Football is as fickle a business as they come. Already this season we have seen fans on social media outlets ludicrously question Ronald Koeman’s position as manager after a shaky start, and as crazy as it seems now, the instantaneous medium that the likes of twitter offer means football’s fickleness is at it’s peak.
If anyone had seriously doubted Ronald’s credentials, it would be interesting to know on what grounds. It can’t be results, in that department he has surely exceeded expectations. It can’t be the standard of football, Saints on their day are as exciting as anyone in the league in terms of their approach. So perhaps it is signings? Wrong again, and that brings me neatly to the subject of this blog.
Nothing epitomises the Dutchman’s success in the transfer market than Graziano Pellè. If we are talking about kneejerk reactions, the Italian striker has suffered every type. Initially written off as not being good enough, then revered, before being written off again on the back of a lean spell in front of goal. Even during his run in the goals last season there were many who weren’t taken by Pellè and perhaps have allowed those initial thoughts to form into a stubborn prejudice that now refuses to acknowledge his contribution.
The reality is, Pellè has been a revelation. A bone fide fantastic signing. You might often hear people say that he doesn’t score ‘enough goals’, but given his all round contribution to the way the team plays I would argue that isn’t a disaster. Having said that 23 in 56 appearances isn’t bad in this day and age anyway. It is actually an almost identical goal ratio in English football to Romelu Lukaku for instance.
Over the Summer many Saints fans (myself included) were insistent that the club should be looking at other strikers. The likes of Charlie Austin were long talked about and perhaps we had all got a little carried away with ourselves and the now traditional Southampton need for constant improvement. So far this season Pelle has been fantastic. Sure, when the early season form was poor from the team as a unit, he suffered as he was getting little to no service at times, but as the team began to click so did the Italian, and he has been almost unplayable since.
Recent performances against Manchester United and Chelsea particularly highlighted his importance, and why Ronald Koeman has complete faith in him. Superb in the air, never letting the centre halves have a moments rest, setting up chance after chance with his back to goal before burying one himself. Mix all that up with the odd unnecessary flick or back heel and that is Graziano Pellè in a nutshell. I read a tweet (but I can no longer find it unfortunately to credit the author) that described Pellè as the ideal mix of old school English striker and fancy dan foreigner. Perfect.
After the rout of MK Dons, for which Pellè was rested I was amazed to see some fans complain that the Italian might be brought straight back into the team. The fact that he has 7 goals and 5 assists against much tougher opposition escaping those whose prejudice has long been formed. As much as we all want Jay Rodriguez to return to the force he had become, it has to be as part of a team alongside Pellè, he could certainly benefit from the Italian’s expert hold up play, much as Sadio Mane has.
If that wasn’t enough evidence of his greatness, it is worth pointing out that at the age of 29 he received his first call up to the Azzurri last season and has been a regular ever since. As he joins up with them this week his record to date is 3 goals in 6 games, a pretty good start at international level. Italy manager Antonio Conte recently said that he hopes ‘Pellè can be an example for other players to follow’.
If goals, assists and all round impressive play at all levels aren’t your cup of tea though, what about passion? Since arriving at St. Mary’s Pellè has really seemed to embrace being at the club and his reaction to scoring is always like it’s his first ever goal. For me he is part of the furniture now and has the potential to join other strikers like Rickie Lambert, Marian Pahars and James Beattie (another who suffered the odd barren spell) as cult heroes at the club.
I guess my point at the end of all this is simply that Graziano Pellè is certainly a player you’d rather have with you than against you. Is he the most natural player in the world, perhaps not, but he produces the goods on a fairly regular basis. Scoring goals is an art form, and while not everyone can do it with the constant grace of a Messi or a Ronaldo, simply doing it is enough.
Pellè is Southampton’s and Southampton is Pellè’s.