Dzeko at a crossroads, should Roma try to repeat Nainggolan deal?

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The saying Rome wasn’t built on a day also applies to one of the local football teams. Last summer the giallorossi started an aggressive rebuild project despite making the Champions League, the club’s ownership thought they had the right man to oversee the creation of a young team in Monchi who cashed in on Alisson while also moving Strootman and Nainggolan since they were on the down side of their careers.

While Roma were able to qualify out of their group in the Champions League, they suffered an embarrassing loss in the Coppa Italia against Fiorentina and find themselves in serious jeopardy of not getting back to the Champions League which would be disastrous to the club’s already fragile balance sheet. 

Regardless of where they finish in the Serie A standings, we can expect Roma to continue their rebuild as they look to shed some significant wages- the only difference is they’ll have someone other than Monchi overseeing the project. The new sporting director is likely to however try to repeat the Nainggolan deal with Inter, which turned out to be arguably be the most move Monchi made at the club.

With just one year left on his contract Edin Dzeko is at a cross roads, especially since he’s the giallorossi’s highest paid player at a time where every expense is taken into account. The Bosnian striker hasn’t been as effective as demonstrated by the fact he hadn’t scored at the Olimpico in close to a year, but he’s also a player that can make the difference in big moments and whose value can’t be measured in goals alone. 

Roma will have to make a decision on what to do with Dzeko before he can leave on a Bosman deal- they simply cannot afford to lose a prized asset even if he’s 33. The decision would be easier to make if his heir apparent Patrik Schick hadn’t been such a bust, but while they don’t have a ready replacement on the squad they are likely to move on.

Dzeko has some leverage thanks to an offer from West Ham as well as interest from Germany and Turkey, but probably not enough to convince Roma’s he’s worth his current wages of close to 5 million euro net of taxes on a deal that will take him to his mid 30s. Dzeko however does have an ace up his sleeve since his preference is to stay in Italy- Inter are looking at him as the ideal mentor for their promising attacker Lautaro Martinez- another striker whose value cannot be measured on goals alone.

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Regardless of who is managing Inter next season, there will almost certainly be someone on their bench who values Dzeko’s skills between his former coach at Roma Luciano Spalletti and his rumored replacement Antonio Conte, who loves strikers who can create space for scoring opportunities from the midfield.

In addition to a manager who values Dzeko, an ownership group with deep pockets who can meet his financial demand, Inter has also a player to offer Roma, who value Dzeko at 20 million euro, to fill a very clear need. Replacing Alisson with Olsen has turned out to be the equivalent of going from Ferguson to Moyes at Manchester United and Roma now find themselves once again on the market for a keeper.

Inter are set at the position with Handanovic for at least the next two seasons so they could offer Andrei Radu who is having an excellent season on loan at Genoa. Radu would be cheap wages wise and would have a lot of upside since he’s 21 in addition to already having at least one season as a starter in Serie A. 

 

While it would be unfair to expect a Zaniolo like impact from Radu, he would certainly be a massive upgrade over Olsen and could learn from Roma’s other keeper Mirante. Roma would also receive cash as part of this deal that could be used to either improve the defense or to partly found the acquisition of a striker, there would of course also be the huge savings on Dzeko’s wages.

Roma are currently going through the process of finding Monchi’s replacement, while the identity of the person is still a mystery, we do know they’ll have to make some important decisions from jump street- trying to repeat the success of the Nainggolan-Zaniolo deal would be a great place to start.

 

 

Which Serie A players can increase their appeal on transfer market in stretch run of the season?

With six matches to go this season, plenty of teams have a lot at stake between the races for the remaining Champions League spots and the one to avoid relegation in Serie A. The stretch run of the 2018/19 season is also a great opportunity for some players to increase their appeal on the transfer market as they seek new opportunities, let’s take a look at those who can move the needle with some strong performances

dzeko 

Edin Dzeko

 

The Bosnian striker came close to leaving Roma during the January window in 2018 but ultimately ended up staying because Chelsea never met the giallorossi’s asking price and he never really pushed for the move since he loves living in Italy’s capital. But now financial reasons are bringing to a fork in the road- he has just one year left on his contract and Roma can’t afford to lose him for nothing- he’ll either sign an extension or be sold during the summer.

Regardless of if they qualify for the Champions League or not, Roma are also eager to lower their wage and Dzeko so happens to be their highest paid player. The Bosnian striker has struggled this season as demonstrated by the fact that he just ended an almost 12 month long goalless streak at the Olimpico- with a strong finish to the season he can increase his options. 

Being able to count on the Champions League revenue would make it easier for Roma to offer him close to his current wages and more goals in the last six matches could make Dzeko even more appealing to West Ham (who have already made him a susbstantial offer) or to Inter who see him as a potential replacement for Mauro Icardi, especially should Antonio Conte take over in the summer.

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Manuel Lazzari

 

If you watch SPAL you may start to think their entire offensive game is to give the ball to Lazzari and see if he can create something from the right flank. The 25 year old has had a break out season, he even made his debut for the Italian national team and has drawn comparisons to the first version of Florenzi we saw at Roma.

Lazzari is almost guaranteed to move to a bigger club this summer especially when you consider the lack of quality options at the wing back position. It however remains to be seen if sporting directors and managers see him as someone who can only succeed as wing back in a three man defense, which would limit him to a team like Lazio (assuming they keep Simone Inzaghi) or Inter should Conte arrive. Napoli have also been previously linked to him and considering Ancelotti’s tactical flexibility and Hisaj’s struggles, it’s not out of the question they pursue him once again.

 

keita 

Keita Balde’/Rodrigo De Paul

 

Last year Inter weren’t able to retain Joao Cancelo because of Financial Fair Play despite having an option to buy him. While the nerazzurri’s financial situation has improved, it will still be significantly expensive to retain both Keita Balde’ and Politano despite their positive seasons. 

Keita Balde recently hired agent Federico Pastorello, who is very close to both Inter and Monaco since he works with a few of their players- it will be interesting to see if he can broker a deal that works for all involved, which certainly would be easier to do if Balde’ finishes the season on a high note. 

Inter have also been heavily linked to De Paul, who this summer will be coming off his best season at Udinese which also featured his debut with the Argentine national team. De Paul does have the tactical flexibility to play along side Balde’ but he also could be his replacement since it’s not out of the question Inter could negotiate a deal with Udinese involving some of their own young players which would be more in line with their FFP restrictions.

 

Allan/Nicolo’ Barella

 

Allan’s outstanding performance at the Parc des Prince substantially increased Paris St Germain’s interest in the Brazilian midfielder so much so that they come close to acquiring him in the January window. Since then Allan’s performances dipped a bit, don’t get me wrong he still was very effective but he also no longer was in the conversation for the best midfielder of the season in Serie A.

A strong end to the season, especially should Napoli be able to come back against Arsenal, could bring him closer to the exorbitant price (over 70 million) De Laurentiis is looking for as a return- it certainly doesn’t hurt that he has a great relationship with PSG after the Cavani and Lavezzi sales. 

Should Napoli decide to cash in on Allan, especially considering that because he’s 28 his value won’t increase, they could go all out for Barella who has similar characteristics to the Brazilian and would cost substantially less wages wise.

 

Alessio Cragno

 

Certainly Alex Meret deserves all the praise he’s received this season- his performances have made me wonder if he’s the best Napoli goalkeeper of my lifetime (which is saying a lot since I go back to the Maradona days) but I feel he’s overshadowed who I consider to be the best goal keeper in Serie A this season- Cagliari’s back stop Alessio Cragno.

Cragno has drawn comparisons to Angelo Peruzzi and is more than ready to take the next step at a bigger club- he would be a massive upgrade for Roma or could be Handanovic’s long term replacement at Inter. With a strong end to the season, Cragno could also start drawing interest from clubs outside of Italy.

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Federico Chiesa

 

Fiorentina’s recent struggles which resulted in Stefano Pioli being replaced by Vincenzo Montella could make their star player more eager to leave in the summer. While Chiesa’s talent is indisputable, he has also been known just as much for his diving than his goals this season, in addition Montella has publicly stated that he plans on having him play as a winger in a 3 man defensive formation.

As all of you know Chiesa comes with a  great pedigree and there is no shortage of suitors for him both in Italy and abroad- but he’ll need a strong finish to garner an offer that will make the Della Valle brothers budge.

 

Napoli’s season is on the brink- did Sarri see this coming?

 

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On paper the plan made perfect sense. Hiring Carlo Ancelotti to replace Maurizio Sarri was a big statement for Napoli- he’s of course a big name manager in the football world who just with his arrival elevated the club’s brand. Following the James Bond themed announcement of his hire, the former Milan and Real Madrid manager embraced the city from day one and on the pitch immediately showed he was determined to avoid his predecessor’s mistakes.

Even before fatigue could accumulate, Ancelotti started rotating his players, as a matter a fact he used twelve different lineups to start the season. But that wasn’t the only thing Carletto did differently than his predecessor- he also showed a lot of tactical flexibility with formations while also keeping some of the best elements of Sarriball.

While last season Napoli prioritized winning the scudetto over all other competitions, Ancelotti’s version of the partenopeisaved their best performances for Europe. Even though they were eliminated in this edition of the group of death of the Champions League, Napoli’s performances against Liverpool at the San Paolo and in France against Paris St Germain, gave many a lot of hope they could actually win the Europa League where ironically they could face their former manager Maurizio Sarri.

Considering that by the start of 2019 Juventus had a huge lead in Serie A, the partenopei had all of their eggs in the Europa League basket, but after last night’s loss to Arsenal in London, their season is on the brink of turning into a failure when they take to the pitch against the Gunners to try to overturn the 0-2 deficit.

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In a way Maurizio Sarri saw this coming. After surpassing the 90 points threshold last season and not winning the scudetto, something that had never happened in Serie A’s history, Sarrireportedly felt that he had taken this group of players as far as they could go and that the only way was down- he decided it would be best to move on rather than oversee the decline of his hometown club.

There also were growing expectations in the city of Naples after such an intriguing title race against Juventus, the bar had been substantially raised and nothing short of winning a significant trophy (Coppa Italia wasn’t going to cut it) was going to cut it with the fans. Unless Napoli can somehow overturn the result from the first leg, for many this will be considered a very disappointing season when you consider how much bigger the gap with Juventus is points wise.

Taking a step back in Serie A was to be expected also because of Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival at Juventus, but there also quite a few internal reasons at Napoli that Sarri almost certainly saw coming. In the NFL the team that loses the Super Bowl typically doesn’t even make it to the playoffs the following, in part because of the hang over effect of losing after getting so close to the promised land.

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While Napoli received a significant spark from new additions Fabian Ruiz and goal keeper Alex Meret, quite a few of the veterans on the squad took a step back. Hysaj went from being considered one of the best right backs in Serie A to being almost irrelevant, while Callejon is still very generous with his effort, he’s nowhere near as effective as he was under Sarri, Ghoulamand Albiol have dealt with injuries most of the season and even stand outs like Insigne and Allan have struggled in the new year after a very impressive start under Ancelotti, even Zielinski and especially Diawara failed to become replacements for Hamsikand Jorginho respectively.

To continue this trend, we’ve seen Arkadiusz Milik and Nikola Maksimovic- who for different reasons struggled to find space under Sarri- be arguably the only two Napoli players who improved on their performances under Ancelotti compared to the previous regime.

If the idea that Napoli’s current squad would inevitably take a step back this season was truly Sarri’smain motivation to move on, he’s so far being proven right- the only way to turn this narrative around is to go all the way in the Europa League- starting with the return leg against Arsenal when Napoli’s season will be on the brink.

Where would Conte fit best next season?

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Everything is breaking his way. His successor at his former club gets routinely mocked at home matches making his previous tenure look better in retrospect and there are potentially many openings at the top clubs in his home country. In many ways it’s hard to imagine Antonio Conte’s sabbatical season going any better when it comes to how he’s perceived and where he could go next.

Conte certainly has the qualities that many of the top teams with an expected coaching vacancy are looking for- he has a long track record of getting clubs back on track dating back to his time before he became Juventus’ manager and he knows both Serie A and the Italian media very well. 

But where does it make more sense for him to go next should he decide to return to Italy? Let’s look at the potential fits and likelihood the job will be available in the first place

 

Juventus

 

The last two managers to win the Champions League with the bianconeri, Giovanni Trapattoni and Marcello Lippi, both eventually returned to the club despite leaving Turin to go coach bitter rivals Inter. While Conte at least went to the national team and then abroad, it doesn’t feel like this is the right time for him to go back to Juventus. 

For one Max Allegri keeps saying he wants to be the Bianconeri’s version of Sir Alex Ferguson, and secondly the club seems more interested in keeping him after the impressive second leg against Atletico Madrid (but an elimination against underdog Ajax may change that). But even if Allegri leaves, it doesn’t feel like there’s much of an appetite for another defensive manager, especially one who unlike the current manager has yet to fully excel in the Champions League- the trophy the club is mainly focused on.

Likelihood job is available: 25 percent

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Inter

 

While having Beppe Marotta as the CEO isn’t necessarily a distinct advantage for the nerazzurri considering the rocky relationship between the two at Juventus, this is Conte’s likeliest destination. With Suning’s financial stability and the Financial Fair Play restrictions about to end, Conte would be able to count on the support in the transfer market he consistently craves.

Inter have already signed Diego Godin on a Bosman which would give Conte a new version of the BBC assuming Milan Skriniar stays alongside De Vrij- an outcome that seems rather likely. Should he follow in Trapattoni and Lippi’s footsteps, Conte wouldn’t have to go through a significant rebuild like at Roma and Milan or face huge expectations like winning the Champions League at Juventus. 

While Spalletti has a good chance of qualifying for the Champions League for a second season in a row and has a long term contract, he has openly clashed with Marotta over Icardi and Perisic and his hand picked addition Nainggolan has so far been a significant bust. Spalletti looks to have overstayed his welcome.

 

Likelihood job is available: 60 percent

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Milan

 

Before the derby against Inter, Gattuso looked to have earned the opportunity to start next season as Milan’s manager- but a recent streak of disappointing results, coupled with an uninspired offensive system have changed that perspective.

By joining the Rossoneri, Conte wouldn’t be able to expect significant additions via the transfer market because of Financial Fair Play and his style of play isn’t exactly in line with the club’s DNA. On the plus side, Conte is the master of taking clubs from A to B and he would have the opportunity to build the team in his image.

 

Likelihood job is available: 50 percent

Roma

 

The giallorossi are the likeliest to have a job opening as even if Claudio Ranieri were to able to get the team to the Champions League, there’s a chance he would step aside to give a chance to a younger manager to help his beloved Roma.

At Roma, regardless if they make the Champions League or not, Conte would face an even bigger rebuild than at Milan. As someone who has openly complained about the transfer moves of his employers, you don’t need much of an imagination to picture how he would react to the departure of players like Manolas. In addition Conte has become one of the highest paid managers at his recent jobs and it’s hard to envision Roma being able to pay him in line with his previous earnings.

Likelihood job is available: 85 percent

Key Players in the race for a Champions League spot in Serie A

While last season Serie A had the most competitive title race of the major European leagues, this time around the scudetto race is as predictable as the ending of a Friends episode. But the competition for the last two Champions League spots is quite intriguing with 5 teams in the mix, the following players will likely have the biggest impact on how their squads fare in the final stretch of the season

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Mauro Icardi

 

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received goes like this “the best cure for negative thought, is taking positive action”. Considering the roller coaster the now former captain has been on in the past few weeks, he certainly could use a few decisive goals to get himself back in the good graces of his club’s fans and/or re establish his value on the market.

 

Inter find themselves in the same position in the standings as when Icardi left the squad to heal what the club essentially described as a phantom injury, so while they do need his contributions to nail down their second consecutive, the Argentine striker needs a strong end to the season even more than they do. He did catch a lucky break now that his replacement Lautaro Martinez suffered an injury while playing for Argentina during the international break, so Icardi could play a part in a big moment sooner rather than later.

 

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Paqueta

 

While Piatek has received more attention since joining Milan, the Brazilian midfielder has also been a tremendous addition to Gattuso’s squad. When the deal to acquire him from Flamengo  was completed, many pointed out that it was a gamble for Leonardo to invest over 30 million euro for a player with no experience in Europe, never mind Serie A,  at a time that Milan was dealing with Financial Fair Play issues.

Needless to say you don’t hear that criticism anymore because Paqueta’ has brought many of the attributes that have been lacking in Milan’s midfield for a few years- pace and ball skills. If that weren’t enough, Paqueta’ recently got to wear the iconic number ten jersey on the Selecao. While Calhanoglu has been a bit better recently, Suso continues to be in a slump- there’s no one on Milan beyond Paqueta’ who can create something from nothing at the moment.

PierLuigi Gollini

 

Atalanta find themselves in hanging on in the race for a Champions League spot in large part thanks to their offense. The devastating trio of Zapata, Ilicic and Gomez has to however offset a below average defense which has conceded 39 goals in 28 matches (as a frame of reference Lazio has conceded 29 with one less game played).

Gasperini recently gave the starting job to Gollini after Berisha was the starter in the first half of the season. The former Aston Villa keeper has a distinguished pedigree since he’s been part of the Azzurri’s youth teams since 2012, should Gollini live up to his potential Atalanta will still be in the mix for a Champions League spot for weeks to come.

Federico Fazio

 

During his second press conference as Roma’s manager, Claudio Ranieri described the Argentine defender as “un pezzo 90” (which loosely translates to an elite player). While you can certainly understand why a coach, especially one who was just appointed, would want to hype his players and help them get some confidence, Fazio has been a massive liability this season.

Should Ranieri decide to stick with a 4 man defense, he really doesn’t have many other alternatives, especially while Manolas is recovering from an injury, and Fazio is still a better option than Juan Jesus and Marcano. However the former Leicester manager could use a radical solution to his team’s defensive woes- move to a 3 man center back, the formation where Fazio had his best stretch in Serie A.

Ranieri could move De Rossi to the back line alongside Fazio and Manolas since he does have a deep midfield with the likes of NZonzi, Cristante, Zaniolo, Pellegrini and even Pastore. But regardless of the formation, Ranieri will need Fazio to step up in order to get Roma back to the Champions League next season.

Luis Alberto 

Luis Alberto 

 

While Miilinkovic Savic got torched by many for his very disappointing first half to the season, the former Liverpool striker struggled even more. Last season Luis Alberto was arguably the most improved player in Serie A,  but so far his 2018/19 campaign saw him regress to 3 goals- 8 less than his tally previous year.

But in the last match before the international break, Luis Alberto scored two goals to go with an assist- if he can keep these types of performances up, Lazio does have a chance to make up the 6 points they have less than Milan in the standings- especially when you consider they have to make up one match against Udinese.

Mancini has been rewarded for being brave, but can he integrate his young stars?

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Let’s be honest, sayings and proverbs just sound so much better in Italian. They come of as more profound and musical when you hear them, but the one thing they share in common with their English versions is that they also tend to be true. The one on “La fortuna aiuta gli audaci” (luck helps the brave) certainly applies to Roberto Mancini’s tenure as the Azzurri manager so far.

 

 

Upon taking the job, Mancini stated that he was hoping to see Serie A clubs give more space to young Italian players at a time that we saw more and more foreigners starting in the Italian league. But as an other saying teaches us “if you want something done right, you just have to do it yourself”.

 

 Zaniolo-Brozovic-Roma-Inter

Usually a hot prospect earns a call up to the senior Azzurri squad after he made an impact at professional level, but instead Mancini decided to take matters in his own hand by selecting Nicolo’ Zaniolo to the Azzurri senior squad even before he appeared in an official match at Roma- shortly after the former Inter prospect made his professional debut at the Santiago Bernabeu and the rest is (recent) history.

 

 

Mancini doubled down on young players by starting Moise’ Kean against Finland last Saturday. When you consider that Kean had already debuted and scored in Serie A and played in multiple Champions League matches at Juventus, you could say this was less bold than selecting Zaniolo, but the stakes were certainly higher since this was the first qualifier for the upcoming Euro rather than just a selection for a friendly.

 

Where Zaniolo and Kean fit into the Azzurri moving forward remains to be seen but their paths will likely be quite different. Beyond showing courage by selecting young players, Mancini has also done another thing very well since becoming Italy’s manager- he’s built a midfield that works while on the surface it wouldn’t appear that the pieces fit.

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Mancini’s predecessor, the loathed Gian Piero Ventura, improvised a new midfield in the key playoff matches against Sweden- while now Italy has an identity in the middle. Mancini went with two playmakers by starting both Jorginho and Marco Verratti, one of Italy’s most talented players but someone who also never really shined on the Azzurri. This combination has worked very well with Cagliari’s stand out player Nicolo’ Barella, a more box to box type player who also has a bright future ahead of him because of his young age.

 

 

It will be interesting to see how Mancini integrates Zaniolo into the mix, because talent wise, Roma’s new star looks to have the highest upside of any player on the Azzurri. In the past few months the former Inter prospect has been tried as a winger, but while it isn’t a particularly large sample size, playing in this role doesn’t seem to get the most of his talent.

 

 

Mancini could decide to sacrifice his double playmaker midfielder and bench Jorginho and just go with Verratti, Zaniolo and Barella- three players who on paper compliment each other rather well and could be the backbone of the Azzurri for years to come. Having Zaniolo as a starter would also help offset the lack of a true goal scorer up front since the Roma player appears to be someone who can find the back of the net rather frequently for a midfielder.

 

While Mancini has quite a few intriguing options in the midfield, the attack remains a question mark on the Azzurri and Kean could very well contribute to finding a positive answer. Ciro Immobile has never come close to performing for the Italian national team like he does for Lazio and while Belotti has performed better in 2019, he’s not close to being the player that was compared to Gianluca Vialli two years ago.

 quagliarella

 

Considering how well he’s played past two seasons, Fabio Quagliarella could be an excellent starter for the Azzurri as they compete to qualify for the next Euro, but it’s hard to envision him being a long term answer. Kean could be an excellent super sub in the interim before eventually becoming the third piece of an attack that also features his teammate Bernardeschi and Federico Chiesa.

So far Mancini has been rewarded for being bold and brave, but now he’ll also have to use some ingenuity to integrate his young studs in his current team.

After overplaying his hand, Icardi returns to Inter

icardi

Contract negotiations can be a bit like a high stakes poker game, sometimes you just don’t have the cards to win but you can still try to bluff your way to victory anyway. I’ve been thinking a lot about this analogy upon hearing that Mauro Icardi finally returned to Inter’s practice after missing the past 5 weeks because of a “knee injury” that emerged right after he was stripped of the captain’s armband.

When you consider that Inter find themselves in the same position in the Serie A standings as when Icardi’s left the squad, his replacement Lautaro Martinez has strived (to add insult to injury he also scored for Argentina during the international break) and the nerazzurri managed to win the recent derby, it’s hard to argue against fact that the Argentine striker and his wife/agent Wanda Nara gained nothing from this situation. 

Icardi returned to the squad without getting back the captain’s armband back and while at the beginning of 2019 there was a lot of momentum for Icardi getting his third contract extension with a raise in three years, now that is off the table at least for the time being. Inter’s motivation to negotiate a new deal was to increase or eliminate Icardi’s current exit clause of 105 million euro (valid only outside of Italy) but after all the recent events, even the most ardent Inter or Icardi fan would describe that amount as a fair return while a non Inter fan likely believes his value took a substantial hit.

While there aren’t many true number nines of Icardi’s caliber on the market, especially of his current age of 26 or lower, I never got the sense Icardi and Wanda wanted to pursue the opportunity to join another team. They had stayed at Inter when the team was on the outside looking in of the Champions League and now that the club was finally on the rise, it was hard to envision them leaving a city they love and a country where Wanda could also be a television pundit.

Speaking of Wanda’s gig on the popular Tiki Taka show on Italian television, the most surreal aspect of this soap opera was watching her get lectured on how a player should act in the locker room and with his teammates by Antonio Cassano, the equivalent of OJ Simpson doing a promotional video against the dangers of spousal abuse.

Wanda and Icardi handled the situation so poorly, between her public criticism of some teammates at Inter and his decision to sit out practices with a phantom knee injury which Inter disputed with an official medical bulletin, that Cassano of all people actually sounded like the voice of reason.

While Wanda and Icardi have been trying to gain leverage in contract negotiations in similar fashions in recent years, the way Inter handled them was a drastic change in the club’s culture. During the years of Moratti’s presidency, the club always coddled their stars and in the process often undermined their coaches. Moratti always gave into his top players and went so far as enabling behavior that damaged the players careers with Adriano.

 

marotta2

But the new Suning version of Inter with former Juventus’ executive director Beppe Marotta overseeing day to day operations gave Icardi and Wanda a taste of their own medicine. They didn’t give them any warning before posting the tweet announcing that Samir Handanovic was being anointed as the new captain and publicly made it very clear that the behaviors undermining the team’s overall culture wouldn’t be tolerated.

Not surprisingly Wanda Nara reached out to Moratti to help mend fences. The mediation with Inter’s new management was handled by lawyer Nicoletti who was very close to the nerazzurri’s former president and in the end Icardi was allowed to return to the team this week. The timing made sense since Icardi’s first training session back with the squad took place during the international break while Perisic and Brozovic are away with Croatia, it will be interesting to see how that develops in coming weeks.

Sometimes in poker you overplay your hand and your opponents call your bluff- this is precisely what happened to Wanda and Icardi. Inter now welcome back their former captain from a position of strength and it’s up to the Argentine striker and his wife/agent to adapt to their new standards.

Serie A’s up and coming managers

Genoa-Empoli Campionato Serie A Tim 2014-2015

This has been a banner last two for Italian managers. Giovanni Trapattoni turned 80, Arriigo Sacchi was ranked as the third best manager ever by France Football and Claudio Ranieri returned to his beloved Roma to try to salvage the season. But while these three coaches have an already established legacy, the Italian managerial school has produced some new tactical minds ready to take the next step in their careers.

Let’s take a look at their future outlook as well as the situations for the managers they could replace next season:

 

 

Gian Piero Gasperini 

 

Atalanta’s manager already has some experience at top clubs since he managed Juventus’ youth teams in the 90s and Inter’s senior squad for 5 matches at the start of the 2011/12 season. After re establishing himself at Genoa, Gasperini has taken Atalanta to the next level with his trademark bubbly offensive style despite having three center backs on defense.

While Gasperini’s brand is strong enough to be a serious candidate for Roma, where he would fit very well because of his ability to develop young players and talent with relaunching reclamation projects, he could decide to just become to Atalanta what Guidolin was to Udinese awhile back.

Atalanta have an ambitious project both on the field and off it. After selling numerous up and coming players in recent years, the Percassi family is investing 35 million euro in modernizing their stadium, which will now be team owned which will allow them to keep more of their best players moving forward. No matter what Gasperini does this summer, he’ll be taking a step forward in his career.

 

Marco Giampaolo

 

The profile of Sampdoria’s manager continues to rise. Back in 2015 Empoli choose him to replace Maurizio Sarri, a manager he has strived to emulate with his tactics- particularly the tight lines between defenders, midfielders and strikers. Since moving to Genova, Giampaolo has achieved impressive results while developing numerous players.

While many will point to Giampaolo’s success with strikers because of Quagliarella’s recent success and both Muriel and Schick moving on for big fees after successful stints at Marassi, we are witnessing Danish center back Joachim Andersen following a similar development to Milan Skriniar who left Sampdoria to become one of the most impressive defenders in all of Europe at Inter.

While Sampdoria are certainly in the upper tier of Serie A’s middle class, they aren’t quite at Atalanta’s stage when it comes to making a further leap in the standings. Giampaolo could be an excellent alternative to Gasperini for Roma or a solution for Lazio should they decide to move on from Simone Inzaghi.

 

De Zerbi

 

Roberto De Zerbi 

While the derby della Madonnina and Juventus’ first loss of the season against Genoa got most of the headlines from the weekend in Serie A, Sassuolo’s home loss to Sampdoria was the most entertaining match of the 28th round. While Giampaolo is a Sarri disciple when it comes to style of play, Sassuolo’s manager De Zerbi has modeled himself after Pep Guardiola.

As a matter a fact, the way Sassuolo currently plays was one of the reasons why Barcelona targeted Kevin Prince Boateng during the January window. Prior to this season, De Zerbi established himself as one of Italy’s best young offensive minds at Foggia, he then joined the long list of managers sacked by Zamparini at Palermo before rebounding at Benevento, a team that played well despite finishing in last place (De Zerbi took over mid way through the season).

While Roma is probably a bridge too far at the stage of his career, De Zerbi would be an excellent option for either Sampdoria or Atalanta should their managers move on.

 

Roberto D’Aversa

While Gasperini, Giampaolo and De Zerbi are examples of the new breed of Italian managers who focus more on the offensive phase, Parma’s current manager is an old school “catenaccio” manager whose bread and butter is a strong defense and deadly counter attacks.

D’Aversa has overseen two promotions in a row at Parma and even more impressively he has ensured the team was never really in the relegation race upon returning to Serie A. D’Aversa has worked well with young players, particularly defender Alessandro Bastoni, as well as veteran players- strikers Gervinho and Inglese have been excellent all season, Bruno Alves performed so well both Juventus and Inter pursued him in January and Kucka fit in perfectly after arriving in January.

 

The way Allegri is perceived hasn’t changed but his future outlook certainly has

allegri

Juventus’ impressive comeback against Atletico Madrid probably didn’t do much to change your opinion of Massimiliano Allegri. If you’ve been criticizing him for the past two season you can feel vindicated by seeing what his team looks when they actually play attacking football and get the most out of their impressive weapons, if you have been one of his defenders, then your takeaway from the match is this just another tactical masterpiece from the Tuscan manager.

 

 

Before we go any further, let’s get one thing out of the way- regardless of which camp you fall on with Allegri, there’s no doubt that Cristiano Ronaldo was the hero of Tuesday night’s showdown at Allianz Stadium and his performance needs to be taken into account when evaluating Allegri. CR7 was the difference between getting past the round and a heroic comeback that fell just short like the ones against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in previous seasons.

 Ronaldo210219_0

 

But back to Allegri, let’s look at this match from the point of view that someone who has been critical of him for the past two years as a result of too many 1-0 wins where Juventus did the bare minimum to win. While I’m certain these folks received plenty of tweets from Allegri defenders after the match, they had their own version of “I told you so” since they can easily say “You see this is what we could be watching all the time, if Allegri didn’t keep putting the brakes on all of the talent on our squad”.

 

 

They probably see Allegri like someone who can only get it together when his back is truly against the wall, essentially like a husband who has been in the doghouse for awhile and to avoid a costly divorce starts buying flowers, playing Adele records in the house and suggests rewatching “The Notebook” on Netflix. To an Allegri critic the comeback against Atletico shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place had Allegri simply not botched the first leg so badly- and they certainly have a point.

 

 

An Allegri defender looks at this game from a radically different point of view. They are likely to say that just like Juventus struggled at the Wanda Metropolitano, so did Atletico Madrid in Turin- in matches of this caliber, the home field advantage is a big deal and that the matchup against Simeone’s team was always going to be incredibly difficult.

 

 

Certainly it’s more than reasonable to say that all too often Juventus plays boring and uninspired football, but someone completely in the tank for Allegri (even more so that one of his defenders) could say that Juventus’ manager is like a great head coach in the NFL who saves all his best plays and formations for games that truly matter in the playoffs. To these people Allegri is football’s version of Larry Bird who back in 1986 famously played a game against the Portland Trailblazers using his left hand, so he could save his right one for the far more formidable Lakers.

 

 

As often is the case with these things, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Allegri does deserve criticism for Juventus’ uninspired play the past two season, but there’s also no doubt he’s proven he’s a master tactician who can win you a very tough match in the Champions League by making some surprising adjustments like using Emre Can as essentially a false center back.

 

zidane-

 

But while the outcome of the match likely reinforced your opinion of him rather than change your mind, another event this week radically changed the outlook for Allegri’s future. In fact Zinedine Zidane’s surprising decision to return to Real Madrid took a way a potential landing spot for the Tuscan manager while taking off the table the most realistic and palatable replacement for him at Juventus (assuming you take Pep Guardiola at his word when he said he wouldn’t be moving to Turin any time soon).

 

 

It’s hard to imagine there are many Juventus fans who are excited by the prospect of either Didier Deschamps or Antonio Conte returning to the club, because they don’t play a very different style than what Allegri has used recently. As a matter a fact, Zidane’s decision did more to change the minds of Juventus fans with Allegri than the win against Atletico Madrid.

 

 

Interestingly to those outside the Juventus bubble (and let’s add the Milan one too), Allegri would have been considered to be a top manager regardless of the outcome of Tuesday night’s match. I guess it’s easier for these people to appreciate Allegri’s qualities since they probably aren’t watching all Juventus games, to them he’s someone who has kept Conte’s dominance in Serie A going while also vastly improving the team’s outlook in Europe.

 

 

The only way Allegri will fully change the minds of his critics is to actually lead Juventus to the elusive Champions League win, that is a very lofty standard but in it of itself it should tell you a lot about how much Allegri has achieved in Turin.

 

 

Who has more at stake in return leg against Atletico Madrid?

atleticojuventus

 

Their insurmountable lead in Serie A and surprising elimination in the Coppa Italia, makes Juventus’ upcoming match against Atletico Madrid even more important than their previous return legs in the Champions League during recent seasons. On Tuesday night the bianconeri will look to come back from a 2-0 deficit for the first time in their history against an opponent who loves nothing more than defending a lead. 

While the challenge is massive, so were the expectations going into this season. But who has more at stake when Juventus take to the pitch at Allianz Stadium?

 Juventus Press Conference

 

Massimiliano Allegri 

While the Tuscan manager is used to being criticized for his defensive and bare minimum approach, this season he has turned into a human piñata, especially on social media. Certainly Allegri deserves a lot of credit for raising the bar at the club in Europe (he often likes to remind the media and fans that Juventus was struggling against Swedish and Danish clubs prior to his arrival) and you can make a case he’s a victim of his own success, but in the match at the Wanda stadium there’s no doubt he got outcoached and it’s fair to say he hasn’t been able to get the most out of his remarkable impressive offensive weapons through out the season- he especially hasn’t been able to make Dybala fit in with Ronaldo.

But while Allegri’s popularity with Juventus has plummeted like Tesla’s stock after Elon Musk appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast, he’s held in very high regard from non Serie A fans and is certainly a very marketable name should he need to find a new job in the summer. Allegri has proven that he could take Juventus from B to C after Antonio Conte had gotten them back on track, he has shown he can handle star players (and even discipline them when necessary in an effective way if you look at Bonucci’s desire to return to the club) and his management of the media is second to none in Italy- a very important skill at top clubs anywhere.

Should Juventus be eliminated on Tuesday, Allegri will certainly receive a lot of blame in the short term but to those outside of the Juve bubble, the story line will be that he’s a great manager who just happened to lose to Atletico, a team with an excellent track record in Europe and a top coach.

 

 

 

ronaldo

 

 

Cristiano Ronaldo

 

I know what many of you are thinking- how can CR7 have anything at stake on Tuesday considering that he’s already won 5 Champions League and that Real Madrid have struggled since his departure? But in his case, a premature elimination in Europe’s biggest competition would mainly be a massive squandered opportunity.

While bringing in Ronaldo has already had substantial benefits to Juventus’ brand globally, on the pitch he was brought in to elevate the team in the Champions League- a competition where he has arguably been the best player ever. Winning one at Juventus, a club that is mainly known for the finals they lost and a general vibe of disappointment, would certainly elevate the way Ronaldo is perceived historically and in his endless debate with Leo Messi- it would be somewhat similar to what winning a title in Cleveland did for Lebron James despite the fact he had already won in Miami.

Now Ronaldo will have other opportunities to win a Champions League at Juventus since he signed a multi year deal, but it’s also hard to see an easier path to the cup than this current edition since Real Madrid and PSG are already out and one between Liverpool and Bayern Munich won’t make it to the next round. Age is also a huge factor, while Ronaldo is in great shape he’s also 34, a decline in the later years of his contract is almost inevitable and nothing would help his legacy more than winning a Champions League at Juventus as their best player.

Ronaldo certainly has a devoted fan base that transcends clubs, but after the loss to Atletico there’s already a contingent of Juventus supporters who are now wondering if acquiring Ronaldo was worth it in the first place- especially should it also result with sacrificing Dybala in the summer.

 

 

agnelli

 

Juventus

In this case I’m referring to the senior management team of Andrea Agnelli, Fabio Paratici, Pavel Nedved and the club’s image. As previously mentioned, acquiring Ronaldo brought some big benefits off the pitch (marketing, financial and a strong relationship with an influential agent like Jorge Mendes) but it also made winning ten scudetti in a row, which can be achieved at the end of next season, almost an after thought for their supporters.

Juventus took the “if you can’t beat him, just acquire him” approach and brought in Ronaldo to finally get over the hump in the Champions League. In doing so they made a massive investment in a player about to enter his mid 30s and substantially increased their wage structure. An early elimination in the Champions League would also take away a very substantial revenue stream which benefitted them substantially the two times they made the finals. In addition adding Ronaldo also overshadowed the fact the management team didn’t do enough to improve the midfield, an elimination would bring that in spotlight front and center.

While Juventus’ management has historically always publicly stated that domestic success is the priority and the Champions League is a crap shot, that changed at the beginning of the season. You can point to the fact that facing Atletico Madrid in the round of sixteen after winning their group stage is further proof that you need some luck in the Champions League, but that will not be enough even when Juventus wins their ninth scudetto in a row.