ready to pay colossal fees for 'Il Gallo' (he used to chase chicken's around his aunt's farm as a child – hence the 'rooster' celebration) but not one was willing to hand over €100m for his services.

Unfortunately, Torino overplayed their hand, as they would be lucky to get half that figure today.

Belotti has scored just 17 goals over the past 18 months.

Two minor knee injuries during the 2017-18 season have undeniably played a part in his loss of momentum. He missed three Serie A games on two separate occasions last term.

Nonetheless, he still looks a pale imitation of the force of nature that prompted Fabio Capello to proclaim Belotti "one of the best strikers in Europe" 18 months ago.

"He knows how to move. He basically knows how to do everything," the former AC Milan boss enthused. "He’s fast, technically skilled and is probably better than [Gabriel] Batistuta."

Fabio Cannavaro, though, viewed him more as a hard-working Vieri.

"Andrea can seem like 'Bobo' in full flight but he's also a player who runs and fights for 90 minutes," the Italy icon pointed out. "Everyone likes him – team-mates, coaches and fans – because he never gives an inch."

Indeed, even the notorious former defender Pasquale Bruno was won over by Belotti's aggression and passion.

"Unlike many of his p***y team-mates, he's not a fake," the former Torino and Juventus centre-half declared. "He knows how to earn respect on the field." 

Vieri, by contrast, seemed more interested in earning fame and fortune off the field, even admitting in his autobiography that he only left Juve for Atletico Madrid in 1997 for the money.

However, one wonders if Vieri was right about the sporting benefits that come with playing for a stronger side. 

Even accounting for the effects of the injury, Belotti's career, like his game, seems to have stagnated in Turin, playing for a mid-table team. 

Two years ago, Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri predicted that Belotti would be "Italy's centre-forward for many years". But he hasn't even been included in Roberto Mancini's last three Azzurri squads.

Still, while Belotti obviously hasn't progressed since 2017, it is worth remembering that he has only just turned 25. He still has time to "make that leap in quality". 

The recent signs are encouraging too. After a slow start to the season, featuring just two goals by the end of October, Belotti has now scored five times in his past 11 outings in Serie A.

Those are hardly headline-generating numbers – not when Atalanta's Duvan Zapata is in the middle of a run of 14 goals in eight games – but they do suggest that he is belatedly recovering the momentum lost during his injury-enforced absences. 

There is even mounting speculation that Roma could take him to the Stadio Olimpico this summer, most likely as a replacement for Edin Dzeko, who will be 33 in March.

Torino certainly won't be holding out for anything close to €100m this time around, though. That particular money train has most definitely passed.