Not too much was known about Manolo Gabbiadini when Southampton brought him to St Mary’s in a £14m deal from Napoli last January, and the south coast outfit were hoping that the Italy international could cure their goalscoring problems.
Following the departure of Graziano Pelle to the Chinese Super League and Sadio Mane to Liverpool in the summer of 2016, Saints were left with Shane Long, Charlie Austin and Jay Rodriguez as their striker options.
However, while Austin was impressing he picked up a serious shoulder injury at the end of 2016, and it kept him on the sidelines for most of the rest of the season.
Southampton and manager Claude Puel were in need of attacking reinforcements and a replacement for Austin during the 2017 January transfer window, and Gabbiadini arrived in England with a record of 25 goals in 79 appearances in all competitions for Napoli.
While the club, the manager and the supporters were hoping that the striker was going to boost their goal-shy attack, nobody could have expected what happened over the next few weeks.
The Italian scored on his debut with a fine near-post finish in a 3-1 defeat against West Ham United at St Mary’s, before he followed that up with an impressive brace in the 4-1 win against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Gabbiadini was showing that he was a brilliant poacher in the penalty area, and if you gave him a good opportunity he would more than likely finish.
His best moment in a Southampton shirt to date was to follow, as he scored twice – and would have had a hat-trick had he not been incorrectly flagged offside – in his team’s 3-2 loss against Manchester United in the League Cup final at Wembley.
The 26-year-old’s equaliser was particularly impressive, and Saints were sure that they had unearthed another gem in the transfer market.
The Italy international added another goal in the 4-3 success against Watford at Vicarage Road a week later, but he then picked up a groin injury against Tottenham Hotspur that kept him out of action for three Premier League games, and he didn’t look the same player for the rest of the campaign on his return.
Gabbiadini appeared in seven more top flight games before the end of the season, but he failed to find the net and missed a penalty in the goalless draw against Manchester United at St Mary’s.
The attacker’s disappointing run of form carried into the current season under new boss Mauricio Pellegrino, and while he started eight of their opening 11 Premier League fixtures, he only scored three times – with two of those coming in the same against Newcastle United.
The 26-year-old was struggling in the lone striker role as he isn’t particularly strong in the air or at holding the ball up to bring his teammates into play, while the attacking players behind him weren’t spotting the clever runs that he was making.
The Italian forward was left on the substitutes’ bench for the 3-0 defeat against Liverpool in November, and he has only started on two occasions for them since then – including the 1-1 draw against Spurs at St Mary’s on Sunday.
Gabbiadini probably only started that clash because Shane Long was absent through injury, and the fact that the Republic of Ireland international has been preferred to him in recent months despite only scoring one goal for club and country since February shows how out of favour he is right now.
With Long already seemingly ahead of him in the pecking order and Austin too when he returns from injury later this year, the imminent arrival of Guido Carillo in a €22m (£19.2m) club-record deal from Monaco will push him further down the pecking order.
The 26-year-old – who worked under Pellegrino at Estudiantes – is likely to go straight into the starting line-up in the club’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system when the move goes through, because of his target man attributes.
The Argentine centre-forward looks to suit the way that Pellegrino wants to play in the future, and he certainly will be expected to make an impact given that the south coast outfit have only netted 24 goals in 24 Premier League matches this term and currently lie in the relegation zone – one point from safety.
It is a situation that is only likely to frustrate Gabbiadini and unless he will play in one of the attacking midfield roles, his game time could be even more limited in the coming months.
Less than a year on from when he was labelled as Southampton’s saviour and was adored by the supporters as he delivered goals in a handful of matches, the imminent arrival of Carrillo at St Mary’s could signal the end for him.
If he does go before the end of the month one thing is for sure; the fans will never forget the impact he made and how happy he made them feel at Wembley on February 26, 2017.