SPAL 2013: Società Polisportiva Ars et Labor. Admit it, that’s a cool name. The Emilia-Romagna outfit have a long history in Italy, being founded way back in 1907. They were always a bit of the odd man in Serie A since they returned to the top flight in 2017. No household name like Juventus, Milan or Roma (yeah I said it). No ‘romantic’ side like Fiorentina, Atalanta or Napoli. No established Serie A side like Sampdoria, Torino or Udinese. Just...SPAL 2013.
But I guess that also made them quite likable. Their light blue kits are nice. Their former coach Leonardo Semplici is an up-and-coming trainer. 2018-2019 was one of their best seasons ever, finishing 13th before the likes of Genoa, Fiorentina and Parma.
However, 2019-2020 has been a horror season so far for gli Spallini, and not only due to pandemic: bottom of the table, 5 wins in 34 games, one win in their last 14 games. Ouch. Last weekend their fate was sealed after a defeat to Brescia and their suffering finally ended: Serie B it is.
When Roma visit the Stadio Paulo Mazza on Wednesday, they better bring home the three points because you won’t face a weaker opponent on the road this season. They got one point from their last 8 games and didn’t win at the Paulo Mazza since October 2019. They just got their asses kicked by Inter 4-0 not so long ago and have more wins away than at home, including a surprise 2-1 result in Atalanta.
So the cat’s in the bag, no need to watch the game, let’s assume Roma have +3 points after Wednesday? Think again. SPAL have only scored 23 goals so far (yes, another weak point), but 12 of those goals are on the account of one man: Andrea Petagna.
Okay, now we get to the tricky part.
The talented 25-year-old striker was once hailed as the next best thing in Italy and played for all the national youth sides. A future Azzurri striker like Inzaghi, Toni or Vieri. Petagna has been ever-present in Serie A since 2016, including two seasons at Atalanta and now two seasons at SPAL. While he was still a spring chicken at Bergamo, he really started to flourish at SPAL under Semplici and transformed into the complete package.
Andrea scored 17 goals last season (including one in the Coppa) and has already amassed 12 this year, which is not too shabby playing for a relegation candidate. Mind you he doesn’t exactly have the same service as a Dzeko, Ronaldo, Immobile or Lukaku. There’s a reason why they are rock bottom, with a soon to be 39-year-old Floccari or 34-year-old Missiroli. Espeto, Sala, Cionek, Letica, Vicari, Salamon—Those aren’t names that immediately ring a bell. Petagna does, though.
Andrea’s a tall, strong striker and can be a menace to any defence in Serie A if he’s in shape. It’s true he hasn’t scored in his last 6 games—his latest goal was vs Napoli in a 3-1 loss—but be damn sure he has his mind set on a goal or two against the Giallorossi to break his duck.
Speaking of Napoli. If you’re thinking right now, ‘hey this Petagna guy seems like the perfect option as vice-Dzeko for next season!, I have to disappoint you. Napoli has already poached him from SPAL last winter for €17 million and agreed to let him stay there until this summer. Next season he’ll be supported by Mertens, Zielinski, Insigne, Politano and co. which should lead to more goals from the former Milan youth product.
Petagna was exactly the piece of business Roma should do in search of a Dzeko replacement: an experienced yet young Serie A striker reaching his peak, a tall centre forward with potential. If Andrea can indeed step up his game in Naples, that 17 million will look like a steal.
Well, it’s no use crying over spilled milk. All Roma can do now is keep Andrea from doing what he loves and does best: scoring goals. Good luck Mancini and Roger.