After a superb 2016, in which he established himself as a lethal scorer and Italian international under former club boss Giampiero Ventura, Andrea Belotti deservedly holds a reputation as one of European football's most sought-after strikers. Thriving alongside Adem Ljajic and former Tottenham Hotspur winger Iago Falque in Sinisa Mihajlovic's attacking 4-3-3 system, the 23-year-old has notched 16 times already in just 21 appearances across all competitions this term and unsurprisingly attracted attention from a host of potential high-profile suitors including Arsenal and Manchester United.
Initially rejected by Atalanta as a youngster, he rose admirably from humble third-tier beginnings at AlbinoLeffe. Later taking a wage cut and rejecting moves to top-flight clubs such as Sampdoria and Verona in order to prove his worth in the second division with Palermo, Belotti joined Torino on a permanent basis back in August 2015 and has since gone from strength to strength.
With Gorlago native Belotti seemingly having been annointed as flavour of the month during the latest January transfer window, IBTimes UK caught up with Torino expert Peter Bourne to get the lowdown on a player – known as 'Il Gallo' or 'The Rooster' due to his slightly bizarre and now trademark goal celebration – who has taken to terrorising Serie A defences on a weekly basis...
"His physical characteristics are those of a classic no 9," he said of the complete forward. "Belotti is as strong as a bull, holds the ball up well and defenders off with ease. His work-rate has always been impressive.
"Since the beginning of 2016 the quality of his finishing and timing of his runs has really improved. He is extremely resourceful in terms of how he scores his goals; counter-attack, crosses, solo efforts, albeit all generally in the penalty area.
"This season his goals have been distributed neatly between right foot, left foot, head. His main weakness is perhaps his first touch which can be a bit agricultural at times and on occasions his awareness of those around him."
Belotti has evidently taken giant strides in his development over the past year, something that Bourne attributes to the greater sense of responsibility afforded by Fabio Quagliarella's exit and the injuries/eventual departure of Ciro Immobile to Lazio. Could such success be easily transferred to the Premier League?
"Italian players have had a mixed time in England especially strikers. Belotti though should adapt to the physical nature of the Premier League, the pace, the intensity. There is nothing to suggest he wouldn't be a success."
Arsenal's interest – since dismissed as "fake news" by Arsene Wenger channelling his inner Donald Trump – in Belotti was first revealed whenTorino sporting director Gianluca Petrachi said the club had rejected an offer from the Gunners worth £56m ($68.7m). United have also been mentioned as a possible contender, but it could be that Chelsea emerge as his most likely next destination with Antonio Conte, who did not include the player in his Azzurri squad for last summer's European Championships, likely now seeing a long-term replacement for the volatile Diego Costa amid lucrative links to China.
"For what is worth I think he may be more likely to end up at Chelsea than Arsenal," Bourne said. "Could be [a good replacement for Costa]. Italian coach at Chelsea, albeit one who didn't select him for Euro 2016. But he fits the lineage of recent Chelsea strikers in being strong and having a physical presence."
Whoever ends up signing Belotti – who claims his footballing hero growing up was expensive Chelsea flop Andriy Shevchenko – will have little choice but to part with a substantial sum, particularly after agent Sergio Lancini hinted that he is unlikely to be sold for anything below an eye-watering €100m release clause inserted into a new long-term contract in December to act as a deterrent. Many will inevitably question if he is worth such a sizeable fee, although those who have watched him believe it would represent a sound investment should the former Palermo frontman continue his current rate of progression.
"The release clause is a bit strange and probably Torino's cheeky reaction to Juventus spending €94m on [Gonzalo] Higuain. I doubt Torino would be able to resist an offer in the region of 50-60m. It was more a statement and one which ultimately has drawn more interest in the player. The price tag is possibly on the steep side but if Belotti, at 23, continues to improve at the rate he has in the last 12 months then it would make good business. And there are not a surplus of good young strikers out there."
After surrendering a two-goal lead against Mihajlovic's former employers and Belotti's boyhood club AC Milan on 16th January, Torino, who finished 12th in Ventura's last campaign at the helm, currently lie eighth in Serie A and seven points adrift of the top five. Sealing a place in continental competition for only the second time since 2002 could help I Granata to retain the services of their star forward, although a summer departure is looking increasing likely.
"He is not agitating for a move but I wouldn't rate the chances of him being a Torino player next season," Bourne said. "Qualification for Europe, which is looking difficult the way the team are throwing away points, may tempt him to stay. But Torino are unlikely to be able to turn down an offer in excess of 50m."