It has been another up-and-down season for Southampton striker Graziano Pelle. His aerial ability and expert shooting means he possesses the characteristics of a great striker, but he has struggled to find that real consistency during his time at St Mary’s.
Since a pinpoint header against Ronald Koeman’s side’s fiercest rivals Bournemouth in November, Pelle had failed to register a goal; until Saturday. Perhaps Pelle was not what people alleged him to be?
But he certainly reconciled his sins in front of the Saints away fans goal with a dominant brace at the Britannia Stadium for Southampton on Saturday.
Shoot takes a look at the Italian talisman for the south coast side; the man who may just play an influential part for the club if they make a late run for Europe.
Where did it all start for Pelle?
Despite football fans knowing Pelle for his experience at St Mary’s and at Feyenoord, Pelle was born in the Lecce, a small province on the south coast of Italy, home to less than one million people. Here his talent was clear and he was a key player for U.S Lecce as they were promoted to Serie A in 2003. By 2004, he made his debut in Italy’s top division but failed to make an impact at this level. It led to a dilemma for Pelle. Did he stay at Lecce – a club he progressed through the youth academy at, and a club who were now consistent within the top division in Italy – or did he make the move away and try and gain first team football elsewhere?
The answer was the latter. But there was still no real breakthrough and Pelle still lacked goals in his game. That was until a loan spell at Cesena, where he scored 10 goals and guided the club to a respectable 15th position within the league. At the age of 21, it really could be seen as a step in the right direction.
What happened next?
By the time he made a return to the south coast of Italy, Lecce had dropped back down to the second-tier of Italian football following relegation in the 2005-06 season by two points. So it was inevitable that this young prospect would have to be sold off. This benefitted Pelle as well, especially for the club he signed for. Dutch club AZ was the next club in the chapter of the Italian. The Eredivisie beckoned for Pelle.
But once again, he struggled with only three goals in 27 appearances in his first season in Holland. A one-season wonder, perhaps? Maybe so, but Pelle possessed an aerial ability which made him an indispensable part of the AZ frontline.
By 2011, however, a new opportunity came about. One he could not turn down. It involved playing for one of the greatest sides in Italy and meant returning to his homeland as, in July of that year, he signed for Parma. But once again he failed to score consistently and slipped out of the side. A loan move beckoned – this time to Sampdoria. Here he scored four goals in 16 appearances which led to a return of Serie A football at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.
How did he get to this point?
Following a successful loan spell in Genoa, Feyenoord expressed interest in the Italian. It was something that Parma couldn’t turn down and an initial loan spell to the club gave him time to adapt to his surroundings. He certainly did this by scoring one of the most iconic goals in the 2002 UEFA Cup’S recent history, with him turning and rifling a shot from inside the 18-yard area in stoppage time against Ajax to earn the 14-time EredivisIe winners a late point.
From this point onwards he didn’t look back. Inevitably, he signed permanently for the club with some of his career highlights including a hat-trick against ADO Den Haag and a brace against PSV.
But by 2014, it was a time to experience something new. After missing out on the 2014 World Cup squad for his home nation, he needed to put his name more in the public eye and signed for Premier League outfit Southampton – at the time a club in crisis following the departure of key men such as Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana. The bookmakers got the Saints wrong this season however, and despite missing the likes of Shaw and Lallana at times, Koeman’s men surprised the league as they finished seventh and qualified for Europe. Pelle was top scorer and finished level with 12 goals, alongside David Silva and Wayne Rooney.
How does Pelle perform for his nation?
Ever since a youngster, Pelle has been tracked by the Italian national side. The 2005 FIFA World Youth Championships was when he was seriously considered a proper prospect for the future Italian National team after scoring four goals and only missing out on the Golden Boot to an unknown Lionel Messi. By 2007, he was a regular within the under-21 side. However, Pelle didn’t get the call for senior side until October 2014 – after shining for Southampton.. He made his debut straight away as he featured in a Euro 2016 qualifier for the Italians against Malta. By March 2015, he had his first goal as well. It came against England, just days after Easter, in a 1-1 draw against Roy Hodgson’s men.
Why is he so dangerous?
Pelle is your typical target man centre-forward. His height of 6ft 4in tall means he can boss the opponents’ defence around and he has the ability to score from headers, as we saw earlier on in the season in the Saints first match against local rivals AFC Bournemouth in the Premier League.
Super Stat: Until Saturday, Pelle had not scored away from home since October 3.