What to Watch For in Serie A: Round 8

Round 8 sees a jam-packed schedule of Serie A fixtures coming our way out of the international break, with plenty of fascinating storylines to sort through.

Let’s break down what you should be watching for this weekend around Italy’s top flight. Continue reading

The facts behind the figures: What we’ve learned about Lazio from the Serie A salary report

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At the start of the week, La Gazzetta dello Sport published its annual breakdown of each Serie A club’s wage bill for the season ahead.

Much of the reaction to the article has focused on Juventus’ massive financial advantage over the rest of Italy and the impact the summer mercato has had on Inter’s spending.

But there were plenty of intriguing sub-plots to be found behind the figures, not least at Lazio. For example…

On paper, a top-four finish would be an over-achievement…

This is by no means a secret, but the gulf in wage spend between Lazio and the teams they are expected to compete with for a top four place this season is significant.  Continue reading

Romelu Lukaku is the latest black player to be racially abused in Serie A

It was difficult this past week to know which was more shocking- the monkey chants being directed at Inter Milan forward Romelu Lukaku or the fans detailed statement to the player saying that thos very chants were not racist.

What is clear is that racism is rife in football and it seems when we zone in on the major European leagues that Italy’s Serie A heads them all.

There are so many stories here but if you did miss it Lukaku was racially abused by Cagliari fans who have a history of it, just ask Mario Balotelli. But in their defence came Inter’s fans, Lukaku’s own team fans who penned an open letter stating in more ways than one, that perhaps he doesn’t understand it but it wasn’t racist.

The penned letter said: We are really sorry you thought that what happened in Cagliari was racist. You have to understand that Italy is not like many other north European countries where racism is a REAL problem. We understand that it could have seemed racist to you but it is not like that. In Italy we use some ‘ways’ only to ‘help our teams’ and to try to make our opponents nervous, not for racism but to mess them up.

“We are a multiethnic fans organisation and we have always welcomed players from everywhere. However, we have always used that ‘way’ with other teams’ players in the past and we probably will in the future. We are not racist and so are not the Cagliari fans. You have to understand that in all Italian stadiums people cheer for their teams but at the same time they use to cheer against the opponents not for racism but to ‘help’ their own team.

“Please consider this attitude of Italian fans as a form of respect for the fact they are afraid of you for the goals you might score against their teams and not because they hate you or they are racist. True racism is a completely different story and all Italian football fans know it very well.”

If you got to the end of that statement with mouth still wide shut, well done. In effect then his own fans are telling him, not to mind that the monkey chants are directed to him, because of and only because he is black. It is this acceptance that is the reason that Italian football and possibly the wider culture is in decline.

Lukaku has not responded, he is now in an awkward situation where he even won’t get support from his own fans. Good luck to him because he will need all of the luck when racism is not seen as that big a deal. Could you imagine this happening in the Premier League, esspecially in this age?

There have been calls for black players to avoid playing in Serie A. That won’t help in any situation and is in fact playing into the so called fans hands. It’s basically what they want. Lukaku himself has said that the fight against racism in football is going backwards and he is partially right, because it has always been going backwards. UEFA has not helped at all. Dishing out meaningless fines does not work. Banning supporters and docking points would.

Lukaku had a fairly easy ride in England, now he will have to understand that even if he is a success in Italy he will be seen sadly as a second rate citizen.

Can the outrage culture solve Calcio’s racism problem?

There’s nothing more frustrating in life than wasted talent”- I must have used this quote from “Bronx Tale” easily twenty times to describe the Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano’s of the world in recent years, but now I can just apply it to Serie A as whole. 

After two thrilling weekends of games and a transfer window that saw the vast majority of the league’s best talents stay- Koulibaly, Skriniar, Milinkovic Savic, Dybala, Donnarumma, Chiesa just to name a few- we should be talking about Serie A as a league completely on the rise and a far cry of the days of catenaccio and watching top talents inevitably move abroad. But because of another very predictable and despicable racist episode in Cagliari, the focus isn’t on the great product but rather what is allowed around it.

Just today on Twitter I saw a huge North American site in Deadpsin and “soccer”’s top reporter Grant Wahl tweeting about the incident in Cagliari rather than the thrilling Juventus-Napoli match or Inter looking like a legitimate title threat with Antonio Conte at the helm- but as frustrating as that is, it’s completely warranted.

Anyone who follows Calcio closely isn’t surprised by what happened in Cagliari yesterday- sadly the Sardinian club’s home stadium has been the stage of numerous racist incidents at the expense of Matuidi, Muntari, Kean and now Lukaku. The latest example involves the former starting striker for Manchester United, a player with over 100 career Premier League goals who went out of his way to come play in Italy- this is not exactly a great first impression.

Predictably Cagliari issued a statement that was long on abstract ideas and didn’t provide any true details on what they will do- and keep in mind this is at least fourth time this has happened there in recent years. To be fair to them, I’ll post and you can judge

“Cagliari Calcio firmly rejects what happened Sunday night at the Sardegna Arena during the game vs. Inter Milan.

The Club underlines – once again – its intention to identify, isolate and ban those ignorant individuals whose shameful actions and behaviours are completely against those values that Cagliari Calcio strongly promotes in all their initiatives. Every single day. 

Cagliari vs Inter Milan was the right occasion to appreciate and enjoy positive cheer, never addressed against anybody: in fact inside our “Curva Futura” – the first dedicated sector in Italy built to host children – both Inter Milan and Cagliari supporters enjoyed a lovely evening together in the name of their passion for football. 

Cagliari Calcio does not want to underplay what occurred last night, endorses the respectable moral values of its people from all the stadium sections, but firmly rejects the outrageous charge and silly stereotypes addressed to Cagliari supporters and the Sardinian people, which are absolutely unacceptable.

Full solidarity to Romelu Lukaku and even stronger commitment toward annihilating one of the worst plagues that affects football and our world in general.  However, as we are aware that technology is not enough, we believe our commitment needs a real support by the rest of the football stakeholders: starting from all the true supporters, to all the stewards in the stands, from police and security agents, passing to media and as well through Lega Serie A and FIGC. Cagliari Calcio is asking you all a solid help to win a battle that involves everyone. No one excluded”

I’ve lived in Italy for 17 years as a foreigner, my wife is Italian and I go back frequently. It’s important to note that while Cagliari is the most blatant example of this behavior, it’s by no means the exception. I’ve covered at legth on my podcast how the history of Italy is laced with an “us versus them” way of looking at the world, so it’s not surprising that racism is such a hot topic there.

But there has also never been a desire to hold the people that engage in this behavior accountable- often the clubs are scared of the organized fan group and the federation has never treated this as a real problem. But there is hope that things that can change because of the times we live in.

I have often rallied against the outrage and self righteosuness culture that has developed in recent years. Social media platforms and traditional media know that if people are outraged over something, they will engage for a longer period of time. Algorithms are designed to get more stories that will outrage you in front of your eyes, once you feel outraged, you then can feel superior to the people you are outraged with and have many who see things the same away as you in your social media echo chamber to reinforce your self righteousness.

But while this phenomenon isn’t positive for society since it makes us focus much more on our differences and makes us more polarized, we can use it for a good cause here. I think it’s undeniable that there’s no place for moneky chants or blatant racism in stadiums, we need the social media justice warriors (even those who have no interest in sports) to keep raising attention on this issue and hold Italian football accountable. When it comes to racist incidents, clubs and the federation are just counting on people moving to the next story in news cycle, but hopefully enough people will continue to put pressure on them so that real change can arrive.

Serie A can learn a lot from the Premier League when it comes to handling this problem and social media can be the tool to help them realize this. Following the Heysel tragedy, English teams cracked down significantly on hooliganism, and in recent years they have held the fans who engage in racist behavior personally accountable for their actions by banning them from stadiums.

While stadiums now have the video cameras needed to identify the culprits, we need social media’s outrage culture to keep the pressure on to make things change- as they say “Twitter do your thing”, we can only talk about the great product on the pitch for Serie A in good conscience, if we do all we can to eridcate to horrible behavior around it. 

Serie A Weekly Transfer Market Recap

After two sleepy weeks, Serie A teams have resumed dealing and wheeling with some very interesting purchases over the last few days. Inter finally landed Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United, while Juventus cashed in on Joao Cancelo in a swap with Manchester City, getting back Danilo in the deal. Cagliari pulled off an unexpected one by adding Radja Nainggolan from Inter, then successfully completed the chase for touted prospect Nahitan Nandez from Boca Juniors and, all of a sudden, they have a very crowded and well-assorted midfield despite losing Nicolò Barella.

Milan continue to work on the roster and acquired young centre-back Leo Duarte from Flamengo. He emerged over the last year and a half in Brazil and will contribute to holding down the fort until Mattia Caldara returns later in the year. He will compete with solid but unspectacular Mateo Musacchio to play next to Alessio Romagnoli to open the season.

The week was pretty much dominated by midfielders: a year after letting him go for free, the new Fiorentina management brought back Milan Badelj on loan with option to buy from Lazio, then they snatched Erick Pulgar away from Bologna by exercising the relatively low release clause. The Chilean international was a standout last season and was deadly on penalty, which will come in handy considering the departure of Jordan Veretout. Despite the age difference, the two are pretty similar, so it will be interesting to see whether Vincenzo Montella will tweak his system to accommodate both and perhaps deploy one more attacker.

Genoa have found their new technical leader in Lasse Schone from Ajax who, despite the rather defensive position as pivot, put up great numbers thanks to his ability on set pieces and therefore will be one to look out for in the fantasy game. The Griffon also signed Riccardo Saponara on loan from Fiorentina, whom coach Aurelio Andreazzoli will try to turn into an offensive box-to-box in the Rade Krunic mold, and Colombian youngster Kevin Agudelo from Atletico Huila.

For one brilliant midfielder joining Serie A, another one left as Sampdoria agreed to sell Dennis Praet to Leicester City, who has been a linchpin of their squad over the last three seasons and grew constantly year after year. They acquired Morten Thorsby from Heerenveen and could gamble on a Jakub Jankto resurgence on top of obviously reinvesting the funds on a newcomer.

For once, Atalanta decided to go with an experienced guy rather than bet on potential and brought in Martin Skrtel from Fenerbahce to fill in the gap after Gianluca Mancini left. Gian Piero Gasperini is now back to having five reliable centre-backs to rotate.

A decent coup for Verona, as they won the race for free agent Darko Lazovic, who was pretty good last year at Genoa, where he notched three goals and four assists. He reunites with coach Milan Juric and will be able to play in a number of positions on both flanks. They also grabbed two of the best Serie B players from last season: Gennaro Tutino, on loan from Napoli, who had a terrific year in Cosenza, and Valerio Verre from Sampdoria, who shined in Perugia. They both reached the double-digit threshold and could be significant parts of the 3-4-2-1 tactic Milan Juric is currently using.

Brescia got busy too and signed two presumptive starters in Jaromir Zmhral from Slavia Prague and Giangiacomo Magnani from Sassuolo. The midfielder could be a sneaky fantasy asset, while the centre-back started last season very well but was eventually overshadowed by more talented teammates. Lecce instead added Cristian Dell’Orco, who was serviceable as left centre-back at Empoli in 2018/2019 and will probably end up playing left back for them, alternating with other buzzed about newcomer Brayan Vera.

A pair of players departed from Serie A: Roma sent Rick Karsdorp back to Feyenoord on loan, while Bologna shipped Adam Nagy to Bristol City. The Dutch right back had some okay stretches and at times challenged Alessandro Florenzi, but ultimately he could not stay healthy, while Nagy had become merely a back-up. The Felsinei will have to address the midfield in a meaningful manner.

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Nainggolan returns to Cagliari

After just one year at Inter, Radja Nainggolan has left Inter to join Cagliari, the team that launched him in Italy, on a season-long loan. The midfielder lost a big supporter when Luciano Spalletti was axed and the new course led by Giuseppe Marotta and Antonio Conte decided to cut ties with players that have had behavioral issues in the past.

In reality, the 31-year-old Belgian did not have many issues of this kind in Milan. Last season, after an underwhelming first part where he was affected by muscular injuries and lack of conditioning, he got it going in the final months and ended up registering seven goals and three assists in 36 appearances in all competitions. He had moved to the Nerazzurri from Roma last summer for a €38M bid. Continue reading

The Top Five Goalkeepers From the 2018/19 Serie A Season

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The 2018-19 Serie A season has come to a close, so it is now time to go position by position and rank the top five players in each role.

We start with the last line of defence, the goalkeepers.  Continue reading

Handanović relieved to secure Champions League berth

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Samir Handanović spoke to Inter TV in the immediate aftermath of the Nerazzurri’s crucial 2-1 victory over Empoli last night. The Nerazzurri captain once again turned in a superb performance, making several critical saves before Radja Nainggolan scored a typically late winner in front of a packed San Siro. Here is what the Slovenian had to say: Continue reading

Nainggolan thanks Inter fans for their unwavering support

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Radja Nainggolan spoke to the media in the immediate aftermath of Inter’s 2-1 victory over Empoli last night, which secured their passage to the group stage of next season’s UEFA Champions League. Indeed, the Belgian scored the goal which ultimately allowed the Nerazzurri to achieve their main objective, but reserved special praise for the club’s fans for their support throughout the match. Here is what he had to say: Continue reading

Spalletti delighted by Inter’s never say die attitude

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Luciano Spalletti spoke to the media in the aftermath of last night’s 2-1 victory over Empoli, which allowed Inter to secure a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League group stage. The Tuscan coach was very pleased by his players’ willingness to fight until the end and overcoming the nerves and tension within the confines of San Siro. Here is what he had to say: Continue reading