After Vincenzo Montella’s first stint, Fiorentina have stumbled upon rather strange times. They are hardly a team that challenges for the European places, even though new owner Rocco Commisso feels that they will soon. But even during these times of mediocrity, the club hasn’t stopped to churn out some talents that go onto play for bigger clubs in the division.
Federico Bernardeschi was one, even though the move to Juventus hasn’t gone down too well. Federico Chiesa could be one, even though his development hasn’t gone as planned. But apart from Dusan Vlahovic today, the latest talent to impress at the Stadio Artemio Franchi happens to be the magic-footed Gaetano Castrovilli.
Perhaps not even the biggest of La Viola fans looking at the best free football tips would have expected him to come leaps and bounds in such a short time at the club. Be it due to his dancing skills or technical ability on the ball though, the Italian is already one of the best young talents that the Azzurri have today.
The background to Castrovilli’s Fiorentina switch was interesting. He had first arrived at the club on loan from his childhood club Bari in the 2015-16 season. Montella was impressed by the youngster at that point itself and in the summer of 2017, Then director of football Pantaleo Corvino made the move permanent.
Last season, Castrovilli was pretty far from the first-team picture at the club. He had spent his second season on loan at Serie B side Cremonese and to many, 22 isn’t the age for players to make the cut in the La Viola side.
In what was an injury-stricken campaign for Cremonese, Castrovilli managed to make a mark. Before sustaining a meniscus injury around the turn of the year, the Italian was constantly used in wide areas by the Serie B club. He would play on either flank but after injury, his usage became more central till the end of the loan stint.
Playing centrally was a lot like the 2017-18 season, when Castrovilli had contributed to five goals in 26 Serie B games. His tally last season though, stood at an improved eight.
In Serie A, Montella’s return towards the last few months of the campaign hadn’t gone down well. The side struggled for goals and barely managed to avoid relegation because of Empoli’s dramatic result against Inter on the last day of the season. Despite these struggles, Montella was handed the job on a permanent basis when Commisso took over with the promise of delivering European football soon.
The club made multiple signings in an attempt to flex its muscles. Franck Ribery arrived, while Erick Pulgar arrived from Bologna. Milan Badelj sealed a Florence return while Rachid Ghezzal arrived on loan from Leicester. Amidst all this, it was tough to see where Castrovilli would play.
From day one though, Montella trusted Castrovilli’s abilities. The 2018-19 season began with a stiff tie at the Franchi against Napoli. Montella was keen on using a 4-3-3 by that time and Castrovilli earned a start in midfield and it was a huge token of trust from the manager. And in what was a thrilling tie, Castrovilli earned an assist in a 4-3 loss.
From that very game, his ability on the ball became evident. He could literally dance past people and carry the ball in an almost metronomic way. After a disappointing loss to Genoa though, Montella decided to switch the system to a more innovative 3-5-2 shape. The club was a long winless run and something had to be done to curtail the mess on the pitch.
The 3-5-2 shape saw La Viola deploy two false nines in Chiesa and Ribery. In this system though, Castrovilli was handed a free-role in attacking midfield. Playing just behind Chiesa and Ribery, his job was to carry the ball from deeper areas into attacking areas and catch the opposition out on the counter-attacks.
Right from the Juve game, Castrovilli’s strengths in the role became clear. He could use his ability on the ball to make decisive carries into the final third. La Viola failed to win but they made an impression and the system stayed the same.
The dramatic 2-2 draw against Atalanta saw them drop points from 2-0 up. But Castrovilli impressed. Days later, the winless run finally broke against Sampdoria and this was followed by a dominating win over Milan at San Siro. While Ribery shone and was applauded by the Diavolo faithful, it was Castrovilli who had really come into the spotlight.
He got himself a goal and won a penalty. His dazzling feet left Marco Giampaolo’s men tired for breath and ran them ragged. While over-time, Montella did get the sack for his inability to be flexible with the style, Castrovilli’s role has remained the same under Giuseppe Iachini and his 3-5-2 shape.
But in Serie A this season, Castrovilli has taken over the role that Jordan Veretout had donned over the years after his Aston Villa exit. He has dribbled past 79 players in total this season– the second-best in the division and only behind Jeremie Boga. He ranks sixth for total distance in ball carries and is eighth for a progressive distance of ball-carries (via FBRef).
These are his strengths and define the sort of player he is. Castrovilli has previously publicly stated that a lot of his playing style is down to his dancing skills.
“I love dance and when I step on to the field, I feel just as relaxed as when I was dancing. I hope to find a dancing school in Florence!”
That is what makes him a graceful player to watch. He has an impeccable drop of a shoulder which can send the defender the opposite way. He has that nose for knowing what to do on the ball and where to send the opposition. This makes him such a threatening player to come up against, especially when he’s running at the back-four from the centre of the pitch.
While Montella deserves credit for how he unearthed Castrovilli during his younger days, the Italian is adept at winning the ball back too.
He is 15th for the highest number of pressures in midfield in Serie A. While teammate Pulgar is above him, the Chilean is more about winning the ball back than playing with it. But Castrovilli tops the table for the number of tackles won in the attacking third. This shows how good he can be in a system that relies on pressing high up the pitch.
He’s already made his debut for the Azzurri under Roberto Mancini and is being linked with bigger moves. Wherever he goes though, Castrovilli has already acquired the reputation for being a magical player with the ball at his feet. He just needs the token of trust and the right position to work his magic.