A Close Look at Krzysztof Piatek and His Calcio Career

When Genoa signed a 22-year-old striker for €4 million from the Polish Ekstraklasa in 2018 they probably didn’t anticipate the impact he would make.

Krzysztof Piątek was progressing well through the Polish divisions. In his two-seasons playing for Krakow side Cracovia he netted a respectable 32 goals in 63 appearances.

This attracted the interest of Serie A side Genoa who were looking to bolster their attacking firepower after relying on a forward-line of Gianluca Lapadula and an aging (seemingly eternal) Goran Pandev.

The Grifone did however lose their exciting young forward Pietro Pellegri (17) to Monaco for €20.90 million as well as this season’s third-highest Serie A top-scorer, Giovanni Simeone, when he was 22 years old to Fiorentina for €17 million.

Of course, for a mid-table Serie A side like Genoa, a combined €37.90 million income for two of their strikers was pretty good business, even if they displeased some of their fanbase by selling their most exciting young talents.

However, it did leave the Ligurian side a little short in attacking talent. Manager Ivan Juric was sacked in November that season and was replaced Davide Ballardini, the team finished in 12th position in the 2017/18 campaign.

The following season, (2018/19) Genoa signed a relatively unknown Polish number nine from Cracovia by the name of Krzysztof Piątek.

Piątek came to Genoa after finishing as the third-highest goal scorer in the Polish Ekstraklasa the previous season with 21 goals, so for a club like Genoa a €4 million acquisition was quite the gamble.

Remarkably, Piątek hit the ground running at Genoa scoring 19 goals in 21 appearances for the Rossoblu.

On his Genoa debut against Lecce in the Coppa Italia, the Polish striker scored an incredible four goals and completed his hat-trick in the first 20 minutes. The game finished 4-0.

On his Serie A debut, he scored in the sixth minute to help Genoa to a 2-1 victory over Empoli.

Not a bad way to announce yourself.

Piątek continued to break records, he became the first player since Andriy Shevchenko in 1999 to score five goals in his first four Serie A games.

His record breaking and goal scoring frenzied start meant he became the player to make the best debutant season since Aage Hansen in 1949/50 for Atalanta.

Genoa’s 3-5-2 formation seemed to compliment his best attributes of being a tall, strong and positionally intelligent number nine. He produced a complimentary partnership with Christian Kouamé as he did the majority of the running and dribbling to beat defenders and would frequently find Piątek on the left-side in excellent goal-scoring positions.

This feat was even more impressive when you consider that Genoa had sold several talents that year too such as Diego Laxalt, Mattia Perin and Armando Izzo.

Piątek was rewarded for his incredible goal scoring spree by being capped for his native Poland in 2018, making his international debut against the Republic of Ireland on September 11th in a 1-1 draw.

Meanwhile, fallen giants Milan were experiencing more of their number nine curse.

Portuguese striker André Silva had been sent on loan to Sevilla and Croatian forward Nikola Kalinic had also departed for Spanish side Atletico Madrid.

The Rossoneri turned to established but out of favor Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuaín.

Higuaín had become available due to the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo in Turin, and on-paper this seemed like a great deal. Higuaín had a prolific record at Napoli and Juventus and was the pedigree of striker that Milan hadn’t been able to attract for some time.

However, Higuaín’s time at the San Siro proved calamitous, most notably when the Argentine striker missed a penalty against parent club Juventus and then proceeded to get sent off.

Higuaín and Gennaro Gattuso’s Milan’s time together was cut short in January after he only netted six times for Milan. Higuaín went back to Juve and was then loaned to Chelsea for the second half of the season.

What did this mean for Milan? Well, it meant that they were in the desperate need for a striker.

On 23rd January 2019, Milan had secured and beaten Chelsea to the signature of Krzysztof Piątek, who was up to 19 goals already, for a reported fee of €31.50 million from Genoa.

It finally looked as if Milan had the striker to break their number nine curse. Piątek signed a contract lasting until 2023 at the age of 23.

The Polish striker was initially given the number 19 instead of the famous (or infamous) number nine.

At Piątek’s announcement press conference, Milan’s technical director Leonardo Araujo stated to reporters, “He asked for the number nine, but at this moment it is something which has to be earned because it’s an important number.

Piątek scored 13 goals in the remainder of the 2018/19 season for Milan across all competitions, this meant that he finished as the Serie A’s third-highest goal scorer with 22 league goals. This was one league goal better than Cristiano Ronaldo in 4th!

Milan finished in 5th, marginally missing out on Champions League qualification to bitter rivals Inter in 4th, and to the disappointment of Piątek.

Genoa also finished 17th, narrowly avoiding relegation – this was a clear indication of the impact Piątek had on both sides.

The following season (2019/20), Piątek had seemingly passed the test and earned the number nine jersey of Milan.

This hesitation to award him the shirt was due to the number of strikers who had recently failed to live up to the high expectations of those who came before them in the legendary number nine jersey such as Jose Altafini, Filippo Inzaghi and Marco Van Basten.

This became a talking point about Milan’s cursed number nine shirt.

However, Piątek’s displays had earned him this honor and burden, yet the shirt weighed heavily on the Polish international in the following campaign.

Piątek wasn’t scoring as prolifically as he had done in the previous campaign with just five goals in all competitions.

Suddenly, manager Marco Giampaolo was sacked and replaced by current Milan manager, Stefano Pioli but this didn’t seem to help Piątek’s quest for goals either.

Eventually, Milan turned to the solution of re-signing veteran Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic in January to fix their goal scoring problems.

In January 2020, Piątek decided to leave the San Siro after feeling marginalised by the arrival of Ibrahimovic stating in 2021 that “With the arrival of Ibra I was no longer playing. I couldn’t think of staying in the bench for 5-6 games in a row. If Ibra plays from the start, he hardly gets substituted. I waited patiently for my turn and when I entered in the Coppa Italia I scored and provided an assist, but it wasn’t enough, and they put me back on the bench.

Maybe Milan’s number nine curse was true after all…

German Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin beat Tottenham in signing Piątek in January 2020 for a reported €27 million after receiving a financial boost from Lars Windhorst and his shares in the club worth a total of a €224 million.

Piątek did score a brace against Hertha’s city rivals Union Berlin to secure a 3-1 win. However after making 54 appearances and only returning 12 goals for the German capital club, Piątek looked to reignite his career elsewhere.

It should also be noted however that Piątek suffered a serious ankle injury in May 2021 which not only hindered his club form but also forced him out of the Poland’s Euro 2020 squad.

Now Piątek hopes that calcio will reignite his career and goalscoring reputation has he joined Fiorentina this January on a six-month loan deal until the end of the season with an option to buy included into the deal for Fiorentina if all goes well.

It is also reported that Piątek’s former side Genoa were also interested in loaning their former player with an option to buy clause but the Polish international chose the Viola instead.

Genoa will always be in my heart, I did some great things there, but I am in a great project now. Fiorentina play wonderful football and that is important, because as a striker I want to score lots of goals.said Piątek in his announcement press conference.

Since returning to Serie A, we’ve seen more glimpses of the Piątek who used to strike fear into the heart of defenses.

It’s clear that Piątek was brought in to replace Dusan Vlahovic who left Fiorentina for Juventus in January and so far, he hasn’t let the pressure of being a replacement affect him as he’s netted an impressive 5 goals in 7 appearances across all competitions so far.

Maybe the magic of calcio is all Piątek needed after all…