When Italy Coach Cesare Prandelli announced back in February he had to move the Azzurri away from his favoured 4-3-3 formation due to a lack of eligible wide players, he essentially gave an overview of Italian football for the past 15 years. But the recent good form of Fiorentina’s Alessio Cerci could yet give Prandelli hope for a return to his master plan in the future.
As one of the few Italian wingers, he is always going to stand out a little more. Even as a youngster at Roma he was earmarked as an individual to keep an eye on, but he was not afforded the playing time he needed to develop (he did have other wide players like Amantino Mancini in front of him) and like many youngsters in his position, he was sent on loan to a succession of Serie B outfits.
His biggest success was in 2007/08 with Pisa when he was 19. There he played under Giampiero Ventura in a team also containing Vitali Kutuzov and José Castillo. He was utilised on the right in a 4-4-2 and was remarkably productive, finishing with 10 league goals (only Castillo scored more that season for the club) in a campaign which saw Pisa enter the play-offs for Serie A.
The problem Cerci had was taking that productivity into Serie A. He was barely used by Atalanta the following season (another loan move), starting only two games, and in the fleeting appearances for Roma was deemed not to have shown enough end product to warrant keeping.
Fiorentina paid €4m for him at the start of this season, the majority of the fee probably due to his potential than demonstrated ability. Until a month ago, his year has been somewhat broken. He was initially entrusted with a place in the team by Siniša Mihajlović, but upon failing to deliver was swiftly taken out again and used from the bench, with starts coming at various intervals in the season.
Only injury to Mario Santana has allowed Cerci to get a real run in the side. Mihajlović initially spoke of using him as a trequartista (he played more centrally against Juventus), but he has returned to a wider role and has started to give the team an end product. There may be some work to do with his delivery or final ball, but he seems to now be finding goalscoring positions with more regularity – important for someone who at times plays quite advanced up the pitch.
Five goals in his last five games (he has only completed 90 minutes in one of them) is reflective of that, and those goals have propelled him to the lofty heights of second highest goalscorer for the club this season, behind only Alberto Gilardino. That statistic is naturally misleading, because, although it can suggest he has had a great year, he has only really started to play in the last month of the season, and against one or two teams with little to play for (step forward Cagliari).
His task will be to ensure he carries this forward into next season. With Andrea Della Valle hinting at changes being made, Cerci has the opportunity to be part of a new Fiorentina era. If he can produce over an entire season, he might even convince Prandelli to start accommodating wide players once more.