Wednesday 5th April. By Ryan Baldi.
With an incredible tally of 23 goals from 27 Serie A games this season, it's no wonder that Torino's Andrea Belotti is being linked with big-money moves to a host of European clubs.
The 23-year-old was reportedly subject of a £56 million bid from Arsenal during the mid-season transfer window. Il Toro's sporting director Gianluca Petrachi told Sky Italia : "We received and refused a €65m (£56m) offer from Arsenal for Andrea Belotti, but it does not reflect the value of the player.
"Anyway, he is going nowhere for now. We want to enjoy him, then we'll see what happens.
"We intend to keep Belotti and president Urbano Cairo signed this important buyout clause. I think he's worth more than they have offered."
The buyout clause Petrachi referenced stands at a whopping €100 million (£86 million) thanks to a new contract the player penned earlier in the campaign. The exit clause applies only to non-Italian teams, with Torino keen to avoid losing their star marksman to a rival like Napoli did last summer when champions Juventus stumped up the €90 million stipulated in Gonzalo HiguaÃn's contract.
The monumental figure, which, as things stand, would make Belotti the second most expensive player in history, doesn't seem to have deterred interest from beyond Serie A, though. Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City, as well as Arsenal, who are believed to have retained their interest in the Azzurri star, despite denying that a bid was made in January, are all thought to be considering a summer swoop for the former Palermo hot shot.
Having missed out on Alexandre Lacazette last summer, Arsenal are thought to be on the hunt for a top-class striker to take them to the next level. United have had no problem creating chances this season only Liverpool better their record of chances created in the Premier League but they are 18th when it comes to conversion, and a striker of Belotti's calibre could fix this issue for JosÃ© Mourinho's men.
City could well be set to offload Sergio AgÃ¼ero at the end of this season, as Pep Guardiola apparently feels that the Argentinian striker does not fit his system. With his phenomenal strike rate and penalty area savvy, it would make sense for the Catalan tactician to consider Belotti. And Chelsea may be set to lose top scorer Diego Costa, as the Brazil-born Spain international angles for either a return to AtlÃ©tico Madrid or a lucrative switch to China the Torino man could be the ideal replacement for Blues boss Antonio Conte.
So the race to sign Belotti looks like being incredibly hotly contested between the Premier League super powers. But what makes the Italian international so special?
Well, just a year ago, there were few signs of Belotti developing into a truly world class striker. The Calcinate-born forward finished his first season with Torino with a respectable but unspectacular return of 12 goals from 36 appearances in all competitions. He has already more than doubled that figure by netting 25 total strikes so far this season.
In his three seasons with Palermo, Belotti's highest return for a single campaign was the 10 goals he racked up in 2013-14, and that was when the Rosanero were in the second tier.
It's not that the youngster was in any way a below-par striker, the technique and knack of positioning himself well inside the penalty area was always there. However, this season his game has risen to a new level thanks to the confidence that comes from scoring goals.
The boost that a player gets from regularly finding the net becomes self-perpetuating, filling them with the confidence to keep repeating the act, and the assuredness in their own ability to take on shots that they otherwise might have deemed too low-percentage.
Belotti's 23 league goals sees him rank fifth as things stand in the running for the European Golden Shoe, awarded each season to the most prolific scorer on the continent. Five-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi tops the list with 25 goals, while Robert Lewandowski, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sporting Clube de Portugal's Bas Dost are all joint-second with 24 strikes there is a distinct possibility that the Italian star could leapfrog all of these men to cap an incredible breakout campaign by claiming the honour.
What makes Belotti's record all the more impressive is the fact that he plays for Torino, who are currently 10th in Serie A, while the Golden Shoe contenders above him all play for sides in the top three of their respective divisions.
As an old-fashioned poacher, Belotti is at his best and most comfortable inside the penalty area, sniffing out chances and threatening the opponents' goal from almost any angle, with right foot, left foot or head.
Indeed, no player in Europe's five major league's can top his record of eight headed goals this term. And if you were to discount goals scored from the penalty spot, only Borussia Dortmund's Aubameyang would be able to top Belotti's return of 22.
Belotti has also proven his calibre on the international stage since making his senior Italy debut in a friendly against France in August last year, scoring three times in seven Azzurri appearances.
Former AC Milan and Roma coach Fabio Capello is among Belotti's biggest cheerleaders, recently effusive in his praise of the striker.
"He is one of the best strikers in Europe, he knows how to move and can do everything," Capello told Radio Anch'io Sport.
"He is fast and powerful, and technically perhaps he is even better than Batistuta."
That's high praise coming from a man who knew exactly how powerful a goal-scoring force Gabriel Batistuta was in his pomp, having signed the Argentinian ahead of Roma's title-winning 2000-01 season.
Torino will be hopeful of holding on to Belotti for a while longer, but they will have to use all of their resolve to fight off offers for the 23-year-old in the summer. And if a non-Italian team matches his release clause, the matter would be taken out of the Serie A side's hands.
Whether it's next season or sometime in the not too distant future, Belotti has the ability to thrive at one of Europe's elite clubs.
Torino's Andrea Belotti is Attracting Interest from Europe's Elite Clubs
Wednesday 5th April. By Ryan Baldi.