Since the start of the 2015-16 season, Jose Mourinho has been rarely known to praise opposition players on the pitch. But apparently that is exactly what the Special One did on Sunday night during the League Cup final. As the Southampton striker Manolo Gabbiadini was leaving the field after scoring a brace, which actually should have been a hattrick, Mourinho shook his hand and according to the player, called him “outstanding”. As his team was on course to becoming the most decorated team in English history, and win the League Cup in a few minutes, I think magnanimity must have crept up on Jose. But even for a magnanimous Special One to call someone outstanding, he must have seen something really good in the player.
In this post, I will try to understand how good a player is Manolo Gabbiadini and if he is really worth the outstanding label or the £15 million price tag.
Saints’ Lucky Italian Connection
The previous Italian to play as a striker for the Saints was Graziano Pelle and he played a key role in Southampton’s above par performances, especially last season. He scored 30 goals and 10 assists for Southampton in 80 appearances. I am sure, Claudio Puel would love to have the current Italian strikers contribute a goal at the rate of one every second match.
If Manolo Gabbiadini can contribute goals at anything close to that rate, Puel should be overjoyed. His current rate of scoring – 5 goals in 3 games – is highly indicative of his talent but may not be sustainable in the long term. In his entire career, the 25-year old player has scored 70 goals and provided 18 assists in 13910 minutes, i.e. a goal scored or contributed every 158 minutes or every one and a half games. Indeed, that rate is better than Pelle’s at Southampton and if he continues to score at even that historic rate, he will bring lots of joy for Puel and Southampton fans.
Gabbiadini is the product of Atalanta’s U-19 set up. In July 2010, Atalanta sold him to Serie B side – Cittadella, only to again buy him back for six times the price after a year. Again, within a year, he was sold to Juventus, who immediately loaned him to Bologna. When that loan ended in June 2013, he was sold to Sampdoria, where he stayed about one and half seasons, before arriving at Napoli in January 2015. He stayed in Naples for the next 2 years, before moving to England’s South coast this year in January.
As we can see, he is a bit of a journeyman, changing clubs frequently. So it is completely possible that he chose a stint at St. Mary’s in search of greener pastures in England, preferably among the Champions League playing sides. If I were a Southampton fan, I would be wary of getting used to Gabbiadini’s goals, as that spout is likely to get turned off abruptly in a season or two.
Stats & Playing Style
Although he has always been on the move, Gabbiadini has been scoring goals at a good clip, all through his career. As mentioned above he has so far in his career (including in junior Atalanta teams) scored 70 goals and 18 assists, and if we only consider the senior games, he has scored 61 goals and 16 assists in 10,418 minutes – a goal contributed every 135 minutes. These stats indicate a solid goal scorer, albeit not really a great one.
Over his entire career, he averages 2.2 shots per game and 0.7 key passes per game but he is already being deployed with a more aggressive intent by Puel, as he has averaged 5.5 shots and 1.5 key passes per game in the two Premier League games he has played so far. That is quite impressive, as it means that in these two games, he has himself taken or helped a team mate to take 7 shots per game.
WhoScored describes him as a player who likes to cut in from wide positions and take long shots, but throughout most of his career he has been primarily deployed as a center forward leading the line. His tendency to cut in, along with his designated position might help him pull defenders away from the goal and allow him to shoot from distance as well.
Of his 70 total goals, only three have been from his right foot and only four from headers, which means he prefers to shoot from his left foot a lot more than any other body part. He is also not heavily dependent on dead balls to boost his stats as only five of his goals have been penalties and four have been direct free kicks.
He is also a pretty effective striker as his 70 goals spread across 63 matches have led to 37 wins for his team, 15 draws, and 11 defeats. 15 of his goals have been the game winning goals as well.
Overall, it seems Southampton have landed themselves a pretty good striker, who can provide this pretty good team an edge up front. Earlier during the season, I had commented that they lacked firepower upfront and in Gabbiadini, they have managed to fill that role. But for how long that role remains filled is another story as some of their peers are already circling. Looking at his brace in the League Cup final, Liverpool fans shared memes on social media welcoming him to Merseyside in the summer. And above all, the Special One does not lavish useless praise on opponents. It is completely possible that the journeyman Italian finds himself heading towards the north-west of the country either in the summer or after a couple of transfer windows have passed by. Till then, Southampton fans can enjoy his goals and the league points they fetch.