10, 6, 12, 26, 10, 15, 16, 13, 8
Those are the goal totals for a specific Roma player between 2013-14 and 2021-22. Many would assume you were correct if you guessed they belonged to Paulo Dybala. However, if we added a zero to the end of that list, then the correct answer immediately becomes clear: It's Andrea Belotti.
So, that begs the question, how does a player that's scored double digits in every season that he's played more than 1,400 minutes score zero league goals in 1,100 minutes?
Of all the frustration Roma caused its fans during the 2022-23 season, Belotti's struggles in front of goal were perhaps the most frustrating part of a disappointing season. When he was brought in on a free transfer last summer, it looked like Roma would have not only one but two strikers capable of feasting on the service provided by the likes of Paulo Dybala and Lorenzo Pellegrini.
Tammy Abraham felt like a shoo-in to challenge for the league's golden boot, and Belotti should've easily bagged double digits as his overly-qualified deputy. After years of struggling to find a striker tandem to strike fear in a defense, José Mourinho had Abraham coming off a 17-league-goal season, along with Belotti, who'd scored over 100 Serie A goals. Throw in the left foot of Dybala, Pellegrini's ever-improving set-piece ability, plus a healthy Nicoló Zaniolo, and on paper, Roma had one of the most lethal attacks in Italy.
Instead, the Giallorossi struggled mightily to score. Their 50 league goals ranked ninth in the league, behind all of their top four competition, as well as mid-table clubs Bologna and Fiorentina. It was a disaster class that saw Zaniolo out the door in January, regression from Abraham and Pellegrini, and an offense that sputtered without Dybala on the pitch. Then, of course, there was Belotti's goose egg.
While a case study can be done on what went wrong for all but Dybala, we will focus here on the most perplexing player: Belotti. How does a 100-goal scorer go goalless while playing with a better supporting cast? What exactly went wrong? And is this what we should expect again from the 29-year-old Italian international?
What Went Wrong Last Season?
Belotti addressed that in a recent interview with Corriere dello Sport (quotes via Football Italia).
"Last year I missed two training camps, both in summer and in autumn. This lack of training heavily conditioned my season, preparation is essential for my physical condition, to put minutes in my legs and thus be found ready for the matches that matter."
Due to financial reasons, Belotti's transfer to Roma didn't become official until August 28th. By then, Roma had completed a whole preseason and played its first three league matches against Salernitana, Cremonese, and Juventus.
When acclimating to a new squad and city, players need to have time to work with new teammates in training and preseason friendlies. That's why teams like to get their transfer dealings done early. Let players learn each other's tendencies and iron out the kinks in matches that have no bearing on the table. Belotti had none of that—no chance for a learning curve.
In addition, Belotti did not have a club last summer because his contract with Torino had expired at the end of the 2021-22 season. Therefore, he trained on his own without the benefit of participating in preseason activities with another team.
That sort of individual training may keep a player fit, but being physically fit is much different than being match fit for the highest levels of European football. And as Belotti pointed out, not having those preseason-friendly minutes under his belt greatly affected him. Belotti was starting behind the eight ball, and there was no catching up.
Aside from the lack of fitness, Belotti also went through various injuries last season, which he spoke about in his post-match comments after Roma's 4-2 victory over Farense this past week.
"It was a turbulent season. It doesn't look like it from the outside, but it's not easy to play in certain conditions (due to his injuries). I can grit my teeth and go beyond myself, but when you know you're not 100%, it's normal to struggle more, but I'm convinced that all the injuries from last year are behind us and that it will be a better season."
Last season, Belotti dealt with a fractured wrist and rib, as well as a thigh issue. He didn't miss much time with the leg issue right before the World Cup break. And as he said, he gritted his teeth through the wrist and rib issues throughout the spring.
And while those two injuries weren't enough to keep him off the pitch, they certainly affected his play. One can only imagine how painful the rib issue must've been as he battled defenders and gasped for breath after hard sprints.
With those factors going against him, it's no wonder Belotti had a down year—hitting rock bottom from a production standpoint.
What Should We Expect This Season?
The law of averages says there's no way that Belotti can be as bad as last season. After all, this is a player who averaged 14.28 league goals per season with Torino.
With an entire preseason and the injuries behind him, Belotti should bounce back and start putting the ball in the back of the net again. Is he the player that scored 26 goals for Torino in 2016-17, prompting Urbano Cairo to slap a €100 million valuation on his back when Arsenal came calling? No. That season was once in a lifetime.
Some would argue that he was the big fish in a small pond with Toro, much like Domenico Berardi at Sassuolo. However, a player doesn't average 14+ goals over seven seasons by chance. He likely will split time with another striker (or possibly two) this season, which means fewer opportunities to hit his historical average. However, if he plays somewhere in the 1,500-2,000 minute range—which seems well within the range of possibility given Abraham's prolonged absence—then double-digit goals should be expected. Aside from that, we should continue to see the high work rate and grinta that likely endeared him to Mourinho in the first place.
"I'm convinced that it will be a better season for me, because all the injuries I suffered are behind me. Having worked well from day one, the results will also be noticeable in the match."
Belotti is convinced it will be a better season, and scoring in the preseason should help boost his confidence heading into meaningful matches. With the Giallorossi still unable to land a replacement for Abraham, Belotti could likely lead Roma's line when the opening whistle blows against Salernitana on August 20th.
Eventually, someone will arrive, whether that be Marcos Leonardo, Alvaro Morata, Alexis Sanchez, Marko Arnautovic, or one of the many others Roma has been linked with now that Gianluca Scamacca is heading to Bergamo. Nevertheless, that new striker, whoever it may be, will be weeks behind in their preparation with the side. Leonardo, a youngster playing in Brazil, will likely need to be worked in slowly at the beginning. And if Roma opts for another veteran like Morata, he likely won't arrive until later in the mercato. No matter how the transfer market plays out, Belotti isn't letting it bother him though.
"I don't think about anything, I just think about playing. I know I'm in a great team and I feel everyone's trust, the staff, management, coach. This is the thing that counts.
"Honestly, I'm not interested in the rumours. As I said, being at Roma is a source of pride and satisfaction for me. I get on well with everyone and I want to give my best for this shirt.
"Right now, I have to concentrate on one aspect above all: physical condition. If I'm fine, I know I can give something good to the team. It doesn't bother me that there is talk of a new striker, because I know the rules.
"If there is a need for another centre-forward, the club and the coach will decide it, logically this is not it's up to me to choose. But with so many games, there will be space.
"Every now and then everyone needs to catch their breath during the course of a season. It happens in all teams and it's not a problem."
The slow-developing transfer season means Belotti can take the bull by the horns and force Mourinho's hand early in the season to continue to start him up top. Confidence and consistency are key for strikers, and Belotti could have that early this season.
Roma's early season fixture list reads like this: Salernitana, Hellas Verona, AC Milan, Empoli, Torino, Genoa, Frosinone, Cagliari, and Monza. In the first nine matches, Belotti will only see one top side in Milan. Otherwise, there are three newly promoted sides, four sides that finished in the bottom half last season, and Torino, who finished tenth.
If Belotti gets off on the right foot against a favorable fixture list, then we could see the striker that was consistently among the top scorers in the league, something that could fuel a hot start for the Giallorossi as they challenge for a top-four finish later in the season.
If this happens, last season will quickly be forgotten, and Romanisti will be reminded why Belotti arriving on a free last summer was such a big deal.