Lazio’s Secret: Sometimes the best deals are those you don’t make

You can drive yourself crazy going down the rabbit holes of “what if?”. This obviously applies to your day to day life, but when it comes to sports we all too often look at this from the perspective of what if my team had signed player X or hired manager Y- think of Juventus choosing Poulsen over Xabi Alonso or Manchester United picking Moyes for life after Sir Alex Ferguson.

But this current Lazio team is the best demonstration that this also applies also to the players and manager who are leading them to success. In fact Sergej Milinkovic Savic who scored the game winner and manager Simone Inzaghi weren’t even supposed to be on this team.

Back in 2015, Milinkovic Savic was a promising midfielder at Genk who had acquired him the year before Vokvodina for less than a half a million euro. The Bosnian midfielder caught the attention of both Fiorentina and Lazio the following summer, Milinkovic Savic visited the biancocelesti’s facilities at Formello and fell in love with the city and the club.

However Fiorentina took the lead in the race and a few weeks later Milinkovic Savic travelled to the club’s headquarters in Tuscany to sign his contract, but this is where he got cold feet and decided to pull a U turn and sign with Lazio who closed the deal with Genk for around 10 million (the Belgian club had retained a percentage on the future sale which Lazio eventually was able to negotiate out of his contract by paying financial considerations upfront).

Once Milinkovic Savic fully broke out at Lazio during the 2017-18 season, it felt almost inevitable he would leave. Lazio had failed to qualify for the Champions League and the upcoming World Cup in Russia was set to be the perfect stage for the Serbian Sergeant to become a huge name on the market. Instead Serbia flamed out, Milinkovic Savic’s performances dropped after his first strong initial game and there were no suitors willing to pay Lazio’s president Lotito’s asking price of 100 million euro.

When the following season Milinkovic Savic failed to play to his previous standards, many wondered if Lazio had asked for way too much for a one season wonder and assumed they would eventually regret the decision. Lazio failed to qualify for the Champions League on the last game of the season and it felt inevitable that Milinkovic Savic would be sold but for far less than the expected 100 million euro return.

In the meantime Lazio gave Milinkovic Savic an extension making him one of the highest paid players on the team, but that didn’t stop clubs like Juventus, Inter, Manchester United and Real Madrid from pursuing him. The bianconeri even agreed to personal terms with Milinkovic Savic, but eventually decided to shoot their load transfer fee wise on Mathijs De Ligt and go with two Bosman signings, Ramsey and Rabiot, to boost their midfield.

This current season has seen a return to form for Milinkovic Savic, who isn’t as flashy now that he plays a more defensive role in Inzaghi;s midfield but has certainly shown an ability to come through in big moments. His poor showing in the last World Cup had helped fuel the story line that Milinkovic Savic crumbled on the biggest stages against top opponents, but this season he has scored the goal that gave Lazio the lead against Juventus last December and the game winner against Inter on Sunday.

Just like Milinkovic Savic, the biancocelesti’s current coach Simone Inzaghi wasn’t supposed to be at the Olimpico on Sunday night. While Pippo’s brother has strong ties to Lazio dating back to his two spells at the club as a player, when he was hired as the first team’s coach back in April of 2016 it was only supposed to be on an interim basis.

Inzaghi was managing Lazio’s Primavera team when Stefano Pioli was sacked before the final stretch of the season. While he achieved very good results by accruing twelve points in the final seven matches of the campaign, Lotito wanted to make a statement signing to keep up with Roma and give his team a jolt.

Lotito was able to convince Marcelo Bielsa to take his flamboyant style to Italy’s capital, everything was set and Lazio even announced his signing and the time for his introductory press conference, Simone Inzaghi was going to continue building his resume at Lotito’s other club Salernitana in Serie B- but then Bielsa bailed and Lazio were found without a manager.    

Lotito quickly decided to give Inzaghi the main job at Lazio where he developed the likes of Milinkovic Savic and Luis Alberto. Last summer there was buzz that Rino Gattuso could be Lazio’s new manager because Inzaghi had become a target for both Juventus and Milan- a rumor that made the fanbases of those clubs about as excited as Star Wars superfans seeing Jar Jar Binks show up at Comic Con.

Juventus had shown interest in Simone Inzaghi because of the similarities of his formation and style with Max Allegri and because of his close relationship with the bianconeri’s sporting director Fabio Paratici, while Milan were looking to hire both sporting director Tare and Inzaghi to relaunch the club- instead Juventus hired Sarri while Milan went for Maldini/Boban/Massara and Giampaolo.

Lazio’s triumph on Sunday against Inter is a reminder that sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make or that a decision that was made a few years ago can still pay huge dividends today- it’s not always about the next big acquisition.

Trends in January Window: Has Serie A improved?

A few years ago, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli described Serie A as a transient league- the type of place where players developed, only to pursue a significant step up in their careers abroad. Back then the bianconeri were still at the mercy of the player’s will and lost both Vidal and Pogba, Inter was dealing with some crippling Financial Fair Play parameters, Milan was going through the final gasp of the Berlusconi and Galliani era, while Roma was known as a supermarket on the transfer market.

But in recent years the tide started to turn. Juventus landed Cristiano Ronaldo and Mathijs De Ligt, Inter broke their individual transfer record on not one but two players last summer and Napoli retained top players like Koulibaly and Allan while adding the likes of Fabian Ruiz and Manolas. There’s also hopes that Roma and Milan will be able to elevate their status once their ownership situations become more settled. 

The recent January window represented a continuation of a positive trend after a summer session that saw Serie A adding the likes of De Ligt, Lukaku, Godin and Lozano. While in recent years Calcio felt like it was missing two of its key protagonists, both Milan and Inter made a bold statement. The rossoneri brought back Zlatan Ibrahimovic, while Inter landed Christian Eriksen after a long negotiation with both his agent and Spurs- while the two players are in different stages of their careers, they certainly bring more star power to Serie A.

The two milanesi clubs have been dabbling in nostalgia and the Bosman market respectively in recent years, but these two signings feel different. Ibrahimovic has already made an impact on the pitch and has helped develop Leao and Bennacer while giving the entire team more confidence, his return feels significantly more impactful than say Kaka’ and Balotelli’s. 

While Inter completed one of the best Bosman signings of the decade with Stefan De Vrij, landing Eriksen was even more impressive when you consider that not long ago he was linked to Real Madrid, had significant recent interest from Paris St Germain and is good enough to start. Inter went the extra mile to meet Spurs’ demands in order to acquire Eriksen immediately, but the impressive part of this deal was getting Eriksen to agree to terms to a multi year deal.

Napoli went into the January transfer window in a much different situation than Inter’s. The partenopei needed to get a jump start on a rebuild on top of finding midfielders functional for Gattuso’s decision to go back to the 4 3 3 formation, sporting director Giuntoli once again looked to the foreign market after previously hitting a homerun with Fabian Ruiz. Demme has certainly played like someone thrilled to be managed by his idol Rino Gattuso and for the club he grew up supporting, while Lobotka gives them options while pondering Allan and Zieliniski’s futures.

Midtable clubs in Serie A tried to follow the Atalanta blueprint of finding good values on talented players in leagues outside of the classic top five. Bologna brought in talented Argentine midfielder Nicolas Dominguez, Cagliari may have found a gem with Pereiro, Milan brought in Saelemakers to compete with Calabria and Conti, while Atalanta turned the Kulusveski’s plusvalenza into Tameze, Sutalo, Czyborra and Bellanova.

In: Eriksen, Czyborra, Sutalo, Bellanova, Tameze, Skrabb, Bjarnason, Pereiro, Soumaro, Dominguez, Moses, Young, Perez, Villar, Yoshida, Demme, Lobotka, Ibrahimovic, Saelemakers, Cutrone


While Serie A added some significant talent in January, the league also lost some fairly big names in Suso and Piatek. Because of Milan’s issues with Financial Fair Play and the uncertainty surrounding their ownership situation, setting up a potential significant plusvalenza for Suso makes sense especially since he lost his starting job under Pioli and while there is risk with moving on so quickly from the Polish striker, the opportunity to break even on a player they had invested so much in was too much to pass on. 

Milan also shed the significant salaries for Pepe Reina, who admitted that when he signed with the rossoneri he assumed Donnarumma was leaving, and Ricardo Rodriguez who lost his starting job to Theo Hernandez, another strong new addition to Serie A from last summer.

During the January window we also saw Florenzi and Lazaro leave on loan, with the Italian international much more likely to return to Serie A down the road out of the two. Lazio and Fiorentina moved on from Pedro, Durmissi and Berisha after they struggled to adapt to Serie A.

Out: Arana, Pedro, Boateng, Dzemaili, Lazaro, Florenzi, Pusetto, Murillo, Pepe Reina, Suso, Piatek, Rodriguez, Durmissi, Berisha, Rigoni

While it’s hard to argue that Serie A has more talent now than it did at the end of December, the more positive trend is the mobility of top talents within the league. In previous years we all too often saw examples of the transient league described by Andrea Agnelli, but this January we witnessed Juventus, Napoli and Fiorentina sign three of the breakout players of the season with Kulusevski, Rrahmani and Amrabat respectively.

Significant players sold but who stayed in the league: Kulusevski, Rrahmani, Amrabat, Barrow, Politano

Losers of the January Window in Serie A

Yesterday we looked at the winners of the January window, but who is worse off following the four weeks of transactions in Serie A? If some of them feel like they‘re a stretch, it’s because overall this was a good window for Calcio 


Way most perceive Fabio Paratici

Safe to say Juventus’ sporting director is viewed in a very different light compared to a year ago. While he was already considered to be one of the elite sporting directors in Europe prior to the transaction, the Cristiano Ronaldo acquisition, mainly financed by making plusvalenze on minor players not part of the long term project, made him into a bonafide star. 

But despite acquiring the highly coveted De Ligt and discovering Demiral, there has been a malaise surrounding Paratici since last summer. The disappointment over Sarri arriving instead of Guardiola, Dybala being essentially pushed out in the summer, a midfield that is still a work in progress and the extensions given to players who where then almost impossible to move have taken their toll on how most view Paratici. This negative perception continued in January when his former mentor Beppe Marotta landed Christian Eriksen, the type of signing that could have moved the needle in Juventus’ weakest unit.

While there is a dark cloud surrounding him, Paratici did some positive things in January by landing one of the most promising players in Serie A in Dejan Kulusevski, who will bring his iron lungs and dribbling ability to a squad in dire need of such attributes, setting up a potential future significant plusvalenza on Emre Can and shedding Mandzukic and Pjaca’s wages from a very bloated payroll. 

Lazio not going for it

Lazio were very quiet this window, their main moves were to loan out Berisha and Durmissi after a very disappointing season and a half in Rome, but they did pursue Olivier Giroud in the final days and could sign him on a Bosman deal for next season. The eliminations in both the Europa League and Coppa Italia certainly justify a reduction in squad size, but at the same time it would have been nice to give Simone Inzaghi a few extra chips to find out if the biancocelesti are scudetto contenders.


Roma just holding serve

The giallorossi went into the January window with the need for a right back and a strong backup for Edin Dzeko, who was starting to run out of gas after a strong start to the season. But injuries to Nicolo’ Zaniolo and Amadou Diawara, forced sporting director Petrachi on having to focus on replacing them rather than trying to elevate the squad in the needed roles.

Villar arrived from Elche to provide more options in the midfield while Perez joins from Barcelona to replace Zaniolo, at best this feels like a slight downgrade. While Ibanez should be an upgrade over Juan Jesus and Fazio’s replacement next season as the primary backup, Roma are even thinner at right back now that Florenzi joined Valencia in order to play regularly before the Euro.

Sampdoria still in danger

Going into the January transfer window, the situation wasn’t as dire as cross town rivals Genoa but Sampdoria had an opportunity to make some head way in the race to avoid relegation with a few good additions. Ferrero’s club replaced the very disappointing Murillo with both Lorenzo Tonelli, who had previously played at the club with mixed results, and Yoshida who surprisingly arrived from Southampton- while they will likely be upgrades over the version of Murillo we saw this season, the club has still to yet adequately replace Joaquin Andersen.

Unless new addition La Gumina exceeds expectations, Sampdoria will have to count on Quagliarella returning to form to provide goals after deciding to move on from Caprari who joined Parma and Rigoni who rejoined Zenit. On the bright side for Sampdoria, hiring Ranieri to replace Di Francesco has been an inspired choice and could suffice to avoid relegation. 

Brescia falling behind in race to avoid relegation

The January window likely brought a significant shit in the race to avoid relegation. We saw some teams bring in some potential difference makers, particularly Genoa with Iago’ Falque, Masiello and Soumaro, SPAL by bringing back center back Kevin Bonifazi and bolstering the midfield with Castro and Dabo, as well as Lecce with Saponara and Barak while others taking a more passive approach. Brescia feel particularly vulnerable when you consider their competition all improved, at least on paper, while their only significant addition was Skrabb who will have to adapt to Serie A after arriving from Norrkopping.



Winners of the January Window in Serie A

The January transfer window in Serie A saw clubs make significant additions for the short term, while others used these four weeks to get a jump start on a much needed rebuild. Let’s take a look at the winners of the just concluded month:



Rocco Commisso and Fiorentina- the Tuscan club’s new owner was very active in the final stretch of the summer window by bringing in Ribery and Pulgar and continued the positive momentum with a memorable winter session. Patrick Cutrone has made an immediate impact after his brief exile in the Premier League, while Igor was brought in from SPAL to play as either a center back in the three man back line or alternate with Dalbert as the left winger. 

Iachini will be reunited with Alfred Duncan after their previous experience together at Sassuolo, the former Inter youth team product will bring a needed dynamic presence to the midfield and has the added bonus of being left footed unlike the other members of the unit. 

But while it’s helpful to have brought in an immediate reinforcement for all the sectors on the pitch, where Fiorentina outdid themselves was by signing both Sofyane Amrabat and Christian Kouame’ for next season. The fact that the Verona midfielder was a target for both Inter and Napoli underlines what an impressive addition he’ll be while Kouame’ has already proven himself in his brief time in Serie A at Genoa- he can compliment Cutrone very well and the two of them can grow together.


Inter’s project- this time last year, the idea that Christian Eriksen would sign with Inter would have sounded preposterous to most fans. Granted the Danish midfielder has had an uneven season so far, but Inter getting him to agree to a multi year deal on essentially a Bosman signing when he had been previously linked to Real Madrid and Paris St Germain is very impressive.

When you consider that Eriksen could start for the current Juventus, it’s hard to argue that he can‘t be a difference maker in this scudetto race on top of being a long term starter. After Diego Godin last summer, Inter have convinced another big name to join them.


Maldini, Boban and Massara- on top of landing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has made as much of an impact as the most optimistic fan could have expected, Milan’s trio of directors were able to get rid of a lot of dead weight on a very bloated payroll with Pepe Reina, Fabio Borini, Ricardo Rodriguez and Suso’s departures- players who were either expensive backups or who had fallen out of favor with new manager Stefano Pioli.


Genoa’s Back to the Future approach- the rossoblu’ went into the January window in last place and decided to go with players who had previously succeeded at the club. In addition to Mattia Perin, Valon Behrami, Masiello, Destro and Iago Falque’, president Preziosi also hired one of his former players in Davide Nicola to manage the team. Masiello and Iago Falque’ have the ability to be real difference makers in the race to avoid relegation while Behrami should bring the intensity the team lacked in first half of season. Captain Mimmo Criscito was inspired by the club’s efforts to avoid relegation and decided to stay despite an intriguing offer from Fiorentina.

Napoli turns the page- in retrospect this should have happened probably a year and a half ago, but De Laurentiis and sporting director Giuntoli started a serious rebuild of the squad by bringing in Lobotka and Demme to help go back to the club’s classic 4 3 3, Politano to be Callejon’s eventual replacement and the staunch Rrahmani to be part of their defense next season. Napoli are also close to acquiring Rrahmani’s teammate, the very impressive Kumbulla. For the attack the partenopei have also secured Andrea Petagna, who will however finish the season at SPAL- the former Milan prospect should be a great alternative to Milik and someone who can open space for Napoli’s wingers.


Atalanta goes with the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it approach”- the Bergamaschi cashed in on Kulusevski and used the proceeds to add significant depth to Gasperini’s squad. Atalanta have been known for finding great value with players in the mid tier leagues and continued this trend by signing Czyborra, Sutalo, Bellanova and Tameze for less than 20 million combined. In addition, they also brought back a familiar face in Mattia Caldara to be a long term part of their defense.


Hellas Verona cash in- few expected the gialloblu’ to avoid relegation this season, but they instead find themselves in the upper half of the table while putting manager Ivan Juric once again on the map. The former Crotone and Genoa manager deserves a lot of credit for launching Rrahmani and Kumbulla who are leading one of the best defenses in Serie A while making Amrabat into a star. Rrahmani and Amrabat have already been sold to Napoli and Fiorentina respectively for 35 million, while Kumbulla is being pursued by Inter, Juventus and especially Napoli- on the bright side for Verona, they get to keep all three players until the end of the season.


Piatek and Florenzi’s puzzling departures explained

The current January transfer window in Serie A felt like an episode of “Lost”. We had an intense start with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan and Juventus defeating bitter rivals Inter in the race for Dejan Kulusevski, a long middle part filled with numerous mysteries, followed by an emotional ending that saw a sad departure with Roma captain Alessandro Florenzi joining Valencia and a rather shocking twist with Milan giving up on Krzysztof Piatek, their top goal scorer from last season.

Just last January, Milan paid Genoa 35 million, in one installment no less, after the Polish striker had taken Serie A by storm after arriving from Cracovia by scoring 13 goals in 19 Serie A matches. Piatek confirmed himself at Milan by scoring an impressive 9 goals in 18 matches which made him and the fan base confident enough that he could end the curse on the number nine kit after boldly deciding to take it over. 

On paper there were many reasons to be confident that Piatek could be a long term building block for the club, especially since many expected him to benefit from the managerial switch going from the very defensive Gattuso to the Sarriball disciple Giampaolo, who had just overseen Quagliarella’s banner season at Sampdoria. Because Piatek was scoring at an Inzaghi like level, it was easy to overlook the fact that the Polish striker was extremely limited technically, but during this campaign they became very evident.

While it’s debatable if Milan would have pursued Zlatan Ibrahimovic at all had Piatek come close to his production from last season, his arrival spelled the end for the Polish attacker if certain financial condition were met. The rossoneri did not want to risk his value plummeting further which certainly could have been the case had he gone to a team on loan and struggled, so once they had an opportunity to avoid taking a loss on his amortized value they pulled the trigger (since they acquired him from Genoa they have amortized a portion of what they invested, making the reported 27 million offer enough to cover his remaining value on the books).

But why would Milan give up on him so quickly since in many ways he fit exactly the type of player Ivan Gazidis described when he laid out the vision of Milan under the Elliott fund- young, with the potential to either become a star or an asset for a plusvalenza on the transfer market? Unfortunately the rossoneri’s current financial situation does not allow them to have the chips to gamble in order to find out if Piatek is closer to what we saw last year or in the current campaign.

Milan had one of the top 5 payrolls in Serie A going into the season and then added Zlatan Ibarhimovic’s significant salary. To Boban, Maldini and Massara’s credit, during this January window they were able to get rid of a lot of dead weight- Pepe Reina AKA the highest paid backup keeper in Serie A on a team who doesn’t play games in European competitions and a young stud keeper, Ricardo Rodriguez who lost his starting job to Theo Hernandez as well as Suso and “oggetto misterioso” Mattia Caldara.

 But getting rid of Piatek does come with some risk although it makes financial sense. On one hand, the rossoneri were able to get a substantial offer for Piatek despite his dreadful performance during this current season because there is so much scarcity on the market for quality pure number 9s, as demonstrated by Roma offering Edin Dzeko a 3 year deal at the age of 33 and Inter breaking their transfer record to sign Romelu Lukaku, but on the other hand it won’t be easy for them to find a quality option when they have to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Florenzi’s departure from Roma is much more rooted in emotion than the cold hard facts that surround Piatek’s exit at Milan. The giallorossi’s ownership group which is in the process of selling the club, were accused by Francesco Totti of being on a crusade of ridding the team from Romans just last summer, and certainly didn’t try to put up a fight on this accusation by moving captain Alessandro Florenzi to Valencia on a dry loan.

There is a good reason and a historical precedent for this move at least. Florenzi wants to get to the upcoming Euro in top form, which is rather difficult to do when you are benched over someone like Santon in the derby against bitter cross town rivals Lazio. While that was the straw that broke the camel’s back- and one that you can imagine really hurt someone born in Rome who grew up dreaming of playing for the giallorossi, Florenzi had become an afterthought under new manager Paulo Fonseca well before this game.

At least Florenzi isn’t the first Roma captain to join Valencia. At the end of the 90s, Amedeo Carboni joined the Spanish club and ended up staying for nine years before becoming one of their directors. But as Florenzi’s agent Alessandro Lucci said on Wednesday “in football there are only arrivederci” (see you again), because the deal was reached on dry loan and Florenzi’s love for Roma, hopefully this will be just a six month diversion.

Early Trends in the January Transfer Window

The beginning of the January transfer window saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan and Juventus defeating bitter rivals Inter in the race for the breakout player of the season Dejan Kulusevski. While those were the sexy moves, some significant trends also emerged in the first third of the winter window:


Napoli rebuilding their midfield

Many praised the partneopei for their work in the summer transfer window, including yours truly. But the fact that they made a coaching change and acted quickly to bring in two veteran midfielders with international experience clearly shows things haven’t gone according to plan for De Laurentiis and sporting director Giuntoli. 

With Gattuso bringing back the 4 3 3 formation following Ancelotti’s varied approach, Napoli’s priority was to find a regista- Lucas Torreira was the their top choice but Arsenal were determined to keep him, so Giuntoli quickly closed the deal with Leipzig for Diego Demme, who was named after Maradona and idolized Gattuso growing up, as well as Celta Vigo for Stanislav Lobotka who was recommended by the club’s former captain Marek Hamsik and had been a target dating back to last summer.

While Napoli always did feel a midfielder short following Hamsik, Rog and Diawara’s departures in 2019, the acquisition of both Demme and Lobotka will impact Zielinski, Allan and Fabian Ruiz’ playing time and may lead to the departure of one of them. Allan has improved since Gattuso’s arrival while Fabian Ruiz has been unrecognizable dating back to the botched team retreat- it will be interesting to see if De Laurentiis chooses to cash in on one of them with a spot in the next Champions League a remote possibility.




Hellas Verona selling their jewels early

In addition to Demme and Lobotka, Napoli are also trying to close the deal for Sofyan Amrabat, one of the best new additions in Serie A following his transfer from Club Brugge to Hellas Verona. The 23 year old Moroccan midfielder is a more technical version of Allan, his arrival would complete the overhaul of the midfield. Amrabat cannot join Napoli in January since he has played matches for two clubs this season and is also a target for Inter.

Amrabat isn’t only Verona player drawing a lot of interest from top teams in Serie A. Central defender Amir Rrahmani has drawn comparisons to Milan Skriniar because of his physicality and effectiveness while Marash Kumbulla has been the leader of Juric’s staunch defense this season despite only being 19 years old. Napoli are set to close the deal for Rrahmani while Inter are leading the race for Kumbulla with both moves being delayed until the summer. 

Inter going all in for scudetto by shopping in the Premier League

Following the home draw to Atalanta, Conte once again brought up the fact that he can’t count on a deep squad after reminding us earlier in the week that in the summer they had to replace three key players in Icardi, Perisic and Nainggolan. Which is in sharp contrast with Juventus since they can essentially field two different starting elevens that could compete for a Champions League spot, leaving directors Marotta and Ausilio with the responsibility of adding a few pieces to the squad to keep up in the scudetto race.

The first need is at the wing back position where Biraghi hasn’t moved the needle and Asamoah has battled injuries, Ashley Young is expected to arrive next week to provide coverage on both the left and the right- he could be Conte’s new version of Simone Padoin who arrived at Juventus during the January window back in 2012. Conte had tried to acquire Young two years ago while at Chelsea, and is now set to get him also because his new club Inter have developed a good relationship with Manchester United.

Following Alexis Sanchez’ injury, Inter have had no choice but to consistently trot out Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez in almost every match, Olivier Giroud- who just like Ashley Young has an expiring contract- will likely come to give them a breather after a recent phone conversation with Conte who managed him at Chelsea.

While Young and Giroud would bring experienced depth to the squad, Marotta is looking to make an addition that truly moves the needle in the midfield. With Arturo Vidal less likely to arrive now that Barcelona are set to make a coaching change, Inter have intensified their pursuit of Christian Eriksen. The Danish midfielder has an expiring contract so the nerazzurri want to first get him to agree to a long term deal and then convince Tottenham to let him go in January rather than losing him for nothing in the summer- while Matias Vecino will probably not get it done in a swap deal, Spurs are asking for about 20 million.


Atalanta cashes in while taking a worthy gamble

Few clubs had a better 2019 than Atalanta, who on top of great results on the pitch modernized their stadium while signing their manager Gasperini to an extension. At the start of the new year Atalanta cashed on the breakout player of the Serie A season by selling Dujan Kulesevki to Juventus for the highest transfer fee the bianconeri ever spent on a midfielder- which sounds bad until you realize Kulusevski wasn’t even part of the squad that got achieved all of the recent success.

Atalanta did bolster their defense by bringing back Mattia Caldara on a low risk/high reward move which should help them in stretch run of the season. Caldara has struggled with injuries and the pressures of being at a top club, but he should be able to relaunch his career in a system he knows very well.


Bologna continue to add talent

Last summer they followed the Atalanta blue print by targeting players in the secondary leagues abroad for better values- they brought in Tomiyasu Denswil, Schouten and Skov Olsen. In January, Bologna welcomed very highly rated Argentine prospect Nicolas Dominguez who has all the tools to be added to the list of talents discovered by Walter Sabatini and are set to acquire Atalanta’s Musa Barrow who should be an intriguing partner for Palacio and Orsolini upfront.


Kulusevski to Juventus: all the angles in the deal

The January window started with a bang in Serie A with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan and Juventus closing the deal for Dejan Kulusevski. The players arrive to their new teams with very different priorities- Ibrahimovic will hopefully be an immediate shot in the arm to help get the rossoneri off the canvas, while Kulusevski is by definition an addition for the long term since he isn’t expected to be part of Juventus’ squad this season.

Interestingly Ibrahimovic is going to essentially replace a player who this time last year was viewed in a very similar fashion to the way we perceive Kulusevski today. Piatek took Serie A by storm in the first half of last season, he was linked to clubs in the Premier League before Milan won the race to sign him by offering Genoa 35 million payable in one installment (the same amount Juventus is paying but over five years with addition bonuses of up to 9 million).

But while there is risk with paying substantially for a player who has a small sample size of great performances at the professional level and Juventus has a more immediate need for an established midfielder, there are many reasons why Juventus fans should be very pleased with this acquisition.

While PIatek is a one dimensional player who relies on service for his teammates to excel, Kulusevski has shown great speed, durability, dribbling ability and ability to elevate his performances on the biggest stages and against the top teams. While in recent years, quite a few clubs have regretted doing business with Atalanta, at least Kulusevski didn’t become a household name playing in Gasperini’s system which has made quite a few players look better than they were.

A lot has been made about Juventus spending so much on a player that doesn’t address an immediate need, but that could be seen as a flawed argument when you take into account that Kulusevski came up as a central midfielder before playing as an offensive winger at Parma. Interestingly Juventus referred to him as a midfielder twice in the opening paragraphs of the press release to announce his arrival and there are scouts who believe Kulusvski could develop into the next De Bruyne.

As previously mentioned, 35 million plus 9 million in bonuses is certainly a gamble and if we go by transfer fee alone, Kulusevski is the most expensive midfielder Juventus ever acquired. But that is a flawed way to look at cost when you account for fact his wages (a reported 2 million net of taxes in the first few years) which are considerably lower than the likes of Ramsey, Rabiot and Can whose annual cost is individually superior to Kulusevski’s despite coming in as Bosman signing with no transfer fee to amortize.

A more rightful concern than cost, is however Juventus’ track record with young talents. In recent years we’ve seen many of them acquired only to be used as financial tools down the road- the sales of Audero, Mandragora and Orsolini helped finance the Ronaldo acquisition while we’ve seen the likes of Leali, Caldara and Gabbiadini never contribute to the bianconeri on the pitch after being sent out on loan.

However, if you look closely at the track record of other young players on Juventus in recent years there are also reasons for optimism that at bare minimum Kulusevski will get a fair chance to establish himself. Paulo Dybala had become a starter under Allegri by the middle of his first season in Turin despite being in his early 20s, and while he was almost sold last summer, he’s now once again a key player at the club. Rodrigo Bentancur went from being a throw in the Tevez deal to a full time starter under Sarri and arguably part of Juventus’ long term core alongside De Ligt and now Kulusevski.

Even though both Daniele Rugani and Federico Bernardeschi have flopped at Juventus, they were both given ample opportunities to become starters at the club. Rugani got first crack at replacing Bonucci a few years ago, while Bernardeschi played regularly under Allegri and has often found himself in the starting lineup this season.

Regardless of which position you envision Kulusevki playing in Turin, there are plenty of opportunities for his skill sets to make an impact since Juventus lacks fresh legs who bring pace and game changing moments. As a winger or trequartista, he’s more reliable that the often injured Douglas Costa and Ramsey and he’s been way more productive than Bernardeschi this season. Kulusevski also has the tools to be an option as a mezzala alongside Bentancur and Pjanic.

The acquisition would also likely be seen in a different light had Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici not had such a difficult stretch. Ramsey, Rabiot and Danilo have flopped, two players he tried to sell in Higuain and Dybala had strong first halves of the season while De Ligt has had his fair of struggles- the final straw was the way Mandzukic was handled in recent months, so it’s easy to understand why Paratici currently doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt from the fan base- but Kulusevski is a gamble worth taking.


Losers of the summer transfer window

Last week we looked at the winners of the summer transfer window now that we have a fairly substantial sample size of games, while today we’ll look at the teams that so far have not received many positive returns from their summer acquisitions:


Juventus- the first summer window without Beppe Marotta was rather challenging for Fabio Paratici and Pavel Nedved. It’s bad enough that the team would likely be far worse off had they sold Gonzalo Higuain, who was so at the margins of the project that he changed numbers from 9 to 21, and Paulo Dybala who was very close to both Manchester United and Tottenham, but beyond that, so far you can question the decision of investing significantly on Mathijs De Ligt over a stud midfielder like Milinkovic Savic or Pogba.

One of the reasons you can question the De Ligt signing is however the emergence of Mehdi Demiral, but by the same token investing a ton in wages in both Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot has so far backfired even though they arrived on Bosman deals just like another player at the margins of the project in Emre Can.

Paratici has so however looked like a genius with the sales of Joao Cancelo and Moise’ Kean, who just like Caldara have yet to make an impact at their new clubs. While Danilo has failed to make an impact at wingback, Juan Cuadrado has reinvented himself as a well above average right winger and Rodrigo Bentancur has been the biggest beneficiary of the Sarri hire. Paratici has been able to move both Perin and Mandzukic. But he still has a bloated payroll and question marks in his midfield.


Milan- safe to say Marco Giampaolo was completely in over his head at Milan, but he also wasn’t set up to succeed since his squad wasn’t built for the (only) formation he was known to use. Now you can forgive a bit of chaos when you consider that Milan had four different sporting directors in four years and this summer had the inexperienced Boban, Maldini and Massara trio in charge, but the only new addition that clearly looks like a keeper is Theo Hernandez.

Leao showed some flashes but has also been described as immature off the pitch, Bennacer had as many dreadful performances as great matches (but at least does seem like a potential building block), Duarte and Krunic battled injuries, Rebic could return to Germany after just 6 months and the two big additions from last January Piatek and Paqueta’- who were brought in a bit early to try to clinch the last Champions League spot- could both leave in January.

While the Ibrahimovic signing shouldn’t be seen as a repudiation of the youth movement at the club, it also could be seen as a sign of desperation after another poor summer transfer window.


Genoa- I was very impressed with what Preziosi’s club did in the summer since they bolstered their defense by signing Zapata, who had his moments at Milan, and bringing back Barreca to Serie A where he used to be an above average left back. Landing Schone, who just a few months before was starting in a Champions League semifinal for Ajax, was quite the coup as well as adding highly rated Inter prospect Pinamonti to their front line.

But while things can look good on paper, in the end “decide il campo” (the pitch decides). Genoa never clicked under former Empoli manager Andreazzoli and hiring Thiago Motta as his replacement was a gamble that didn’t pay off. Genoa now already added Mattia Perin and Valon Behrami to try to avoid relegation in the second half of the season.

Sampdoria- while Genoa looked good on paper to me, you could see their cross town rivals were in big trouble going into the season. They banked on Quagliarella coming close to his standards from his previous, sold their best defender in Andersen and their best midfielder in Praet. With the club up for sale, president Ferrero wasn’t going to invest significantly but Andersen’s replacement Murillo and highly rated Argentine prospect Maroni have been busts.


Torino- going with continuity really paid off for Lazio so far this season, but the same cannot be said for the granata who brought back manager Mazzarri as well as essentially the same squad. Center back N’Kolou was essentially kept against his will rather than letting him reunite with Petrachi at Roma and Izzo, who signed a rich extension, hasn’t performed at the level of last season making the defense significantly worse than a year ago.

Torino invested significantly to acquire Ola Aina on a permanent basis, but the former Chelsea wing back was often benched in favor of Ansaldi and new addition Simone Verdi, who was expected to go back to his Bologna form after a difficult season at Napoli was called out publicly by both manager Mazzarri and president Cairo,



Winners of Summer Transfer Window in Serie A

With seventeen Serie A matches as well as the first phase of the Champions and Europa Leagues in the books, we have a large enough sample size to draw some conclusions on the summer transfer window. Some Italian teams benefitted tremendously by the moves they made in June, July and August and have been rewarded with the positions in the standings starting with:


Inter- the nerazzurri made the best of their Financial Fair Play restrictions coming to an end in June by breaking their transfer record not once (Barella) but twice (Lukaku) and being able to afford to ship out Icardi, Perisic and Nainggolan on loan rather than haggling over a transfer fee when their value had plummeted.

Barella and Lukaku have more than lived up to their price tag, the former Cagliari midfielder was eased into the starting lineup and has performed at the level we’ve seen on the Azzurri, while Lukaku has proven to be devastating against provinciali types, which used to be the types of teams Inter squandered the most points against- if that weren’t enough, the Belgian international has proven to be an ideal partner for Lautaro Martinez who has made a massive leap this season.

In addition to hits with Lukaku and Barella, Stefano Sensi was considered to be the best new addition on any Serie A club prior to his injury last October. While Diego Godin has struggled a bit to get used to a new formation and league, keeping Alessandro Bastoni after a successful summer retreat has proven to be a great move- he was vastly improved after spending a season on loan at Parma


Cagliari- the Sardinian club have so far been this season’s version of Atalanta despite selling their best player (Barella) and losing their starting keeper (Cragno) and best goal scorer (Pavoletti) to injuries. While Radja Nainggolan is rightfully getting a lot of praise for his strong comeback season after returning to his former club for mainly personal reasons, his midfield partner Nahitan Nandez has been just as impactful- the former Boca Juniors player looks ready to give president Giulini another massive plusvalenza down the road.

Giovanni Simeone has helped make up for Pavoletti’s production along side Joao Pedro, who ended up staying after being very close to joining Atalanta, but the real revelation has been Robin Olsen who arrived as a last second replacement for the injured Cragno, the former Roma keeper is arguably the most improved player in all of Serie A


Atalanta- many expressed concern over the Bergamaschi qualifying for the Champions League as their thinking was they would be embarrassed on the biggest stage after selling some of their best players. Instead Atalanta retained all of their starters except for Gianluca Mancini and miraculously qualified out of the group stage of the Champions League.

Last summer, president Percassi bolstered the team’s depth with some fairly significant signings in Luis Muriel, Ruslan Malinovsky and by trying to replace Mancini first with Skrtel, who ran back to Turkey after experiencing Gasperini’s brutal training sessions and later Kjaer.

The bets compliment you can give Muriel is that he’s played so well, you would barely notice Atalanta has been without Duvan Zapata for quite some time, while Malinovsky is just the latest excellent discovery from a secondary league after Freuler, Gosens and De Roon. Atalanta has also been rewarded for extending Pasalic’s loan and sending Kulusevski on loan to a team like Parma which was perfect for getting the most out of his talent.


Roma- in addition to hitting a home run with coach Paulo Fonseca, the giallorossi managed to make some significant improvements to the squad despite missing out on Champions League revenue. Chris Smalling has been one of the best center backs in all of Serie A this season, Gianluca Mancini has been an excellent partner for the English defender and also excelled as a midfielder when the team was ravaged by injuries.

Resigning Dzeko to a long term deal has risks considering his age, but for the first few months of the season he carried the team on his back. After a slow start because of an injury, Amadou Diawara has shown enough to remind people why he was so highly rated when he was at Bologna, his performances have so far given Roma a win over Napoli in the Manolas deal. While Olsen has had a resurgence at Cagliairi, his replacement Pau Lopez has lived up to the expectations of being the highest paid keeper in the club’s history.


Hellas Verona- even the biggest Calcio junkie would have had a hard time recognizing many of the names on the gialloblu’s squad at the start of the season, but the newly promoted club created a team in their manager’s image. Prior to his disastrous spells at Genoa, Juric was considered one of the best up and coming coaches in Italy following his time at Crotone, this summer he was given midfielder Miguel Veloso whom he previously managed, staunch defender Amir RRahmani and Sofyan Amrabat- these last two players are already linked to Napoli for substantially higher transfer fees than what Verona paid to acquire them.


What would the Ibrahimovic signing say about Milan?

Following the embarrassing loss to Atalanta to end the year, I was fully expecting plenty of reports on a new stadium or rich owners interested in purchasing the club to help ease the pain around the holidays. But instead Milan fans received a late Christmas gift on the 26th when Di Marzio and numerous other journalists reported the news of Ibrahimovic agreeing to rejoin the rossoneri.

Assuming the deal becomes official, what does this development say about the parties involved? No matter what your spin is, one thing is universally true- Milan have not been the same club since Ibrahimovic was sold, alongside Thiago Silva, to Paris St Germain in the summer of 2012.

This is when Silvio Berlusconi started waving the white flag by repeatedly stating he could no longer compete financially with those benefitting from oil money in football, so the loss to Atalanta was the miserable ending to a decade that saw Milan’s steady decline.

Following Berlusconi’s “departure”, the disastrous Li/Fassone/Mirabelli regime brought the Financial Fair Play restrictions that Leonardo and now Gazidis/Boban/Maldini/Massara have had to deal with in the past two years. While Leonardo did make some splashy veteran acquisitions (Bonucci and Higuain), the current Milan directors were left with no choice than to lower the wage bill while also acquiring players with potential huge resale value- the vision Gazidis illustrated in a lengthy interview with Gazzetta dello Sport.

But so far, the youth movement has been so frustrating that you can make a case the best players on the squad- Donnarumma, Romagnoli, Bonaventura and Suso- are all from the Galliani era. During the season both Boban and Maldini mentioned the need of having more veterans on the team to help groom the Bennacer, Leao, Hernandez and Duartes on the squad, at times it felt they were publicly egging on Gazidis and the Elliott Fund to ditch the youth movement and bring in some immediate help.

After Bologna and Napoli dropped out of the race, Milan were Zlatan’s only option left in Italy and the rossoneri have reportedly gotten him to agree to only a six month guarantee with an option for next season making this a low risk, very high reward type deal which is easier to stomach for the more conservative branch of the rossoneri’s brass. It remains to be seen if this will be the first of a series of agreements between Milan and Ibrahimovic’s agent Mino Raiola who also represents other significant players on Pioli’s squad.

Giacomo Bonaventura has an expiring contract at the end of the season and could in theory sign with another team during the beginning of the new year. The former Atalanta midfielder has recovered from an injury and has already been linked to Roma, but he has played regularly in the past few weeks at a level superior to others at his position on the squad. Milan will also have to figure out with Raiola the best course of action for Gigio Donnarumma who has just 18 months left on his contract. You have to wonder if Raiola is reportedly agreeing to a short contract for Ibrahimovic as a way to gain good will for these two negotiations…  (if that weren’t enough, Raiola has also recently become Suso and Romagnoli’s agent)

While some of his teammates may receive significant benefits from Ibrahimovic’s return, this development is a bold indictment of the Piatek acquisition. Last January the club invested 35 million, paid in a single installment to acquire the Polish striker, but this season he has regressed to the point that there was talk he could be sent back to Genoa on loan to regain his confidence, and more importantly, market value since the idea of another club paying his amortized value remaining is about as likely as Vince Neil being in shape for Motley Crue’s upcoming reunion tour. There is however a significant chance that the development of players like Bennacer, Leao and Hernandez will accelerate because of Ibrahimiovic’s presence.

Milan are hoping Ibrahimovic will have a much more significant impact than previous legends who returned to the club starting with Seedorf, Inzaghi as managers as well as Kaka’ as a player who didn’t move the needle significantly once he came back in 2013. While it remains to be seen how much Zlatan has left after playing his last game in Europe in March of 2018 and at the ripe age of 38, many expect him to bring back some much needed swagger and fire to the locker room- qualities that have been lacking even more since Rino Gattuso left.

Many who have second guessed Ibrahimovic in recent years have been proven wrong, but it’s hard to imagine that he will still be playing by the time Milan returns to the level they were at when he first left. Regardless, while you could say Zlatan’s return reeks of desperation for all parties involved, the reunion leaves all involved in a better situation with little to no risk involved- Kaka’ isn’t any less adored by the fan base despite his underwhelming return and Milan will reportedly just guaranteed six months salary- considering how difficult things have been at Milan recently, that’s a big step forward.