Growing up, there was this kid named Albus Dinglefeet — I’ve fictionalized his name for anonymity’s sake — in my brother’s grade, and Albus was one of the fastest kids around.
We went to a small private school, the sort of situation where you could play any and every sport you wanted. Therefore Albus, whose uncanny speed was matched by a perfectly renewable and limitless energy, played football (both American and English), baseball, basketball, track, and so on and so forth, and in every single sport his contributions — good or bad, salvific or dooming — were felt by everyone.
Albus made noise, made chaos. For every positive contribution there was, usually, an equal and opposite boneheaded mistake.
The same can be said about Federico Chiesa.
The Fiorentina attacker is a bolt of pure energy — a flailing, scoring, diving, dribbling, havoc-wreaking machine. He is absolutely one of the brightest stars in Serie A, a talisman for club and country. He’s just 21 years old. And he’s almost certainly going to be on the move, whether this summer or next.
More divisive than pineapple on pizza
Chiesa is one of those rare players who either gets incinerated or deified, and none of that divisiveness has anything to do with off-field issues. In other words, a player like Cristiano Ronaldo is divisive, but it’s not because of his play (he’s obviously very good!).
Chiesa, though, seems to be a relatively sound young man — he’s only 21! — whose game does the dividing. We pinged two FloFC regulars, Adam Digby and Chloe Beresford, to demonstrate the point.
“He’s a deeply flawed player right now,” Digby said, “with issues that you’ll only notice if you watch him play for 90-plus minutes every Sunday. For every piece of delightful skill or wonderfully taken goal — and there have been many of both — that gets shared on social media, there are 10 times as many examples of basic errors in judgment.”
And then Beresford: “While Federico Chiesa can sometimes be frustrating to watch, there is no doubt that he is blessed with genuine natural ability. Fiorentina didn't enjoy many high points last season, but in the 7-1 Coppa Italia win versus Roma” — in which Chiesa scored a hat trick — “[he] demonstrated exactly what he is capable of.”
The difference, though, between “deeply flawed” and “occasionally frustrating to watch” is not small.
Slithering around message boards makes the division all the more apparent.
It seems like half of calcio fans think he’s a Herculean figure destined to guide Italy to another World Cup, while the other half think he’s a humanoid rubbish bin, and that any club who spends more than a coffee’s worth of wages on the lad has instigated a global economic crisis for their fans.
A little Italian Achilles (or maybe Telemachus)
(Skip to the paragraph beginning with “All of which is a way of saying…” if you don’t feel like a brief classical literature excursion.)
To be completely candid, I’m partial to The Odyssey and The Aeneid, but if there’s one singular character who stands out as “deeply flawed” in classical literature it’s certainly Achilles. A large part of The Iliad is basically Achilles getting his feelings hurt, refusing to fight for a long time, then getting his feelings hurt again (by the other team), and fighting way too hard. He’s deeply flawed, a bad character in a lot of ways but a powerful one. And then there’s Telemachus in The Odyssey: his father’s son waiting for his father. Chiesa has his own supremely successful father Enrico, a deadly goal scorer for a number of Italian teams, but Chiesa the younger remains a precocious enigma.
Federico is a bit of Achilles and a bit of Telemachus.
All of which is a way of saying that there is a lot of very good and a lot of very bad in Chiesa’s game, and it’s all on display. Take, for example, the recent U21 European Championship game against Spain. Chiesa scored two goals and terrorized Spain everywhere on the pitch. He did things like this:
This goal is completely emblematic of Federico Chiesa: a furious burst of speed, a fiery burst of energy exploding into the opponent’s box, and a goal — but was he actually shooting or was he attempting a cross?
I’ve watched a million times and I’m still not sure.
Against Spain there was the good (two goals, a key pass, three dribbles) and the bad (he led the team in fouls and was dispossessed on multiple occasions). During the Fiorentina campaign he scored 12 goals (six in the Coppa Italia, six in league play), but on many other occasions he either disappeared or turned the havoc-wreaking meter up too many notches. He often loses control of possession — his mind a little bit ahead of his feet — and at this point in his career he is launching way, way too many low-quality shots on the net.
Part of the problem is that he’s so freakishly talented, some of those low-quality efforts go in. Looking at Chiesa’s shot chart with expected goal values on Understat, you can see he scored two well outside the penalty area; one had an expected goal value of 0.01, the other of 0.02. Those are losing bets, but they went in. It’s stuff like the following that makes you think Chiesa truly is a budding star. They're not just blips on the radar.
Chiesa scoring a sublime curler:
Chiesa executing a cheeky nutmeg:
And he’s only 21! When I was Chiesa’s age, I was studying abroad in Turin staying up until 3 AM to watch the NBA Playoffs with my friend Sam and then trying to figure out how little I could do in school to not get sent back to the USA. Chiesa is going to be just fine.
But for fans, he’s a Rorschach test of sorts. There’s plenty of evidence to support a case in either camp. It’s what you latch onto as the “truer” Chiesa that determines how you see him.
‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’
Right now I imagine Chiesa pacing around his room singing this song to the Fiorentina ownership. The youngster somewhat vocally would like to move out of Florence if reports are to be believed; his move, and when it occurs, is yet another topic of division.
“This season will be vital in his development after a couple of tough years in Florence,” said Beresford, who covers La Viola regularly. “Still only 21 years old, he has plenty of time for a big move away, and it seems to make sense that he is allowed to improve under better circumstances and with new owners at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
“Whichever way he goes, with a little refinement he has a great future ahead of him. Under the guidance of his father Enrico, he has his head firmly screwed on, an important factor that runs alongside his talent. However, those that only watch clips which show brief glimpses of his brilliance must be warned that he is not the finished article — yet.”
Digby is adamant that Chiesa wouldn’t sniff much of the field for a talent-laden Juventus side, who are rumored to be in for the forward.
“Chiesa might well become a genuine star, but right now he’s not worth the level of investment it would take to prise him away from Fiorentina,” he said. “Furthermore, if it’s Juve we’re talking about, he certainly wouldn’t get the playing time he needs in order to improve.”
When to move a player like Chiesa is always, for a club like Fiorentina, a tricky topic.
One of the more notable interesting cases of this exact same scenario is Andrea Belotti at Torino, a successful striker who, a couple of seasons back, nearly moved to England for a gargantuan check. He may still move to England for a big fee, but his price has certainly gone down since that point. There’s also the strange case of Mauro Icardi, who Inter Milan could’ve moved for who knows how much — €100 million? — but now may depart Milan for less than half of that fee.
Whatever happens, buyer beware: Chiesa’s not the kind of kid who won’t make noise. Whether he sinks or swims or gets a bronze statue or leads Italy to the World Cup or goes to the Premier League and scores two career goals, I have a feeling we're going to hear about it.