Why Inter’s Roberto Gagliardini is Justifying His €28 Million Transfer Fee

gagRoberto Gagliardini has had a big season. Things started off with Atalanta, where, alongside fellow young stars Franck Kessie and Mattia Caldara, he formed a vital part of an unexpectedly successful side under Gian Piero Gasperini. Then, in the January transfer window, the 22-year-old midfielder made the move to Inter, who used Suning’s backing to fork out a substantial €28 million in order to secure his services.

That fee may seem extreme, even a little outlandish, for a kid who had only played 14 times in Serie A at the time of purchase, but in this world of modern football, one in which everything moves so quickly, Inter felt the need to strike before their rivals. It was a massive move for Gagliardini, and with so much hype surrounding him – Gasperini once claimed that, with proper development, he could become the “White Paul Pogba” – he could’ve been excused for feeling overwhelmed. From the sounds of it, maybe he was, at least at first. “There are so many champions here,” he admitted soon after arriving at Inter. “I’ve only had one training session but you can already see the quality.”

Throw in the fact that Piero Ausilio, Inter’s Sporting Director, labelled him the club’s sole January transfer target upon the completion of the signing, and a lot was riding on his performances in the second half of the campaign. So far, he hasn’t let that pressure get to him, and in his Inter debut against Chievo, just days after making the whirlwind shift to one of Italy’s biggest teams, he acquitted himself so well that many observers labelled him man of the match.

Gagliardini been solid ever since, and his statistic output at Inter has generally been superior to that which he produced with Atalanta, especally on the defensive end. A physical player with plenty of tenacity, his ability to cover the ground has seen him up his interception rate from 1.5 per game at Atalanta to 2.8 per game with Inter. His tackling figures have also risen in similarly dramatic fashion, with 1.5 per game at Atalanta now making way for an impressive 3.3 at the Nerazzurri.

This is illustrative of his off the ball exertions, as he reads the play intuitively and has a knack for timing his challenges. Last weekend, in Inter’s 5-1 away demolition of Cagliari, Gagliardini was at it again. He made 5 tackles from his central midfield station, two of which were so important that they sparked quickfire counter-attacks. The best of these arrived at the midpoint of the first half, where Gagliardini dispossessed Artur Ionita in the centre before Inter surged into attack to create a shot on goal for Mauro Icardi. The Argentinian hitman may have sent the ball just wide of the mark, but the move nonetheless allowed Gagliardini to showcase his physicality in midfield.

He also managed two interceptions against the Islanders, another indication of his quality when it comes to reading the game. It’s also that ability to see what’s happening in front of him that enables Gagliardini to be an effective passer of the ball. Often hailed for his combination of vision and range when it comes to distribution, Gagliardini dialled it back a bit against Cagliari, instead opting to keep things simple in the middle. He still managed a couple of key passes, but his main job was to act as Inter’s hub in midfield, and by way of completing 63 passes at 91.3% accuracy – a game-high efficiency rating amongst starters – he did exactly that.

These efforts, not only on the ball but off it, meant that Gagliardini had a quietly exceptional game, at least until the 89th minute, when he not only scored Inter’s fifth goal of the match but also his first ever in Serie A. Here, the youngster received a short pass about 30 yards out, directly in front of goal, and punched a hard, low drive into the back of the net after a neat first touch. As the ball skidded beyond the clutches of Cagliari goalkeeper Gabriel, it signalled a reward for Gagliardini’s work in regard to improving in front of goal. He talked of the need to do this after his Inter debut, and following his first league goal, he took to Instagram to say of the goal: “Well what about that..It has arrived.”

That marked another milestone for the Atalanta youth product, but that’s not to say he’s a player without flaws. He isn’t the quickest and he occasionally sports an untidy first touch – something which was evident early against Cagliari when he lost the ball to give the opposition a chance to break – but the overriding signs are positive.

Gasperini has talked about the fact that all of the ingredients are there for Gagliardini to develop into a top player, while Stefano Pioli, his current manager at Inter, has referred to him as a “complete midfielder.” Pioli then went on to reel off some of his attributes. “He has positional sense, he knows how to move. I’ve asked him to get forward and he’s doing well in both phases of the game,” Pioli added. “He could be like [Marco] Tardelli, though Marco was more agile and quicker. Roberto, on the other hand, is taller and more physical.”

These things make it a little difficult to know what Gagliardini will become in the future, as his all-round game means he could play either as a box-to-box man or more of a destroyer who still retains the eye for a pass. Either way, he’s a tremendous prospect, and while Gagliardini has some way to go before matching the ‘White Pogba’ comparisons made by Gasperini, he’s certainly on the right path.

Gasperini recently claimed that Gagliardini had “pushed his limits” at Atalanta. Now, while lining up for one of the giants of Italian football, he has the chance to grow into a star with Inter.