Whatever happened to… Franco Di Santo

Argentine striker Franco Di Santo arrived in the January window of the 2007/08 season with high expectations. At just 18 years old, Di Santo had the likes of Liverpool and reigning champions Manchester United interested in signing him.

Chelsea secured him ahead of their Premier League rivals, but success never eventuated.

Before Chelsea

Making his senior debut in the Chilean Primera División with Audax Italiano aged 16, much was expected of Di Santo. In his first season, Di Santo had scored seven goals in 27 appearances, most of which were off the bench. His second season saw him play significantly more minutes, but again he scored seven goals.

14 goals in 61 appearances is hardly prolific, but nevertheless the big clubs were circling.

Audax Italiano were a relatively strong side while Di Santo was there. In 2006, they qualified for the playoffs in both the Apertura and Clausura seasons, finishing second in their group and fifth overall both times. The Clausura saw Audax progress through to the final, where they lost to Colo-Colo 6-2 on aggregate.

Di Santo’s final season with Audax saw them top their group and qualify for the Copa Sudamerica via playoffs and the Copa Libertadores.

At the conclusion of the 2007 Clausura, Audax received £3.6 million for Di Santo and the 18-year-old headed to Chelsea on a four and a half year contract.

During Chelsea

Di Santo arrived in the middle of the 2007/08 Premier League season and was set to finish the season in the reserve side. Playing in the final eight matches of the season, Di Santo again scored seven goals.

The strong finish to the reserves season saw Di Santo given the #9 kit and elevated into the senior squad. With Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou ahead of him on the team sheet, Di Santo was never bound for too many starts in the 2008/09 season.

However, throughout the season Di Santo never progressed from being a substitute. By the end of the season, he had eight league appearances and eight cup appearances all off the bench. 16 appearances, for no goals.

The frustrations of a footballer struggling for consistency. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: FOOTBALL TRANSFER TAVERN

The Premier League dream wasn’t over, but his time at Chelsea certainly was.

New manager Carlo Ancelotti loaned him out to rival Premier League club Blackburn Rovers for the 2009/10 season – where he scored one goal in 22 appearances – before Chelsea sold him for around £2 million pounds to Wigan.

What happened after?

After a super lean first season at Wigan, again only managing the one goal in the league campaign, Di Santo found a bit of a rhythm. The next two seasons at Wigan saw him feature on the score sheet more regularly. His seven goals in 2011/12 made him the club’s top scorer, before scoring five in the 2012/13 season in which Wigan were relegated.

With Wigan heading to the Championship for 2013/14, Di Santo left for Bundesliga club Werder Bremen on a free transfer.

Di Santo enjoyed the best years of his career at Werder Bremen, scoring 13 goals to break his seven goal ceiling in 2014/15. Rival Bundesliga club FC Schalke then paid £4.4 million for the striker.

Bremen Di Santo was the best Di Santo. 2014/15 proved to be his most fruitful season. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: FUTMOB

Unfortunately, the weight of a transfer fee again proved a burden for Di Santo. In his four seasons at Schalke, he only managed five goals. He did have one season in Spain with Rayo Vallecano, however a knee injury somewhat ruined it.

In 2019 – aged 30 – Di Santo returned to South America, with Brazilian club Atlético Mineiro. Ahead of the 2020/21 season, Di Santo returned to his native Argentina to play for San Lorenzo.

What went wrong?

Ultimately, pressure. As a young unknown prospect, Di Santo played well. Then as a ‘future Chelsea star’ he struggled. His best football came when there was no transfer fee, no demand for him to be a big name and relatively low expectations.

Despite his low scoring record, the goals he did score were more often spectacular than not. There were injuries throughout his career, but his inability to put together consistent form is what saw him struggle at Chelsea.

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