Southampton have regularly developed players and made them stars. Their academy is revelled, but they are also very good at improving those signed from abroad. Since their return to the Premier League, they have seen a number of good players leave the club with nine moving to top-six clubs. They don’t market themselves as a stepping stone club, but they are certainly a club that ambitious players will want to join as there is a route to the top.
Manolo Gabbiadini arrived at the beginning of the year for a fee of £14 million from Napoli. It was considered a step down at the time, but the striker saw an opportunity to gain more playing time and increase his reputation across Europe. Although he was well-respected in his homeland, he wasn’t getting as many opportunities as he would have liked for Maurizio Sarri’s side.
Before moving to Southampton, the striker contributed eight goals and three assists for Napoli during his final 18 months with the club. He had a goal involvement every 96.1 minutes, but he had only started in 11 matches during that period. The majority of his appearances came from the bench. As a squad player, Gabbiadini was doing well, but he had ambitions to be a regular starter and the Premier League side were prepared to offer that.
The decision to leave Napoli was based on playing time and suitability to the system being played by Sarri. In January, the Mail reported the following quotes from president Aurelio De Laurentiis who admitted that Gabbiadini wasn’t the best fit for the club anymore, which is why they were open to selling him to the Premier League.
“It’s not that he wasn’t able to express himself, but rather different things are asked of him and they are not in his wheelhouse. Gabbiadini scored many goals at Sampdoria and also here under Rafa Benitez, so with a system other than the one Sarri uses he should have a better chance of being decisive. I thought that his performance in the first season was due to physical issues, but that wasn’t the case. He is simply not suited to Sarri’s football.”
It was an exciting signing for Southampton, as they were bringing in an Italian international with a lot of potential. His goal-scoring record in Italy was patchy, but he was often on the move and wasn’t allowed to develop at a single club. During his time in Serie A, he scored a goal every 209.9 minutes. Taking all things into consideration, this is an impressive record, but the South Coast club would have hoped that he could push on and be a one in two striker for them.
Gabbiadini had a superb start to life in Southampton, as he scored six goals in his first four matches for the club. This included a brace in the EFL Cup final against Manchester United, a match that featured a wrongly disallowed goal from the Italian. He could have had a hat-trick and it can be argued that Saints were the better team on the day.
The future looked bright for the 25-year-old and there were some already talking about a move to a bigger club, but he then suffered a groin injury and that halted his progression. He missed the next three league matches and failed to score again for the rest of the campaign. The style of play under Claude Puel wasn’t great and the side failed to score in six of their last eight matches.
His start was quickly forgotten about and Gabbiadini lost all the momentum. It is impossible to state where he would be if he didn’t suffer the injury, but he was full of confidence and looked like scoring every time he stepped onto the pitch.
How has he started this season?
Although Southampton have a new manager in Mauricio Pellegrino, the side is still struggling in front of goal. They have failed to score in four of their first eight league matches, but they have found the net three times in their last two fixtures. There are signs of encouragement and the return to form of Gabbiadini is central to that.
Southampton have scored seven times in the league and their Italian striker has got three of those. The first of which came against West Ham United in August, but it was his brace during this past weekend that served as a real indication he was on the way back. Newcastle United were well organised and Gabbiadini had only two chances, both of which he took.
The first was a great piece of individual work, as he collected the ball deep into the box and had to work hard to find space for the shot. It was a tame effort, but aimed into the bottom corner and crept past Rob Elliot. The goalkeeper may have been able to do better, but it was just the luck that Gabbiadini needed. He was then given the chance to equalise from the spot and he did so with an emphatic finish. Pellegrino talked up the importance of his striker and hoped this would be the confidence boost that he needed:
“Manolo is an important player for us. It’s positive for his confidence but the most important thing is he was working really hard, not just for himself but for the team.”
The penalty suggested that his confidence was returning as it was a powerful finish that gave no chance to the goalkeeper. The main problem for Gabbiadini has been a lack of chances, due to the creative issues that Southampton have. He is averaging 2.34 shots per game and his accuracy currently stands at 40%. An increase in both will be needed if he is to score double figures this season.
This past weekend was a positive first step back to the player that was witnessed during the first few weeks of his Southampton career. Gabbiadini took both chances that came his way and showed a clinical edge that has been lacking since his groin injury. The next few weeks see him come up against West Brom, Brighton and Burnley. There is an opportunity for him to add to his tally and push on to become the star of this team.