Leicester City
6:00 AM UTC
Game Details
Manchester United
8:30 AM UTC
Game Details

Andrea Belotti justifies Higuain-style price tag after starring for Torino

Torino striker Andrea Belotti has enjoyed a stunning 2016 for Torino and Italy, scoring 26 goals.

Torino owner Urbano Cairo knows how to make headlines. If he didn't, he wouldn't be doing his job.

RCS, the publishing giant behind Il Corriere della Sera and La Gazzetta dello Sport, has been under his control since August. On Tuesday, Cairo benevolently gave them a story. It regarded Torino's plans to offer Serie A top scorer Andrea Belotti a new contract until 2021.

"He's worth a very high buy-out clause," Cairo told Radio 24. Teasingly, he then paused for effect to let listeners know just how high.

"Like Higuain's [at Napoli]."

That's €94.5 million.

Playing to the gallery a little -- Torino fans have been waiting for someone to say their striker is every bit as good as the one for whom Juventus broke the Serie A transfer record -- Cairo wasn't having a laugh. He was deadly serious.

After watching Juventus weaken Napoli and Roma in the summer by meeting the buy-out clauses in Higuain and Miralem Pjanic's contracts, perhaps there was more to Cairo's comments than talking up his striker and stoking up the rivalry with their neighbours ahead of the Derby della Mole next month.

Could it be a message to say: "Hey, Old Lady, think twice about coming in for Belotti! He'll cost you just as much as El Pipita." Or is it just a reflection of the market and the reported interest from Manchester United.

Rather aptly for someone named Cairo, the Torino owner's valuation is what's known in Italy as faraonico -- so huge that only a Pharaoh could pay it. But is slapping a €94.5m price tag on Belotti really over the top? After all, over the opening 13 games of this season, he has a better goals per minute ratio than Higuain did a year ago and we all know how that ended. Higuain broke the single season scoring record in Serie A, which had stood more or less unchallenged for 66 years. Belotti hasn't even featured in all of Torino's games. He's also missed a couple of penalties.

To find a player with a better ratio than Belotti by the end of November in Serie A, you have to go back to the season Luca Toni won the Golden Boot. That was a decade ago and frankly no one had seen anything like it since the end of the 1950s. In Torino's illustrious history, Belotti is matching the exploits of Ciccio Graziano in 1976 and Valentino Mazzola in 1947.

Cairo was not exaggerating, then. The numbers back him up. When you consider Belotti, 22, is six years younger than Higuain and how homegrown talent comes at a premium in Serie A, could it in fact be -- perish the thought -- that he is actually undervaluing his asset?

Surely not, but Belotti is a complete No.9. Comparisons have been drawn with Christian Vieri and Graziani. Ambidextrous and powerful in the air, of his 10 goals, three have been with his left foot, three with his right, three with his head and one from the penalty spot. Sceptics will suggest this might be a hot streak; a flash in the pan. How sustainable is Belotti's form? Well, he has scored 24 goals for club and country in 2016.

Nicknamed il Gallo -- the Rooster -- because he used to chase after the chickens on his aunt's farm and one of his mates Juri goes by that surname, his cockerel comb goal celebration has become about as regular as the morning call.

Andrea Belotti's goal celebration has been a regular sight in Serie A for Torino fans.

"You must never stop," he told Il Corriere della Sera. "Not even in training. You have got to create a blood relationship between yourself and the goal."

For Belotti, the goalkeeper is "an enemy who can ruin this relationship."

Sky Italia pundits Billy Costacurta and Giancarlo Marocchi were surprised Torino coach Sinisa Mihajlovic wasn't singing Belotti's praises at the weekend. Belotti had scored both goals in a 2-0 win away at Crotone and away games have often been Torino's undoing this season.

"He didn't do well in the first half," Mihajlovic insisted. "I got angry in the dressing room. He was too casual and when he's like that he becomes a normal player. He had a different attitude in the second half. He must never give up. That's what got him into the national team and made everyone start talking about him. In football they only remember you by your last game, your last goal."

Mihajlovic likes to keep Belotti on his toes. Before sitting down for an interview with Gazzetta, the striker heard his boss shout: "Don't let it go to your head."

"Don't worry, mister," he replied. "There's no danger of that."

And deep down Mihajlovic knows there isn't.

"I told him at training camp: you're the kind of player every coach would like to have," Mihajlovic told Il Corriere della Sera.

Gonzalo Higuain got Juventus off to a winning start in Serie A.
Torino owner Urbano Cairo believes Andrea Belotti is worth as much as €94.5m man Gonzalo Higuain.

"He doesn't save his energy. He'll play full-back for me but if he finds himself in front of goal, he's ruthless. He mustn't lose that. I don't believe he will. I've been lucky enough to meet his parents. They're honest folk and Andrea seems like a guy from a bygone era. He once said in an interview that he wanted to make enough money so his mother no longer has to work."

The rest of the cash is being put aside for when he starts a family with fiancee Giorgia. A former altar boy who still goes to mass, Andrea is named after his grandfather who died just before he was born.

As a boy, he spent more time over at his nonna's house than at home. He didn't want her to get lonely. In return, she would come and watch him play football and rewarded him when he scored with some pocket money and a panino. He just wishes he could run into the stands and celebrate with her like Roma's Alessandro Florenzi did with his grandma Aurora not so long ago. Unfortunately, there are too many barriers at the Stadio Grande Torino.

"He's a splendid kid," Cairo says.

"Andrea's not only a good footballer who scores in every way possible, he's also a great person. There aren't many players out there like him. He's got a good head on his shoulders and that's important because football's a complicated business. How many times do you hear about players who have got great potential but never fulfil it.

"Well, Andrea's got great potential and he is fulfilling it precisely because he's a splendid kid."

James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.


Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.