We're delighted to welcome journalist & Serie A expert Sam Brookes onto the site. Getting people to write for your blog is a lot easier when they literally live downstairs. Sam has years of experience covering Serie A in a professional capacity & is a regular panel member on the Get Italian Football News podcast, which you can find here.
In this piece, Sam takes a look at Morten Thorsby's progression in Serie A with Sampdoria. After a tough start to life in Italy following his move from Heerenveen, it certainly looks as though Thorsby is quickly becoming a key player for the Genoa-based side.
by Sam Brookes
The 2019/20 season has been an underwhelming one for Sampdoria. Having secured back-to-back top half finishes in their previous two campaigns under Marco Giampaolo, the club have struggled for much of this season before finally staving off any relegation fears in recent weeks.
It has not been an easy year for Morten Thorsby either. Having signed from Dutch club Heerenveen last July, the Norwegian midfielder took his time to settle in to Serie A. However, he has shown in 2020 that he is growing in stature and confidence, helping the side to safety with his consistent displays.
Let’s take a look at his maiden year in Italy, charting his progress from an outsider to a fully established first team player.
Unfancied by Di Francesco
With Giampaolo moving on to Milan last summer, in came Eusebio Di Francesco. Having worked wonders at Sassuolo and then done a respectable job at Roma, which included taking the club to the Champions League semi-finals in 2018, it looked a smart appointment by Sampdoria.
Sometimes things simply don’t work out though. Sampdoria had exclusively played a 4-4-2 diamond formation with Giampaolo at the helm, whilst Di Francesco wanted to change to his preferred 4-2-3-1 system. The adjustment failed miserably.
The team lost six of their opening seven Serie A league games, scoring just four goals in the process. All the while, Thorsby watched on from the sidelines. He had moved to Serie A to prove that he could perform in one of Europe’s top leagues, but was not getting the chance to show his worth.
After failing to play a single minute in those first seven matches, Thorsby’s future was already looking bleak. There was talk of a possible loan spell in Serie B in order to gain some more game time.
Instead, time ran out for Di Francesco. Following a 2-0 defeat to Hellas Verona in early October, he was sacked. The side were languishing in the relegation zone and needed some fresh impetus. Step forward Claudio Ranieri. Thorsby had a new manager to impress.
Versatility and Work Rate Pay Off
Upon Ranieri’s arrival, very little changed at first. Thorsby battled with fitness issues during October, meaning that he was left to wait for his debut for a while longer. Finally, in the first game in November, he got his chance.
Playing on the right-hand side of a flat midfield four, Thorsby put in a tireless performance in a 1-0 win against fellow relegation candidates, SPAL. Originally bought as a central midfielder, he had demonstrated that he could adapt to an unfamiliar position if needed. That attribute was to prove invaluable just weeks later.
With Bartosz Bereszynski already injured, and Fabio Depaoli being forced off in the first half against Udinese on November 24, Thorsby was asked to fill in at right-back. He did an admirable job, as Sampdoria overturned an early deficit to win 2-1.
Ranieri was clearly convinced by his ability to play in this role, and handed Thorsby a starting berth on the right flank for the following three games. By showing his versatility, and putting in a major shift on each occasion, with his running statistics often up there with the highest performers, Thorsby had started to make his mark. Now he needed to try and get a run of games in his favoured midfield position.
Reliable and Consistent
Heading into the new year, Thorsby had some momentum behind him. He was now a regular starter, although not at the heart of the midfield yet.
In the opening game of 2020, he was handed a start in central midfield away at Milan, with the side producing a strong defensive display to earn a 0-0 draw. Thorsby appeared composed throughout, delivering a tactically astute performance to keep Milan at bay. It has become his trademark ever since.
The 24-year-old is not an eye-catching player, instead going about his business in a quiet and unassuming way. In a sport that is growing more and more obsessed with statistics detailing goal contributions, Thorsby does not particularly stand out. In his 23 Serie A appearances to date, he has registered just one goal and a solitary assist. Those are hardly remarkable numbers.
Yet that is not his role in the side. He is there to break up opposition attacks, keep the play ticking over when in possession and generally add stability to a team that has looked disjointed at several points during the campaign.
He has done his job impeccably and become someone that Ranieri can trust either side of the break in the season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The veteran manager could not have asked for much more from his young midfielder.
Room for Improvement
Despite his run of good form, Thorsby is far from the finished article. His recent red card against Juventus was a minor setback, but was a reminder that his first season in Serie A has not been the smoothest ride.
Sampdoria look set to finish comfortably inside the bottom half, which is a disappointing return for a side that boasts talents such as Fabio Quagliarella and Albin Ekdal. They will certainly want to push up the table next season, and Thorsby must try to play a major role in their resurgence.
Yet for now, the Norwegian midfielder can look forward to a well-earned summer break. After being marginalised at the start of his time in Italy, he has bounced back well, grabbing each opportunity he has received with both hands.
He has met every challenge head on so far. His next task is to become a key player in this Sampdoria side. Let’s see if he can take his game to another level next season.