On the back of his career-best season at Torino FC, Alessio Cerci signed for Atlético Madrid just as the transfer window slammed shut.
The Italian had amassed a total of 13 goals and 10 assists in the previous season, which was only somewhat overshadowed by the goalscoring exploits of striker Ciro Immobile, with whom he’d built a fruitful partnership with at the Turin-based club.
The signing, on the face of it, was not a bad one; but a surprising one. If there is one thing this Atlético Madrid team has under Diego Simeone, it’s character. Sacrifice is expected and maximum effort is mandatory. In terms of work off the ball, few can match the intensity in which each player in the Atleti team approaches their duty.
Therefore, when the signing of Cerci was completed, eyebrows rose to the rafters. In terms of attitude and problematic behaviour, Cerci ranks closer to fellow countryman Antonio Cassano than any of his new teammates, which made many question whether or not he’d be cut out for life in the capital.
Previous partying habits aside, there’s no questioning Cerci’s natural talent. His creativity and speed – something that initially sounded very promising given the lack of pace possessed by recently bought striker Mario Mandzukic – offered a new dynamic to the Atleti attack, an explosiveness that had caused so much damage in Serie A.
If Simeone could get Cerci’s attitude ironed out a la Arda Turan, the acquisition of Cerci could turn out to be a good one after all.
It hasn’t, at least not yet.
The main issue concerning Cerci is his lack of playing time. Last season the rotation of first team players was kept to a minimum, and once again Simeone seems unmoved to begin to start fiddling with his starting eleven, instead choosing to depend on a small, core group of players with which he has established trust.
During the last campaign, Cristian Rodríguez found himself in a similar position, reduced mostly to substitute appearances and unable to make an impact on games.
In La Liga, Cerci’s performances have been nothing to write home about. In many ways Cerci’s miserable afternoon at the Mestalla, which saw him have a goal disallowed and given two yellow cards in quick succession, has summed up his season so far.
He is without a goal or assist in the current campaign in the league, but that could very well be put down to a lack of playing time. In 5 substitute appearances, Cerci has played little over a game worth of football, arguably not nearly enough to judge him upon.
What little time he has had on to pitch has been far from impressive, it could be argued, with the winger lacking in his defensive contribution and constantly straying offside.
The signs have been a little brighter in cup competitions. Game time has been hard to come by for the Italian in this season’s Champions League campaign, but a spirited, though brief, performance against Malmö FF in an eventual 5-0 home win offered the Atleti faithful an insight as to why the board had forked out €16 million for the winger. Cerci’s first goal came in the rout, a welcome relief for a man that had managed to get into double figures last season.
In the Copa del Rey, a game in which Cerci was handed his first start against CE L’Hospitalet, he was lively, showing a brilliant burst of pace and even winning the penalty that was put away by Gabi. De spite a couple of good touches and runs, Cerci was quickly outshined by Antoine Griezmann, with the Frenchman offering much more than the Italian from the moment he was introduced.
In the prime of his career, Cerci has made it clear that he doesn’t want to be stuck on the bench, but on the pitch it’s difficult to find a place for him. Moving Koke back into the centre alongside Gabi in the double pivot would provide an opening for Cerci to occupy the left-hand side of attack. However, it appears that Cerci is some way down in the pecking order, with even youngster Saúl starting out of position, on the wing, ahead of him.
If the transfer rumours are true, there will be no shortage of clubs looking to sign Cerci, despite being cup-tied, if Atleti wish to sell him in January. Perhaps the logical situation would be to keep Cerci, at least until summer, especially as the season draws to a close.
Who knows, maybe an impressive run of displays in training or an injury to his competition up front may provide Cerci with an opportunity to prove his worth to the club. Until then, it’s looking like a case of wrong club, wrong player.
However, as the Italian proverb goes, ‘The world is for him who has patience.’ Maybe Cerci must be patient and wait for his defining opportunity, and until then we must be patient with him.