Torino has been a club in transition over the last few seasons. Just two years ago the Granata boasted one of the stoutest defenses on the peninsula, which they rode to a seventh-place finish and Europa League qualification. Then last year disaster almost struck when Torino narrowly avoided relegation. This year the club turned to Marco Giampaolo to try and remedy last year’s issues. So, to try and get a better understanding of what’s been going on in Italy’s industrial north, I turned to Rob Gillman of Torino FC Inglese.
Torino is off to a difficult start. What has been the biggest issue for Torino this season so far?
Rob Gillman: Toro’s issues this season have mainly been their inability to maintain a lead - they have dropped 19 points from winning positions this season. They have played well in games for long periods, as seen in the Derby Della Mole but been unable to put in a full performance for 90 minutes.
Just a few seasons ago Marco Giampaolo was regarded as one of Italy’s hottest manager prospects until he failed miserably at Milan last season. How has the transition to Giampaolo from Mazzari and Longo gone? Do you think he will be able to survive the rough start?
RG: Giampaolo has had a tough start to his Toro career, and it was always going to be a difficult job after last season’s disappointing campaign. He was not helped by a poor transfer window, where they failed to sign a ‘regista’ who is key in his 4-3-1-2 formation. Tomas Rincon has been deployed in this role, but it has not been particularly effective. So much so, Giampaolo has even changed his formation recently to have a back three - something the squad is more used to.
Just two seasons ago Torino finished seventh on 63 points and qualified for the Europa League. That season they were led by one of the best defenses in Serie A, allowing just 37 goals in 38 matches. Last season the Granata allowed 68 and this season they have already allowed 24 goals in 10 matches. What’s been the biggest reason for this worrying trend?
RG: Torino were successful in the 2018/19 campaign due to an effective counter-attacking strategy under Walter Mazzarri. However, the following season opposing teams seemed to have worked out that tactic and that Toro did not have much creativity - and were often reliant on Andrea Belotti to create something from nothing.
Let’s talk about Andrea Belotti.
Belotti is Torino’s captain and headline name. Just a few seasons ago he scored 26 goals and was one of the hottest names on the transfer market. His production hasn’t been quite as good the past 3 seasons (10, 15, and 16 league goals), but he’s started this season strong with 7 goals. What makes him such a good player?
RG: Belotti is an excellent player and a fan favourite amongst Toro supporters. His tireless workrate is almost infectious, and he is also deceptively quick, strong in the air and decent technically.
With the team’s current trajectory, does it worry you that he may now have outgrown the club and will look for a move elsewhere? Do you think there’s any regret that it didn’t sell him when the interest from big clubs was high after the 26 goal season?
RG: Definitely, his contract ends in 2022, so unless he signs a new deal - he will probably be sold shortly for a relatively small fee. I don’t think the club regret not selling him after his breakout season, because without him they could have been relegated last season. I don’t think the fans would begrudge Belotti a move to a club in European football either, because he deserves the chance after being an excellent servant for the club.
What does Torino need to do the rest of the way to improve its place in the standings and avoid the relegation zone?
RG: I think a lot of Torino’s problems are psychological as the performances have been better than the results gained. This is a team who had two goal leads over Sassuolo and Inter away from home, but only picked up one point.
Looking ahead to Thursday, what scares you the most about Roma? What does Torino have to do to pull the upset?
RG: I have not seen much of Roma this season, but it is a team I have a lot of time for. I actually saw Roma play live before against Toro, and was at the San Siro when Francesco Totti scored his excellent chip in 2005.
This season, I know Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been in good form, and they look like they may be able to challenge for the Champions League places again.
Torino’s last truly impressive 90 minute performance actually came against Roma at the start of the year, when the Granata won 2-0.
With this Toro team you never know, but one player to look out for is young right back Wilfried Singo. He has been excellent in recent weeks, and also scored against Roma at the Stadio Grande Torino back in July.
Thanks again to Rob for giving us some great insight on Torino ahead of Roma’s match with the Granata. He’ll also be joining me on Across the Romaverse to preview Thursday’s match, so keep an eye out for that on all major podcast platforms.
You can follow Rob on Twitter @ToroRob76. Meanwhile, you can check out his English language Torino site Torino FC Inglese. Rob is also a published author, and his ebook chronicling Giampiero Ventura’s five years managing the club can be found here.