6th March 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
After spending five and a half years with his beloved Empoli, that was sandwiched by a disappointing spell at AC Milan, Riccardo Saponara felt ready to make the step up in class again.
This time Paulo Sousa's exciting, technical, possession based Fiorentina outfit seems like a perfect fit for him. And, following his struggles in his first big move to Milan, he's desperate to make sure this time around he's a success.
When recalling his unfruitful stint in Milan, it's fascinating to hear how he still counts this tough time as a great learning experience, and one that's put him in good stead to deal with setbacks. "After the failure of my experience at Milan, I carry the tag that I am not suited to certain stages," he said to Gazetta.
"With the Rossoneri, I was not ready to deal with certain pressures. But with Fiorentina I will demonstrate that everything is different. This is the second big chance of my career. It is the decisive adventure of my career and I cannot mess it up."
Having enjoyed an overwhelmingly successful stint with Empoli, the gifted trequartista felt he'd come to a point where he needed to move on, in order to keep progressing as a footballer. "Was the story over with Empoli? I think so, when we got this offer from the Viola we both agreed it was the best solution," he explained.
"It's not true to say I was no longer happy at Empoli, as it was always my second home. I had a small ankle sprain that affected my season, but I don't think there are any problems going forward. I thank Empoli for allowing me to make this move in January."
Joining La Viola on an initial loan deal in January with an obligation to buy at the end of the season for a reasonable €9 million, Saponara will offer some additional creativity and class to his side's work in the final third.
Blessed with enviable vision and a sublime passing ability to match, his capacity to unlock defences with his intricate, precise distribution has seen him develop into one of the finest playmakers in Italy. Moreover, his razor sharp dribbling qualities only add to his menace, as he's brilliant at not only skinning his man, but also unbalancing opposition defensive structures due to his aptitude in this regard.
His crafty movement that he uses to persistently find space in which to weave his magic, just about makes him the complete package in terms of what is required in a number 10.
Being so adept at pressing is another crucial element of his game that would've unquestionably further endeared him to Sousa, a manager that very much loves to apply heavy pressure on his opposition. The fact over the last two seasons he's averaged around three successful defensive actions a game suitably illustrates his strong stopping output.
Although the 25-year-old's still in the process of integrating fully into the Viola squad and adapting to Sousa's tactically sophisticated methods, once he's up and running he should be a fine weapon either to be used off the bench or from the outset. His first Serie A goal for the club in his first start for La Viola vs Torino last week should indeed serve as a taste of things to come.
It certainly won't be easy for the languid midfielder to break into the starting eleven, however, for he'll have his work cut out overcoming the likes of Borja Valero and Federico Bernardeschi. Saponara is excited about the challenge he's confronted with and the way he's been welcomed into his new home, though, something he duly touched on after his debut a few weeks ago. "I've found surprising affection in Florence, on Saturday I was stunned by the ovation of the Franchi when I went onto the pitch," he gleamed.
"Sousa motivates me and helps me. I still need a bit of time to fully integrate with the Fiorentina way, but I am on the right track. Now I'll have to repay all this confidence that the club has shown in me when I certainly wasn't in the best period of my career."
Another driving factor in his decision to make the switch to the Stadio Artemio Franchi was his desire to one day play for the Italian national team. Considering his talent and Italy's lack of high calibre creative midfielders, it's quite remarkable he hasn't yet made his Azzurri debut.
Entering the prime of his career and within a positive environment for him to take the next step in his career, Saponara's surely in no better place to fulfill his footballing ambitions and put his forgettable Milan spell behind him.
Licence to Roam is a source of great articles by Edward.
A Fresh Start for Riccardo Saponara at Fiorentina
6th March 2017. By Edward Stratmann.