Sarri, between living up to expectations & not winning any titles

Sarri

When I was in college I briefly dated a stripper. At the beginning it was very exciting, I could brag to my friends about how hot she was, she brought a lot of good looking friends to parties and she made me feel like a rock star. But as time passed, the idea that she was doing her “job” in front of other guys caused a lot tension and it became too much for me to handle, so I decided to break it off and go with a more traditional girlfriend.

I’ve been thinking about this phase of my life since Maurizio Sarri’s time at Chelsea took a turn for the worse in recent weeks and especially after the embarrassing loss to Manchester City last weekend. The stripper was ultimately acting exactly as I should have expected her to, so in the end I had no one butmyself to blame when we broke it off.

You see anyone who has followed Sarri’s tenure at Napoli closely could have seen all of this coming, as a matter a fact the only surprising aspect of his time at Chelsea so far, was the team’s very fast start despite going from Conte’s SufferBall to the much more offensive and glitzy SarriBall.

Serie A junkies like myself figured it was only a matter of time until Sarri’s shortcomings would start becoming talking points for his critics in the Premier League. The lack of squad rotation and stubborn refusal to play younger players became amplified at Chelsea since the Blues have more options on both countsthan Napoli, and while Sarri had said all the right things upon arriving at Stamford Bridge, he recently started showing his poor sportsmanship and willingness to blame others as things took a turn for the worst.

Mind you being proven right in this case (at least so far) wasn’t particularly pleasurable for me. You see Sarri is probably my favorite figure in Italian football of the past 5 years, I remember my friend Enrico Passarella (who also writes for this site) telling me to pay close attention to Sarri’s Empoli after they were promoted to Serie A a few years ago.

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I remember watching them for the first time when they travelled to face Napoli at the San Paolo and I was so impressed with the fact they played such an attractive and distinct style even when facing the top Italian teams on away matches. As a matter a fact Empoli was so impressive when they faced Milan at San Siro that Silvio Berlusconi had flashbacks to Arrigo Sacchi when he was at Parma and pushed to hire him until he learned about his left wing leaning politics, too much to handle on top of the fact that Sarri liked to wear track suit on the sidelines.

While Sarri’s lack of rotating players at Napoli was also exasperated by the serious injuries to Faouzi Ghoulam and Arkadiusz Milik in his last season at the club, it was not surprising to see him continue this trend at Chelsea. Meanwhile at his former club, Ancelotti was praised for using twelve different lineups to start his tenure under the Vesuvius while giving opportunities to players Sarri often ignored in Milenkovicand Ounas.

In addition to using more members of the squad regularly, Ancelotti also showed considerable more tactical flexibility of Sarri. The former Milan and Real Madrid manager used different formations and wasn’t afraid to change the strategy during matches, something Sarri essentially still refuses to do still today. Not surprisingly considering his experience at top clubs, Ancelotti has shown to be much more polished with his communication with the media and peers than Sarri who was known for vulgar language and Herculean ability to complainabout all sorts of different topics (scheduling of matches, pitch conditions, international breaks) after a disappointing performance.

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But while all these changes at Napoli sounds great, in Sarri’sdefense, the results have so far gotten worst. The partenopeihave been eliminated in both the Champions League and the Coppa Italia and find themselves with eight less points than this time last year when they were more than holding up with Juventus in Serie A with essentially the same squad when you consider that Fabian Ruiz, often praised as one the best players to arrive in Serie A last summer replacing Jorginho.

Speaking of Juventus, the other criticism that Sarri often receives “HE HASN’T WON ANY TITLES” ignores the bianconeri’s strength (not to mention the fact that he never managed a top tier team in Italy until arriving at Napoli). At the end of the day only won team can win the league title, which was Napoli’s only objective last season after they saw an opening following Bonucci’s (temporary) departure from Turin.

While Sarri’s squad could have showed more mental fortitude following Juventus’ comeback win at San Siro against Inter and they did run out of gas at the end of the season because of lack of rotation (which again was also partly to blame to the injuries to Ghoulam and Milik), the team still finished with 91 points- the most ever by a team not to win the Serie A title and a higher total than Juventus achieved multiple times during their recent long streak of consecutive league titles.

Certainly, Sarri has his faults, but since August they have been the exact same ones that anyone that knew him saw coming. Just like me with the stripper I dated in college, when someone turns out to be exactly as you expected have to blame yourself.

 

Are Rugani & Diawara running out of chances to live up to their reputations?

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Hope springs eternal is what I often think about of when I see an exciting new prospect starting to establish himself in Serie A. It’s human nature to always look with excitement to the next great thing, we can easily project different attributes on the blank canvas of a player who has a small sample size of games under his belt.

Just think of how recently Nicolo’ Zaniolo has been anointed as the new Totti, or how many new Maldinis and Buffons we have crowned in recent years. But the reality is that for every Gigio Donnarumma, there are countless examples of Hachim Mastour type prospects who simply fizzle after receiving a lot of hype at the start of their careers- as Jay Z rapped on “Takeover” some players “had a spark when they started, but now you’re just garbage”.

Before we go any further, let me be clear- I don’t think Daniele Rugani and Amadou Diawara are garbage players by any means, but it’s certainly possible that because of the very distinguished starts to their careers, the way they are perceived today doesn’t fully mesh with reality. 

Most of the takes on their performances include the phrase “if they got more opportunities, they would be playing better”- but is this reality or are they not getting more opportunities because they aren’t performing well? Interestingly there are many parallels between the two.

Let’s start with Rugani, who despite not turning 25 until next summer is already playing in his fifth Serie A season. The Italian international has been pegged as the building block for Juventus’ defense in the post BBC world since he made the most of his opportunity playing for Maurizio Sarri at Empoli. Rugani’s career trajectory has however taken a turn for the worse, since he’s fallen behind Alessio Romagnoli in the conversation for the next great Italian defender.

The recent story line on Rugani is that he’s getting his best opportunity to establish himself at Juventus now that Mehdi Benatia left in the middle of the season. While the Moroccan international’s departure in it of itself only made him the first backup, the subsequent injuries to Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini made him the top player at the position at least on a temporary basis.

Needless to say so far Rugani hasn’t made the most of this opportunity since Juventus gave up 6 goals in back to back matches against Atalanta and Parma. Now Rugani defenders have pointed to the fact it’s unfair to judge him in these matches since he was forced to partner with Mattia De Sciglio, who was playing out of position, and Martin Caceres who had just arrived from Lazio- while that is a fair point, it’s also important to remember that not long ago Rugani was pegged as the player to lead Juventus defense and Romagnoli is doing so at a comparable age at a high pressure club like Milan.

In addition, Rugani was already given a juicy opportunity to establish himself as a starter at Juventus when Leonardo Bonucci left for Milan. Rugani was given first crack at being Chiellini’s partner at the start of the 2017/18 season and eventually lost his starting spot to Benatia- a change that brought a massive improvement to Allegri’s defense.

While Rugani is set to sign an extension, which will also help sustain or potentially increase his transfer value, there’s now already talk that Juventus will make at least two significant additions at the center back position next summer with De Ligt, Milenkovic, Manolas and Genoa’s Romero all on Paratici’s list- not exactly an endorsement of Rugani’s future at the club.

 

Just like Rugani, Amadou Diawara has been in our lives for a long time despite being born in 1997. The Guinean midfielder broke out at Bologna, the club that discovered him in Italy’s lower divisions, in 2015- he combined excellent passing abilities with remarkable calmness on the pitch and defensive prowess. After one season under Roberto Donadoni he was sold to Napoli where he started off as Jorginho’s understudy.

Diawara’s development wasn’t helped by Maurizio Sarri’s refusal to rotate frequently, give playing time to prospect and the current Chelsea’s manager devotion to Jorgino- Diawara faced a trifecta of challenges in his efforts to reach the next level in his career. At least the former Bologna midfielder scored his first goal as a professional against Manchester City in the Champions League under Sarri.

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Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival and Jorginho’s departure for Stamford Bridge were supposed to jump start Diawara’s career. The former Milan manager took the opposite approach of his predecessor and used twelve different starting lineups in his first twelve matches at the club, he even went so far as rotating his keepers frequently to show he would give an opportunity to everyone.

But while existing Napoli players like Ounas, Milik and especially Nikola Maksimovic made the most of their new opportunities and new additions like Kevin Malcuit and Fabian Ruiz quickly unseated previous starters, the same cannot be said for Diawara who has yet to put in a vintage performance like he used to give frequently at Bologna.

During the January window, Napoli fielded offers for Diawara but while they were never going to loan him to Milan, no Premier League club came close to meeting De Laurentiis’ valuation of 40 million euro. While the winter window did not provide him a new team, Diawara should have even more opportunities now that Marko Rog was loaned out and Marek Hamsik is on his way to China- it’s now time for him to make the most of it because while hope springs eternal, you can only live off your reputation for so long before someone else becomes the hot prospect.

Losers of the January Window in Serie A

On Sunday we looked at the winners of the January window while today we look at those who have been weakened after the four weeks of transfer moves

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Juventus

The absolute worst case scenario possible from the ill timed Mehdi Benatia sale materialized as rapidly as Don Draper drinking an Old Fashioned. Both Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini suffered injuries leaving Allegri no choice but to start Daniele Rugani and new addition Martin Caceres against Parma- a match in which the bianconeri ended up giving up 3 goals at home against a newly promoted team.

Predicting how much this will continue to be a problem for the Serie A champions essentially comes down to how much you believe in Rugani, but it’s important to note last season the former Empoli center back was given first crack at replacing Leonardo Bonucci and ended up losing his spot to Benatia which resulted in Juventus’ defense looking substantially better.

Regardless of how you feel about Rugani, the bottom line is Juventus replaced their second best pure defender after Giorgio Chiellini with Caceres who was on his way to Japan after failing to establishing himself at Lazio. Juventus should have done more to make it worthwhile for Benatia to wait five months before moving for Qatar by offering him more financially rather than investing in Caceres on top of the opportunity of being on a potential Champions League winner.

Monchi 

Lazio/Roma

The two Roman clubs were very quiet during the January window with Romulo as the only fairly substantial addition joining either club. While Zaniolo’s explosion as well as Pellegrini and Cristante’s strong performance made it logical for Monchi to stand pat when it came to improving his midfield, not signing a defender- especially after giving up 7 goals to Fiorentina the day before the window closed- may cost the team substantially. 

When you go beyond looking at the January window in a vacuum for both clubs, not doing more to bolster Inzaghi and Di Francesco’s squads is even worse when you consider the substantial improvement Milan with Piatek and Paqueta. 

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Napoli ?

 

If you want to take context and opinion out of the equation, no team in Serie A lost a player as substantial in the January window without a replacement than the partenopei with Marek Hamsik. As I write this the deal with Dalian isn’t completed yet, but in the very likely event that it goes through Napoli at least showed clubs interested in Koulibaly, Allan and their other jewels that they will not be bossed around and will only sell on their terms.

On Wednesday, Napoli announced that the deal with the Chinese club was off because of the payment terms (not to be confused with transfer fee) which showed the rest of the world they will not be bullied even when it comes to accommodating the wishes of one of their most iconic players. Letting Marko Rog go out on loan now looks a bit more adventurous, but as long as Napoli don’t suffer multiple injuries they should have no problem replacing Hamsik in the summer considering their great track record with midfielders.

 

Empoli

 

Completing deals that will send Traore and Rasmussen to Fiorentina in the summer made sense considering that the Tuscan club has always been about selling players who shine for them for profits only to replace them with new prospects, but letting Zajc go to Fenerbahce effective immediately may come to bit them since other teams in the race to avoid relegation (SPAL and Cagliari especially) made fairly substantial improvements.

Group E Belgium vs Italy 

Emanuele Giaccherini and Stefano Sorrentino

 

While Chievo essentially waived the white flag in the race to avoid relegation by selling Radovanovic, Obi and Birsa the former Juventus midfielder and stand out goalkeeper ended up staying. At least Sorrentino will be to tell his grandchildren that he saved a Ronaldo penalty by staying with the Flying Donkeys, but Giaccherini was deprived of the opportunity to play for a team that can also give him an opportunity in Serie A next season. The Antonio Conte favorite is still effective enough to start for quite a few mid table teams in Serie A.

 

Winners of January Window in Serie A

Diego Godin

Serie A with Bosman Signings

 

For the second year in a row Juventus was able to sign a midfielder from the Premier League with Aaron Ramsey following in Emre Can’s footsteps. Whether both or even either of them proves to be effective enough to truly upgrade the bianconeri’s biggest weakness remains to be seen, but managing to sign both when there was significant competition to do so is still a sign of strength on the market.

While Juventus looked to expiring contract market to address a weakness, Inter doubled down on a significant strength by agreeing to terms with Diego Godin. The Uruguyan center back gives the nerazzurri significant flexibility- is he coming to form a formidable 3 man back line alongside Milan Skriniar and Stevan De Vrij with Antonio Conte looking like a heavy favorite to replace Luciano Spallerri next season, or is he coming to replace either Miranda or Skriniar who could break transfer fee record for a defender set by Virgil van Dijk? 

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Milan

 

While there was disappointment that Leonardo and Maldini weren’t able to close the deal for either Carrasco or Deulofeu, the rossoneri are still the most improved team competing for a Champions League spot and despite the complaining by fans over the unfairness of FFP, no club in Europe spent more than the rossoneri during the January window.

Piatek and Paqueta fit in well with the request of their nucleus (Donnarumma, Romagnoli, Bakayoko and Suso) both for their age and characteristics on the pitch. Higuain’s departure could also end up being a significant addition by subtraction since he was becoming a substantial distraction.

 ACF Fiorentina v UC Sampdoria - Serie A

Pantaleo Corvino

 

When you look at Fiorentina’s sporting ability to discover talents, it’s really no surprise that Fabio Paratici refers to him as a “maestro”. During the January window Corvino leveraged his personal relationship with Luis Muriel which dates back to their time together at Lecce to convince him to join the viola over Milan. The Colombian striker is off to a flying start on Pioli’s squad and is giving the contributions many expected from Marko Pjaca.

While Muriel has made an immediate impact, Corvino also got a substantial head start on the summer window by signing Empoli’s Traore’ and Rasmussen who will finish the season on Iachini’s squad where they can play regularly as well as Polish talent Zurkowski. 

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Sampdoria 

 

The blucerchiati brought Manolo Gabbiadini back to Serie A to offer Marco Giampaolo another option up front following Defrel’s production plummeting in recent months. Gabbiadini is versatile enough to be a good complimentary piece to Fabio Quagliarella this season while also having enough talent to have more of a role as a protagonist in coming season.

In addition to Gabbiadini, Sampdoria also redeemed the rights to stand out keeper Emil Audero from Juventus. The former Venezia backstop has been one of the best at his position in Serie A this season and considering his young age, they would be able to sell him for substantially more than the paid last week.

 

Bologna 

 

The felsinei started the season with one of the worst squads in Serie A following Simone Verdi’s departure and Mattia Destro becoming an expensive backup. The club acted quickly in the January window by signing both Sansone and Soriano, two above average offensive weapons to help support Santander and Palacio. Their early arrival gave Pippo Inzaghi a fair chance to try to turn things around, but the team continued to struggle as proven by the fact they haven’t won a match since late September.

After Sinisa Mihajlovic replaced Inzaghi, Bologna made two more additions with defender Lyanco and winger Edera who both arrive from Torino on loan. The team is now in much better position to avoid relegation since they have a battle tested manager with an improved squad.

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Cagliari 

 

The Sardinian club’s main accomplishment in January was to hold on to stand out midfielder Nicolo’ Barella who was heavily linked to Chelsea and Napoli. Roberto Mancini must also be happy with this development since Barella will finish the season in a system where he’s comfortable and also the star.

While it’s almost certain that Barella will leave in the summer, Cagliari already brought in his replacement for next season in Christian Oliva, who arrived from Nacional for 4 million plus bonuses. The Uruguayan midfielder will have a few months to get acclimated to Serie A before he’s acted to take on a substantial role. 

In addition, Cagliari added two veterans who have a lot of experience in the race to avoid relegation in Thereau, who can either start next to or replace Pavoletti and Valter Birsa who had his best season playing for the Sardinian club’s manager Maran when they were together at Chievo.

 

Parma 

 

The newly promoted built on the strong momentum from their excellent first half of the season by adding defensive midfielder Kucka who has a lot of experience in Serie A. The former Milan player already made a big impact in the surprising draw against Juventus at Allianz Stadium on Saturday and could be an important player next season as well.

Parma were also able to retain their best defender Bruno Alves, who recently signed an extension, after he was linked to Juventus as a possible replacement for Benatia and Inter who were looking for insurance on Miranda’s potential departure.

 

Grading the recent transfer moves in Serie A

JUVE; CACERES TORNA IN ROSA, CON L'INTER CI SARA'

 

 

 

Juraj Kucka to Parma B+

 

After finishing the first half of the season closer to a Europa League spot than the relegation zone, Parma didn’t rest on their laurels during the January window. Following the brilliant Gervinho addition, the newly promoted club decided to bring back Kucka to Italy in order to give more muscle to D’Aversa’s midfield. The Slovakian international has six years of Serie A experience and can be an important player for Parma next season as well.

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Krzyzsztof Piatek to Milan B

 

Granted it’s a very small sample size, but the rossoneri have looked like a different team since Gonzalo Higuain left. Gattuso’s team looked much more fluid in both games against Genoa and Napoli and it’s certainly possible the players are much looser now that all the questions on the Pipita’s future have ended. 

Piatek’s annual wages are about a quarter of what Higuain was earning, and considering how poor the Argentine striker had been in the past few weeks, the drop off (if any) shouldn’t be very substantial especially if Piatek keeps playing like he did in the last twenty minutes of the match against Napoli.

While Milan weren’t able to include any players in the deal for Genoa, they showed a lot of financial strength by paying the 35 million euro transfer fee in one installment. After Paqueta, Milan have now added another player in his early 20s to add to their young nucleus, they are still legitimate contenders for a Champions League spot now while also ensuring they have a squad with a lot of upside for next season.

There are however two questions marks that remain following this transaction- what is it about Milan that both Bonucci and Higuain, two players good enough to start for an elite team like Juventus, that they both wanted to leave so soon? Are Cutrone and Piatek compatible or mutually exclusive?

For Genoa the Piatek deal is a financial home run. They made a 30 million euro profit on a player they had acquired just last summer, and by selling him quickly, they ensured they won’t have any Belotti like regrets in case he can’t continue his impressive scoring streak from the first half of the season. But they are also losing a key player while still being in the middle of the relegation race, they’ll need Kouame to lead the line and hope that Sanabria adapts quickly to Serie A.

   

Stefano Sturaro to Genoa C+

 

Preziosi’s club is known for being very active In the January window, and this year was no exception. In addition to Sanabria and defender Pezzela who arrived from Udinese, they also brought back to Sturaro on loan for 1.5 million with a vested option to buy for 8.5 million. While the Italian international never lived up to expectations at Juventus, he should bring some much needed muscle to Prandelli’s midfield.  

The Sturaro deal fits into a larger picture between the two clubs, Juventus previously acquired Mattia Perin and are the clear favorites to land center back Cristian Romero, one of the revelations of the Serie A season, next summer.

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Martin Caceres to Juventus C- 

 

Speaking of Juventus center backs, the Uruguayan international returned to Turin after two previous stints at the club. While Caceres is familiar with what to expect with the bianconeri, there’s no denying he’s a considerable downgrade from Mehdi Benatia, the player he’s going to help replace, at this stage of his career.

While some expected the policy of respecting the player’s will to end with Beppe Marotta’s departure, Juventus didn’t force Benatia to stay after he received a rich offer from Qatar. While the Moroccan international is injury prone and had a reduced role after Leonardo Bonucci’s return, he was arguably Allegri’s best pure defender after Giorgio Chiellini and hence a valuable piece of the puzzle in Juventus’ pursuit of the elusive Champions League cup. 

Benatia’s transfer is a great opportunity for Daniele Rugani, a player that has typically only started against the bottom table teams in Serie A this season. It will be interesting to see if Allegri trusts him in a big game over Barzagli (who is rehabbing from an injury) and newly arrived Caceres should Chiellini or Bonucci suffer an injury.

 

Cedric Soares to Inter B 

 

Following Sime Vrsaljko’s injury (and disappointing first half of the season), the nerazzurri acted quickly to give Luciano Spalletti a new starting caliber right back. Soares arrived from Southampton on a loan for 500k with an option to buy worth 11 million, considerably cheaper than what they would have had to pay Atletico Madrid to retain Vrsaljko permanently.

Soares was picked over Joao Cancelo to play for Portugal in the last World Cup and as Gazzetta dello Sport reported, no player had more crosses than him in the Premier League in the past four seasons. 

Serie A’s burning questions for last week of January window

Lazio v Napoli - Serie A - Stadio Olimpico del Nuoto

Will Napoli hold on to Allan?

Paris St Germain have been enthralled with the Brazilian midfielder ever since they faced him in the group stage of the Champions League. The French club also have a great relationship with Napoli dating back to their deals for Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi and after offering to more than double what Allan currently makes, the player is quite intrigued by the move.

Napoli are notorious for being tough negotiators and considering they have no debt or Financial Fair Play issue, they can hold firm in demanding a Godfather like offer to let Allan go in January. Napoli have to also feel good about their great track record with finding midfielders on the market, Fabian Ruiz has been one of the best newcomers to Serie A this season and has ensured the midfield unit didn’t skip a beat despite Jorginho’s departure and Marek Hamsik being a year older.

Napoli have targeted Cagliari’s Nicolo Barella, Villareal’s Pablo Forlans and Celta Vigo’s Stanislav Lobotka as players who could help offset Allan’s departure. Considering that the former Udinese box to box midfielder is now 28 this would be the ideal time to sell and a massive transfer fee could make it easier to keep Koulibaly in the summer.

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Does Allegri trust Rugani enough to let Benatia leave?

Many assumed that Juventus policy of letting the player’s will reign supreme with transfer moves would end with Beppe Marotta’s departure. But despite the more aggressive stance on market that came with the Cristiano Ronaldo signing, it looks like the bianconeri will continue to be open to letting players who want to leave go.

The newest player to do is Mehdi Benatia, who has seen his role reduced after Leonardo Bonucci’s arrival. The Moroccan center back is pushing to join Qatari club Al Duhail who are offering him a rich contract. While Juventus tried to convince him to stay, they are now looking for veteran alternatives with old friend Martin Caceres as the favorite with Ivanovic and Skrtel as alternatives.

The fact that sporting director Paratici is looking for a veteran could be seen as a lack of faith in Daniele Rugani who has never started in a significant Champions League and tends to play against the lower table teams. The former Empoli defender has long been seen as a potential long term to Chiellini, but he wasn’t able to capitalize on the opportunities given to him during the season Bonucci spent at Milan.

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 Will Milan be able to further bolster Gattuso’s squad? 

Despite their strict Financial Fair Play parameters, the rossoneri have been able to add two expensive new additions in Paqueta and Piatek, whom they were able to pay in one installment. The rossoneri had the wiggle room to do so because of the significant savings on Higuain’s wages and the fact that Chelsea is paying half of the 18 million loan fee they owed Juventus for the Argentine striker.

While the moves they’ve made are already impressive, can Leonardo pull a rabbit out of his hat during the days of the Condor as they were called when his mentor Galliani used to run Milan’s mercato? The rossoneri are doing all they can to bring Yannick Carrasco back to Europe, but they can only acquire him on loan with option to buy and with the Belgian international taking a pay cut on his current wages.

 

Which wing back will return to Serie A?

 

They don’t call Italy “Il bel paese” (the beautiful country) for no reason. While players often leave Serie A to chase bigger pay checks, they are more than happy to return. This January we have seen Muriel, Gabbiadini, Sansone and Kucka come back and there’s a chance at least one between Matteo Darmian and Davide Zappacosta follows their path.

Lazio have been linked to Zappacosta for some time, but they are faced with some tough demands from Chelsea who are determined to include a forced option to buy in a potential loan deal. While Lazio maybe a bit more motivated to get a deal done now that Jordan Lukaku is heading to Newcastle, they will likely rely on Zappacosta’s agent Alessandro Lucci to work as a mediator with Chelsea to get better terms.

Darmian on the other hand has been a transfer target for Juventus dating back to his time at Torino, and now that Inter have closed the deal for Cedric Soares they are the only feasible Italian destination for him. So far Manchester United have been asking for a loan with financial considerations with a hefty option to buy to let Darmian, but now that there’s less of a market for him, they may just lower their demands.

 

Piatek & Belotti- better the egg today than hen tomorrow

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“Meglio l’uovo oggi che la gallina domani” is what Enrico Preziosi must have been thinking when pondering what to do with Krzysztof Piatek during the January window. The Italian saying which translates to “better an egg today than a hen tomorrow” could also be seen as a play on Andrea Belotti’s nickname “Il Gallo”- the rooster, whose dip in transfer value was likely a stark reminder to Genoa’s president that it’s better to sell a player a (half) season too soon than a full season too late.

After a meteoric start to his Serie A tenure in which his goal scoring streak saw him match records of players like Zico and Shevchenko, Piatek was already being linked to Premier League clubs. In addition, if you believe Preziosi and De Laurentiis’ public quotes, Napoli’s bid of around 40 million was rejected since Genoa wanted to see what the Polish striker could do over the course of a full season before establishing his transfer value.

Then came Preziosi’s stunning decision to sack Davide Ballardini, despite the fact that the manager had the team close to the Champions League zone and oversaw Piatek’s incredible start. The Polish scoring machine stalled under Ballardini’s replacement Juric and some wondered if the real gem on Genoa’s attack was actually Piatek’s partner Christian Kouame’.

So when Gonzalo Higuain pulled a Bonucci and pushed to leave Milan as soon as possible, Preziosi decided that he would not pass on another opportunity to turn a massive profit on Piatek after investing under 5 million euro to acquire him last summer from Cracovia. The framework of the deal with Milan was agreed to on Friday and the transaction is expected to be completed after the two teams face each other on Monday.

Piatek will try to end the striker curse at Milan which in just the past 18 months has seen the up an coming Mendes jewel Andre Silva, the functional to Montella’s system Kalinic and now the bona fide big name Higuain fail to live up to expectations. This is a daunting task to say the least, especially when arriving mid season. 

To get a better gauge of the odds on Piatek ending this curse for the rossoneri, I asked Marco Bovicelli- who covers Genoa for Sky Sport- how he would describe the Polish striker and this is what he told me “He’s like a bolt of lightning, very fast with his feet and mind. He gets the ball and if situation allows it within one two seconds he shoots. If he only gets three good balls in a match he’ll score at least once. He’s young, works hard and has significant margins for improvement”

While seeing Genoa sell their best players is nothing new and will continue in the summer when standout defender Cristian Romero and Kouame’ also move on, Torino tried to take a different approach with Andrea Belotti a few years ago. The granata rewarded their main striker with a significant raise, in exchange they were able to insert an exit clause worth 100 million euro in his contract- they also made it valid only outside of Italy to ensure Juventus wouldn’t try to weaken their cross town rivals.

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Now many interpreted this as Torino setting his value at 100 million, but in reality the clause was there to ensure their best player would stay short of an indecent offer. While now it’s easy to mock Torino for over valuing Belotti, those who follow Serie A often complain that the level of the league would improve further if clubs tried harder to keep their best players- the problem is Torino may have picked the wrong one.

After receiving substantial profits for Darmian, Glik and Maksimovic, Torino’s president Urbano Cairo decided he would change course and try to elevate his team. Considering how hard it is for mid table teams to find consistent goal scorers, Cairo turned down substantial bids from Atletico Madrid and Milan to keep Belotti. While we can admire his ambition and desire to not be like many other Serie A clubs, a series of injuries to Belotti, followed by some poor performances, made that decision seem foolish.

Last summer Torino decided to go all in with Belotti. They kept Iago Falque and added Roberto Soriano and Simone Zaza to give him even more support, but so far the results haven’t lived up to expectations. Soriano already left while Zaza has yet to make a real impact.

You have to wonder if West Ham’s recent interest in Belotti to potentially replace Arnautovic who has been linked to a move to China, will make Cairo decide that an egg today is worth sacrificing his rooster over during the January window. 

 

Higuain & Chelsea, between public quotes and body language

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For someone who strongly believes you shouldn’t put any stock on what is said publicly about transfers, I have caught myself engaging in some odd behaviors following some recent quotes coming from Milan’s sporting director and coach. Typically when persons in their positions, in addition to players and agents, are asked about transfer rumors, they resort to maintaining the status quo like “player X is staying’, or “I’m just focused on the season and I’m committed to my team” etc.

But  after Leonardo spoke at Milanello earlier this week and said the following about Gonzalo Higuain “He has to make a decision and take his share of the responsibility. Not this continual “yes, no, I’m not sure” followed by “He had a tough moment, he has to put it behind him and get to work. There’s no point following rumours and gossip. He is right here right now. Seeing as he is here, he needs to get down and actually do something for this team” I found myself rewatching some recent Milan matches to analyze Higuain’s body language the way historians break down the video of JFK getting shot.

Sarri

While there had been a lot of rumors linking Gonzalo Higuain’s to Chelsea where he would be reunited with Maurizio Sarri, not only a father figure to the Argentine striker but also the manager who get the most out of him, his celebration after scoring against SPAL gave me pause.

In addition to all the hurdles for this deal to happen (Juventus owning his rights, Milan investing 18 million just to have him on loan this season and needing an adequate replacement to get to the Champions League in addition to their own FFP issue which would make it hard to find a suitable replacement, not to mention Chelsea’s reluctance to invest substantially in players over 30) Higuain celebrating in that fashion which I dubbed the “blue ball” release because he seemed to have unloaded all of his frustration after finally ending his scoring draught, somewhat convinced it was inevitable he would finish the season at Milan.

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But then came Rino Gattuso’s quotes on Saturday after the win in the Coppa Italia against Sampdoria “Higuain? When a player makes certain choices then it becomes hard to convince him. But one can try. At this moment, he’s a Milan player, we’ll hold on to him tightly and I don’t know what will happen” which were rather shocking, especially since Milan has a big game coming up against Juventus for the Italian Super Cup. But while we can certainly accuse Gattuso of being limited tactically, we have to all admire how transparent he is what he says.

Those who follow Serie A closely remember what Gattuso had said about Leonardo Bonucci last summer, the statements after the Sampdoria match were eerily similar. As a result last night I found myself analyzing a picture Jose Mauri posted on Instagram featuring numerous Milan players, including Higuain, on the plane to Doha as if I was trying to decipher the meaning of a scene in a David Lynch.

Now other than realizing that Diego Laxalt will be able to start a successful Offsprings cover band if the whole football thing doesn’t work out, I couldn’t draw too many conclusions but it still made me think further about Higuain’s situation. While there are many hurdles to making a deal to Chelsea happen, especially during the January transfer window, where there’s a will there’s typically a way. 

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On top of Gattuso’s quotes after the match against Sampdoria, there was another important development in that match- home grown striker Patrick Cutrone scored a brace off the bench to help Milan pass the round. Could Milan decide they don’t need a big and expensive name to come in prior to agreeing to let Higuain leave? Would a complimentary piece be enough or do the rossoneri just see Cutrone as a super sub? If so, can Leonardo channel the spirit of his mentor Adriano Gallaini and convince Genoa to give them Piatek in January on a deal that doesn’t impact their FFP?

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Do recent games give Chelsea even more urgency to bring in an upgrade over Alvaro Morata, a player who coincidentally Milan appear to even less intrigued by compared to a few weeks ago? If so the key would be to find a deal that works for Juventus- the current Serie A champions were hoping Higuain would play well enough for Milan so that they would redeem his rights next season- would Chelsea be willing to do so by banking on fact Sarri can get Higuain going? Or could the clubs structure a deal similar to the Juan Cuadrado multi year loan deal to avoid a loss on the amortized value? These are all the questions that quotes and body language brought to my mind.

 

Grading the early transfer moves in Serie A

 

Diego Godin

Diego Godin to Inter Grade A

For the second year in a row Inter have been able to close the deal for one of the top center backs on the market, especially impressive when you consider that just like Stefan de Vrij, Godin is also arriving on a Bosman transfer. Slowly but surely the nerazzurri are building a formidable backline which was arguably the biggest strength of their treble winning team.

Godin gives Inter a lot of flexibility and opens the door to two potential dominoes- one very positive and another that rightfully makes their fan base uncomfortable. Having Godin at San Siro makes the job more attractive for Diego Simeone while also giving Marotta and Paratici to ponder their options with Milan Skriniar, who has yet to agree to an extension, from a position of strength.

But aside from the potential ramifications of the deal, there’s no doubt that this is a statement signing for the nerazzurri- they are set to acquire one of the five best center backs in the world at time that he was linked to numerous top clubs outside of Italy.

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Aaron Ramsey to Juventus Grade B-

The Welsh midfielder is set to sign a multi year deal with the current Serie A champions after being linked to numerous top clubs in recent weeks, especially Paris St Germain. So for the second year in a row, the bianconeri have signed a midfielder still in his prime from the Premier League after completing the deal for Emre Can. But just like with the German midfielder, odds are Juventus will have to wait until next season to add him on a Bosman signing.

Ramsey will bring many of the attributes Juventus lost after Claudio Marchisio suffered his knee injury, but the question remains if he’ll be able to stay healthy and adapt to Serie A- which has been rather challenging for two previous British players at Juventus, Ian Rush and David Platt. Now granted that was a long time but there’s a no doubt, Ramsey will face a very different reality in Turin compared to London. Considering the high wages Ramsey is expected to receive, which will have a domino effect on the requests of some of his new teammates, this deal does come with some risk for the Old Lady.

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Sebastian Walukievicz and Valter Birsa to Cagliari 5 million combined Grade B+

The Sardinian club have been quite active in the early stages of the January transfer window and have addressed both a long and short term need. After signing two veterans to bolster Maran’s defense in Ragnar Klavan and Darijo Srna last summer, Cagliari closed the deal for highly rated Polish center back Sebastian Walukievicz who had also been linked to Genoa (who has a knack for discovering up and coming players especially recently) and Borussia Dortmund- they now have time to get him used to Serie A before potentially cashing in on Filippo Romagna in the summer.

Birsa on the other hand will help immediately. The former Milan trequartista had been one of the most impactful players in the race to avoid relegation in previous years, he also had his best seasons playing for Cagliari’s current coach Maran at Chievo. If that weren’t enough, they weakened considerably a team who is also competing for salvation for a very reasonable transfer fee.

 

Luis Muriel to Fiorentina Grade B

The Colombian striker first arrived in Serie A back in 2010 so it’s rather wild to realize he’s still only 27. While he never fulfilled the potential that had drawn comparisons to the Brazilian Ronaldo during his stint at Udinese, he’s proven to be an above average striker in Serie A where his speed is particularly valuable- he’ll have an opportunity to play significantly considering that Giovanni Simeone and especially Marko Pjaca (who could leave in the coming weeks) have struggled this season.

Muriel was also linked to Milan, but Fiorentina was able to leverage his close relationship to sporting director Pantaleo Corvino who brought him to Lecce back in 2011. They acquired him on a low risk/high reward loan with option to buy deal.

Gabbiadini

Manolo Gabbiadini to Sampdoria 3 million loan plus 9 million for option to buy Grade B

After a strong start in the Premier League, the former Napoli striker struggled to find consistent playing time at Southampton. Gabbiadini had been itching to return to Serie A, but he must be particularly pleased to be rejoining to Sampdoria where he had the best half season of his career back in 2015.

Gabbiadini should be an intriguing option for manager Marco Giampaolo since his versatility should make him a more natural fit next to Fabio Quagliarella than Gregoire Defrel, a player who could be taking the opposite path and head to the Premier League before the January window closes.

Ramsey & Juventus, is a good deal always the right deal?

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“It’s hard to find ways to improve when you have such a strong squad, but we’ll be vigilant when it comes to opportunities on the market’ is what you often heard from Beppe Marotta when he was asked about Juventus’ plans when a transfer window opened. Not surprisingly this mantra was continued, almost word for word, when Fabio Paratici was asked the same question recently.

This quote was one of the two things that came to mind when I first heard that Juventus was set to reach an agreement with Aaron Ramsey on a Bosman transfer, the other was the frequent misconception of the true cost of these types of signings. But let’s go in order and back to the quote on how difficult it is to improve a club that has won as much as Juventus recently- just because a deal is good, does it make the right deal?

When evaluating transfer moves, its’ very easy to look at things in the vacuum of the team that is welcoming a new player. It’s certainly a positive when you can say that new player X improves a team at a certain position, but ultimately a transfer move truly makes an impact when it bridges the gap with your competitors. 

As an example in the summer of 2017 I constantly praised Milan’s new directors Fassone and MIrabelli for many of their acquisitions because I was looking at the moves through a limited lens. Sure Rodriguez, Kessie, Biglia, Conti, Andre Silva and company were upgrades over what Galliani was able to put together with loans and options to buy, but how many of these players could have been starters on the teams Milan was trying to catch up to in Serie A? The only one was definitely Bonucci since he was a starter on the top team prior to his arrival.

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So while praising Juventus for signing Emre Can first and now almost certainly Aaron Ramsey on a “free transfer” (more on that inaccurate notion in a second) is a correct sentiment when you consider that they both better long term options than Sami Khedira, the better question is are they good enough to start for the top teams in Europe that Juventus are competing with for the Champions League- the trophy that now seems to matter the most to the club and certainly to their fan base.

Now I don’t watch enough of the Premier League to know the answer to that question, but I suggest to those who do to think of it in these terms. While Ramsey was linked to Barcelona and Paris St Germain and Manchester City pursued Emre Can in addition to Liverpool trying to keep him, would those clubs have asked them to play as an important role for them as Juventus is asking them to do in the next few years?

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While I’ll let those who know Ramsey and Can much better than I answer for them, there’s no doubt that Cristiano Ronaldo’s addition is resounding Yes when we ask if he helps Juventus against Europe’s best. You can also make the case that while Miralem Pjanic and even Gonzalo Higuain aren’t as impactful players as Ronaldo, their acquisitions also came with the advantage of weakening Juve’s main rivals in Serie A at the time- on the bright side for Juve you can make a great case Joao Cancelo not only weakened Inter, he can genuinely bridge the gap with the Real Madrids of the world if he keeps playing like he has since arriving in Turin.

While a player’s ability is a subjective matter, the true cost of a Bosman signing isn’t. In Economics 101 they teach you that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”- meaning how the cost of the “free“ piece of candy you get at the bank, or the promotional item you get for attending a seminar is ultimately added on to the consumer. This is also true with football, sure with a Bosman signing you aren’t paying a transfer fee but you are paying elevated commissions to the player’s agent (who essentially plays the role of the selling club on a non Bosman transfer) and an inflated salary to the player to get him to pick your team.

This was spelled out in black and white (no pun intended) on the press release for Juventus’ acquisition of Emre Can. Because the current Serie A champions are a publicly traded company, they have to be transparent with their expenses and with Can they indicated he would cost 16 million over two years in agent commission- which impact Juventus’ balance sheets in almost exactly the same way as a transfer fee.

Now 16 million is certainly below market value for a midfielder who is entering his prime and whom Liverpool wants to keep and Manchester City has to sign, but he’s far from “free”. But there’s also another thing to consider, signing a Bosman player to an inflated salary has a domino effect to the rest of the squad- because they see a new player who is less established, it’s easy for the agents of the other players to demand a raise- we saw this with both Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira, and while the first extension was greeted with many positive reviews, the same cannot be said for the second.

Juventus deserves a lot of credit for going from a transient club where the likes of Pogba and Vidal increased their value only to be sold for big profits to being a destination club for sought after Bosman signing and super stars like Ronaldo, but to get to being a consistent Champions League contender, the bianconeri should also look to go beyond the good moves.