Torino FC's season with Rob Gillian
Jerry Mancini spoke to Rob Gillian who is a supporter of Torino and the creator Torino FC Inglese.
Last year, the club did well under Walter Mazzarri. They finished in 7th place and were fortunate to qualify for Europa League. They made it into the qualify stages to get into the group stage of Europa League. The club looked destined for greater things this season after a successful season last year. What were your expectations going into the 2019/20 campaign for Torino?
“Last season was a bit of a strange one for Torino because they developed a style of football that wasn’t particularly attractive but was really effective. I think in the second half of the season, they lost two or three games, and I don’t think they lost away from home until nearly the end of the season.
“Coming into this season, I knew that the extra fixtures congestion of European football was always going to be difficult. We had a small squad and we really didn’t invest in the summer but I was still quite optimistic that we could have quite a good season.
“Unfortunately, we were quite unlucky with the Europa League elimination and the way that came about. We drew in the playoff round, we drew Wolves, probably the strongest team that we could have faced. They’ve then gone on to have a lot of success and unfortunately things have just gone down hill since then.”
In February, Walter Mazzarri decided to leave Torino by mutual consent. At time of his departure, Torino were in 12th place in Serie A and 11 points above the drop zone. What went wrong this season for Mazzarri after a successful campaign last year?
“Strangely, even after the Europa League defeat, we actually started quite well. We won our first game of the season and then played the second leg against Wolves, which we lost but played well. We then played Atalanta away from home and won 3-2. We started the season with two wins and everything was looking really good. We then faced a home game against Lecce where if we won, I think we would have gone on top of the table. Unfortunately, we lost 2-1 and it’s really been a struggle ever since then.
“It's probably not just one reason why things have gone badly for us. The defense last season were probably one of our strong points. We lost Emiliano Moretti who retired at the end of last season. Then Nicolas Nkoulou, who’s probably our best defender, and there was speculation that he wanted to leave the club literally in between the two legs of the Europa League tie. Then our big summer signing who was Simone Verdi just hasn’t really lived up to the expectations at all and hasn’t performed very well.”
With Walter Mazzarri leaving Torino, the club decided to appoint Moreno Longo as his replacement. What were your thoughts on Longo at the time of his appointment? With a little bit of time to look back at, do you think he was the right man for the job? (In the first three games he managed)
“After the 7-0 defeat at home by Atalanta, I didn’t think there was much of a chance Walter Mazzarri was going to stay long. Moreno Longo was one of the people I had in mind who could come in, in the middle of the season and try and realistically keep us up in that situation.
“Mazzarri actually lasted another week and then we went to Lecce. Unfortunately, I actually went to the game and we lost 4-0. After that, there was no chance Mazzarri was going to stay. The fans turned on him and the players (at some stage) sort of escaped a lot of criticism and it was aimed mainly at Mazzarri. As soon as the fans had turned on the players it was all over for Mazzarri.
“I think Longo was probably the right choice at that time. He’s a Torino fan, he used to play for the club and was coach of the youth team. To be honest, I don’t think you can read too much into the results he’s had so far. He had played three games and lost three games.
“I don’t think Pep Guardiola or Jürgen Klopp could come into that situation and immediately have a turn-around on results because the morale and confidence of the players were so low. It would have been unrealistic to expect them to come into three games, two of which were really difficult, away at Milan, away at Napoli and then expect them to get results. I think he deserves a little more time and it will be interesting to see if he is given that.”
This season has been a disaster for Torino fans. They had to fire their manager and have dealt with significant injuries as well. What is it going to take to get Torino back on the right track?
“I really do hope that this is a one-off season where a number of things have gone badly and everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. If you look at the squad it’s really far too good to be involved in relegation battle. Salvatore Sirigu, in my opinion, is the best Italian goalkeeper. [Gianluigi] Donnarumma is very good and has got that potential, I’m sure he will go on to have an unbelievable career, but I think at this current point in time, Sirigu is a better goalkeeper.
“Armando Izzo, Andrea Belotti are regular Internationals for Italy. Having said that, I do believe the squad needs an overhaul. I think there’s a lot of players that quite plainly don’t want to be there. It’s probably about time that the players that don’t want to be there leave and we use that money to reinvigorate the club and buy some younger, hungrier players.
“I think it’s unrealistic to expect us to do an Atalanta or to compete for Champions League spaces. Torino should always be aiming in that space around 6th- 9th place. I think that’s got to be what the ambition at the club should be.”
Andrea Belotti is signed with Torino until June 2022. Do you see the striker extending his contract with Torino? Do you think the club should build around Bellotti for the future of the club?
“I think Belotti is definitely good enough to play for a club who regularly competes in Europe. This season, with sort of flirting with relegation that’s really not a position that he should find himself in. He’s a hard worker, never seems to complain, and even in this situation you can see his ability levels have dropped. Just because sometimes he seems to be doing everything on his own or working too hard and [does not have] players on the same wavelength of him for this season.
“He's still young and can improve. Given the sort of current circumstances that we find ourselves in, I would be surprised if many clubs can have the finances to afford him in the summer. Obviously with the European Championship being delayed until next summer, I think the best idea for Belotti would be to stay for the next season at least where he’s guaranteed regular football for Torino.
“Depending how well our season goes, that will probably depend on how the future will go. If we have a successful season, he could be tempted in signing a new contract and if we have a sort of disappointing season again, then with one year left on his contract that will probably be the time we try and make some money back on him and will probably be at more reasonable level for clubs to afford.”