January 23, 2021

Can ‘Simy’ save his ailing Serie A club?

November 27, 2020
Simy Nwankwo Photo: Gettyimages

Onitsha-born striker Simeon Nwankwo (known as ‘Simy’) went into the November international break as Italian club Crotone’s top scorer with just three goals. At the same point in time, Crotone floundered at the foot of the table, and with the resumption of domestic action saw Lazio waltz to a 2-0 win over them.

There can be no denying that Crotone need a hero – but can Simy do it on his own?

Is there hope?

Crotone’s situation is not a unique one, nor is it necessarily irredeemable. Every notable sports league across the planet has a degree of disparity, and the long-term wagering odds concerning them tell a stark tale of rich and poor. This is particularly prominent in Serie A, where hugely successful clubs like Juventus continually eclipse the likes of Crotone, and fellow promoted sides Benevento and Spezia.

Because of this divide, Crotone’s fellow relegation strugglers may also struggle to put together a run of form, which increases Simy’s chance of reinforcing his cult-hero status over in Calabria. The foundations for that ‘status’ were laid in the spring of 2017, at the tail-end of Simy’s first season with Crotone, and provide further fuel to the belief that they can turn around their current predicament.

A return of just three wins from the first 29 games spelled doom for the Calabrian club, but they would win six of their final nine games, losing only away to Juventus as expected. Simy scored one of the decisive match goals in that sequence, and with Crotone surviving by just two points, he made a documented difference to the club’s immediate fate.

There would be no repeat of that escape act the following season, but Simy proved his worth, improving his strike rate with seven goals. Yet again, the bulk of his goals arrived in the final nine weeks of play, and for the second season in a row, he had documented his ability to enact a late surge in form.

Shock result provides blueprints

Crotone spent the next two seasons in Serie B, but it gave Simy a feel for the pace of Italian football in a more forgiving environment. The second tier saw him blossom, with his team gaining an average of 2.42 points per match (out of a possible 3.00) and Simy averaging 1.30 goals per match. On top of that, 47.05% of his Serie B goals proved to be decisive in victory, and a redefinition of the 3-5-2 formation frequently used today was key to that.

Despite the context of playing in a higher league, it continues to be used today, with Junior Messias starting as Simy’s strike partner. On a base level, the combination of strength and speed they provide should cause much more in the way of problems for the opposition. In reality they only did this once before the November international break, with this tactical breakdown of a surprise 1-1 draw with Juventusshowing their potential as a combined force.

On that occasion, the rear guard was better protected, with a formation that essentially employed eight defenders – including three midfielders – to resist the Juventus onslaught. Such conservative tactics were understandable, but in Simy, they had a focal point for some of their more telling counter attacks, as orchestrated primarily in the wide areas of defence. This provides fuel for thought, as the season enters an exceptionally important phase.

Can Simy be the ultimate hero?

In a side that is still trying to optimise the balance between attacking intent and defensive coordination, Simy can’t save Crotone on his own. Even if he was as well-placed in Serie A football as the likes of his Naples-based countryman Osimhen – or legends like Ibrahimovic or Ronaldo – and able to save Crotone single-handedly, his efforts would likely be in vain.

For any team, losing six matches across the opening eight rounds of Serie A action is asking for trouble. Yet, it is their average of 2.38 goals conceded per game – as it stood after the Lazio defeat – that is at least on a par with many relegated teams of years past, and that makes their lack of depth up front all the more problematic.

All Simy can do at this point is utilise the best tricks he developed on the gentler playing field that is Serie B, and pick off his team’s main relegation rivals as a primary objective.

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