Remember the summer of 2017? AC Milan fans certainly do, as that was when Chinese businessman Yonghong Li had taken full control of the club, and he quickly set about revitalising the Rossoneri with a massive spending spree.
As they sought reinforcements, one of the areas they focussed on was finding a striker to lead the attack, and it didn’t take long for Andrea Belotti to emerge as their leading candidate. Then just 24 years old, he had finished the previous campaign just three goals behind Serie A top scorer Edin Dzeko, his tally of 26 underlining just how deadly he had been for Torino.
The plaudits came thick and fast, with Siniša Mihajlović comparing Belotti to Christian Vieri, Gennaro Gattuso saying his shooting was similar to Andriy Shevchenko’s, while he was also awarded “Performance of the Year” at the Gazzetta Sports Awards.
Milan opened talks with Torino and expected to conclude a deal quickly, only for Toro’s Urbano Cairo to dig his heels in. Belotti’s contract had a €100 million ($104.6m) buyout clause, and – with Chelsea and Manchester United also interested – the club President publicly insisted that the Granata would not take a penny less than the full amount.
A final offer of €70 million ($70.3m) was made by Milan, but when it was rejected they pursued other targets and so too did the other potential suitors. Torino fans breathed a sigh of relief at being able to retain their in-form star, and those same supporters watched as Belotti went on to become a real leader of the team.
Eventually becoming the club Captain, he embodied the proud spirit that has always been a strong hallmark of Torino, their history and tradition reaching far beyond their current status.
The fact he stayed with them rather than chasing money or glory elsewhere only fed into that, and the bond between Belotti and those on the Curva Maratona only grew stronger as a result.
However, as the last few months have gone by, the player and the club were unable to agree terms on a new contract, leading to an announcement this week that he will be moving on this summer as a free agent.
“Dear Andrea, we acknowledge your decision to begin a new experience, from today we take different paths,” said a statement on Torino’s official website. “We spent seven seasons together, which, in modern football, represents a very solid bond.
“We always shared the same emotions; passion, joy, suffering and disappointment. We thank you for everything you gave us. We’re proud of what you have become for Toro, we salute you by wishing you good luck as your career continues.”
He will move on having scored 113 goals in 251 appearances, but in truth he never really maintained the form of that devastating 2016/17 campaign that saw Belotti hit the back of the net 26 times in 35 Serie A outings.
With the last five years seeing him record tallies of 10, 15, 16, 13 and 8 Serie A goals in each subsequent season, that’s simply not enough sights of the infamous “rooster” celebration from the Toro no.9.
Last season he was limited to just 16 starts for Toro due to injuries, but even the Italy boss Roberto Mancini has admitted that the lack of goals “is worrying.” Belotti’s poor international record only compounds the Azzurri’s scoring woes as overall, his 44 caps have yielded just 12 goals, and only three of those have come in the past three years.
That simply adds to the inescapable feeling that this is a striker who has lost his way. Yet Belotti remains as hardworking as ever, a willing runner who is key to the uptempo pressing demanded by Ivan Juric.
Add that to the surprising realisation that he is still just 28 years old, and there are plenty of reasons to believe that a move away from Torino could reignite the Belotti that was such a wanted man back in 2017.
Could that lead to some feelings of regret at the Stadio Olimpico as the man once deemed worth €100 million ($104.6m) leaves for nothing?
Should they have taken the money on offer from Milan, or was it worth more to have a Captain who understood and embodied the importance and values of Torino? Time will tell.