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Alessandro Matri: Poacher or Poser?


I have written about poachers before. I never used to appreciate them, but Pippo Inzaghi made me a believer. Although the modern game more and more often calls for players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Mario Balotelli who can do it all, obviously there are fewer players who are as superbly talented in all areas of their game. And so when an all-around striker is not available, or maybe even sometimes when he is, I believe in poachers. The specialists who are responsible for only one thing: scoring. The go-to guy when a win is necessary. But is Alessandro Matri a poacher? Or is he just some false version of this dying breed? Or is he simply suffering from a manager and formation and squad who are not used to playing with a poacher?

Hint: One of these players has scored this season

A poacher should have killer instincts. His natural domain is the 6 yard box. Some see poachers as lazy, but I see them as specialists. Like a sniper, they get into position and stay focused, waiting for even the hint of opportunity, ready to take the shot immediately and without mercy whenever and wherever they find it. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t have to be perfect, they just have to hit the target. And a true poacher does, more often than not. In fact the only thing that should ever really stop a poacher from scoring is a great save by a lucky or talented keeper or defender.

Pippo Inzaghi was infamously accused of being born offside. Because a poacher is often a step or two ahead of the opponent, his instincts honed like a sharp blade, and he would rather trigger an offside flag than miss an opportunity. In a field littered with 22 bodies, it is not as if he can always pepper the net with goals, he is not a machine gun. But rather a skilled marksman, one who scores the winning goal time and time again.

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So what of Matri? His pricetag and lengthy contract had Milan fans upset before he ever returned to Milan. His history as a Milan Youth Product, once used to show how short-sighted Milan were to let his level of talent go instantly turned into a complaint about bringing back Milan talent after their prime. So when he showed up, ready to work for the club he loved, his inability to score did not help endear him to the fans.

His inability to score is not the most egregious sin by a footballer. Lots of players go through scoring droughts. It became an egregious sin when fans added together his pricetag, length of contract, and the loss of a current Milan Youth product, Andrea Petagna to make room for his arrival. Having seen Petagna a little bit here and there, particularly in the summer, fans were very fond of his size, strength, speed, and goals.

He had two Scudetti, even if more by association

But I guess I can kind of understand Milan not wishing to gamble on such an unproven talent while Pazzini was mending. I’m sure that turning to Matri seemed like a guarantee of goals, particularly while playing Champions League. But there are no guarantees in football, and Milan seemingly took the wrong gamble. Better that they should have kept Petagna, because, as Pete pointed out in the last podcast, we could have had Petagna not scoring and saved ourselves the €11m.

Many have compared Matri to Pazzini, but there isn’t really much to compare. While both players are 29 years old, Pazzini has more time in Serie A and consistently averages 15 or more goals per season, despite injuries, changing clubs, etc. Whereas Matri averaged less than 10 goals per season, with one fluke season where he scored 20 goals between 2 clubs, Cagliari and Juventus. If that is not telling enough, Pazzini was called up for national team duties consistently from the U16 through U21 levels and has 25 caps with the senior team, whereas Matri only ever was called up for 5 senior team caps. Pazzini runs more, works harder, makes passes, and creates more opportunities for teammates. While he’s no Balotelli, he does work to create chances for himself, too. His vision for goals and positioning just always seems more opportune. He has the instincts of a predator and the finishing of a marksman.

A marksman with killer instincts who is not afraid to run or break a sweat.

But Matri, on the other hand, is lacking in all of these areas, and it shows not only when you see him on the pitch, but it also shows in his statistics. He is like the poor man’s poacher. He is more dependent upon the good play from his teammates and less likely to find a teammate with an assist. Defenders have an easier time marking him because his movement is less stealth and more lethargic. There really is no comparison. Well, except that his salary is only €.1m less than Pazzini’s, at €2.6m per year. Maybe this team is so used to playing with an Ibra or a Balotelli that he is simply not getting the service a poacher requires. Except that didn't stop Pazzini from scoring 15 goals last season. No, Matri is the poster boy for why managers like Allegri usually prefer all-around strikers to poachers, because he struggles to find that lethal instinct, and thus the back of the net. Maybe he is not quite a poser, but he certainly lacks the credentials of a poacher.

And so while the world struggles to determine the mysteries of Allegri’s mind and why on earth he would insist on lavishing such an exorbitant amount of money on a player for four years to cover a player who would be out injured for up to 12 weeks, we wait for Matri to score even one goal or make any real contribution at all. In five starts (eight total appearances) for Milan this season, he has four shots on goal, with a blatant zero goals. His biggest number? He has committed ten fouls. Only De Jong and Muntari have more fouls, with 11 and 12 respectively. Maybe he is no poacher at all, maybe he should be a defender. But that would be one expensive defender.

I wonder if someone just asked them how many goals Matri has netted this year?

I hope for everyone’s sake that Matri opens up the scoring soon and scores often. His astronomical deal and his blatant disregard for scoring make him a focal point of much attention and anger from the fans. It’s bad enough that at best he can be considered a poor man’s poacher (despite not being affordable for a poor man.) But at this point he risks not only being considered a poser, but being the symbol for all that is wrong with Milan. And I don’t think Allegri is willing to give that spot up just yet.

This post inspired by the music of Filter