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Tuesday December 11 2012
Who’s a pretty Poli?

Andrea Poli continues to attract attention from Italy’s biggest clubs. David Swan reveals the latest reason as to why.

Young, Italian and forever linked with a permanent move to one of Italy's top clubs, Andrea Poli's career seems to have been going round the same cycle for the past few years now. Play well, get linked with a move away, get injured, lose form, disappear off the transfer radar.

When he finally got his chance at a top club - thanks to a season-long loan at Inter - injuries and poor form restricted his appearances and the Nerazzurri decided not to take up their option to buy.

Even that was not enough to put off Juventus from trying to acquire him in a co-ownership deal this summer, with an option to buy the other half in June 2013. They failed, but it is nevertheless a sign of how highly clubs still think of a player whose career has not reached the heights of the 2009-10 season – his first as a regular member of the Sampdoria side – due to the factors described.

He has already missed games this season through injury, meaning he only played in three of that seven-game losing streak. But Ciro Ferrara’s decision to move Poli to a wide left midfield role, and more advanced than his usual position in central midfield, has started the cycle again.

It has also yielded Poli’s first goals in Serie A, after more than 70 appearances at the top level. He is not a player who, thus far in his career, has numbers that back up the hype or the talk, and so simply quoting stats does not quite do him justice. He brings more to the team than they suggest.

That does not mean that his output needs no improvement. For a midfielder of his type, two assists and two goals in over 80 League appearances represents low productivity and something he needs to work on if he is to have a long-term future at a bigger club. Averaging less than one goal or one assist per season is unlikely to be enough to keep you in the first XI of a top team.

Half of that struggle to produce has been due to the lack of consistency. His best season, albeit without great stats in a very good Sampdoria squad, came when he played plenty of games. Since then he has not started any more than 13 League matches in a campaign, and until this season his longest streak was five straight games.

The other half he let slip in September during the build-up to Italy’s 2014 World Cup qualifiers against Bulgaria and Malta, for which he was part of the squad called by Cesare Prandelli. “I like to play inside left or right in midfield,” he said. “I do not mind playing in a midfield two, but I prefer the role of interno.”

Poli spent most of his early career at Samp playing in a midfield two, usually alongside Angelo Palombo. Luigi Del Neri never wavered from 4-4-2, and even Domenico Di Carlo, a 4-3-1-2 man during his tenure at Chievo, played with two in central midfield in an attempt to provide continuity between his reign and that of Del Neri’s.

It was only during the last three games of Di Carlo’s time, when he was panicking and trying everything to get some points, and under successor Alberto Cavasin, that Poli started to get game time in his preferred position. Claudio Ranieri and Inter offered a more realistic prospect of minutes in a midfield three, but he spent most of his time injured or on the bench. Only upon his return to Sampdoria, with Ciro Ferrara at the helm, has there been a regular slot for him in his favoured position.

But now the latest move from that to an advanced wide left role, and the subsequent improvement in performance, leaves him at a slight risk of becoming another Riccardo Montolivo, a player who has been around for years but for whom nobody is quite sure of his best position.

Montolivo insists it is in front of the defence, yet his displays suggest otherwise. He has started to play very well at trequartista for Italy, and then spent all summer telling anyone who would listen that he is not a trequartista. For Milan he seems settled in the position Poli wants to play – either side of a midfield three.

When asked about his altered role in a recent interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport, Poli wasted no time in confirming that he is a central midfielder. For the foreseeable future he might have to stick it out where he is, though if he continues to play well it will no doubt foster ideas of trying him more central, closer to the striker, in a role not too dissimilar to the trequartista slot for which Prandelli is desperately searching for alternatives. Cesare will be following this one closely.

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Have your say...
Dick Smokefield that is a good point you make about confdence. Coutinho at Inter lacks confidence at the moment. his runs lack intention and purpose, he is too timid. But as you point out this is due to not being guaranteed a starting shirt.
on the 12th December, 2012 at 11:22pm
You forget that at Milan under allegri, a trequatista is in the mould of Flamini. Hence Montolivo's claims.

Just a confused man.
on the 12th December, 2012 at 10:42pm
@Daniel Giambrone, I think it's a combination of factors. Historically, young players in Italy aren't given a chance to play except for when they're loaned out. It seems like they play with fear to make a mistake and land at the end of the bench next to David Suazo. Look at SES for example. Last year he wasn't sure if he would start or sit and he showed only flashes of what he can do. This year, he knows the job belongs to him and we can see the results. CONFIDENCE makes all the difference.
on the 12th December, 2012 at 6:39pm
He has quality but still has a lot to prove. I agree he needs more aggression. As a big Roma fan I am very happy with 5 straight wins in all competitions. We need to keep going, top 3 is looking a reality if we continue as we are. Really disappointed with Consigli recently after some really good performances at the start of the season, in particular against inter he seems to have dropped. Last night against us he cost his team 2 goals. I rate him highly.. Any thoughts about him?
on the 12th December, 2012 at 1:31pm
@DickSmokefield, well said. I find that this problem isn't just exclusive to Poli. Over the years, many talented Italian midfielders, (especially in the first half of their careers), seem to be holding back, & playing with fear. Like you said, not imposing their will on each game. I'd level this criticism at Poli, Cigarini, Montolivo, Marchisio, & especially Aquillani. Montolivo, Marchisio, & Cigarini have really improved of late. Is it an innate problem, or could it be the coaching?
on the 12th December, 2012 at 11:25am
An excellent player. Inter should have signed him last season. I remember watching him on loan at Sassuolo many years ago and he was excellent!
on the 12th December, 2012 at 9:55am
Decent player but not enough ability to be a starter at any of the top teams in Italy.
on the 12th December, 2012 at 6:57am
Well, Montolivo is highly successful as a regista who can move forward. I think Poli can play in a similar position.
on the 12th December, 2012 at 2:52am
Very true. Much too timid offensively and defensively. I've never seen him impose his will on anything
on the 12th December, 2012 at 12:24am
From what I have seen, he has ability, but is a little too timid. He needs more aggression, and has to assert himself more in every game. If he can manage this, he transform from a cameo act into a protagonist.
on the 11th December, 2012 at 9:02pm
To me Poli is a very talented player but just a notch below the level of a major contributor to a top team. He's the type of player who would be a legend at a club like Sampdoria but an afterthought at Juve or Inter(or Milan teams of the past).
on the 11th December, 2012 at 8:45pm

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