The current January transfer window in Serie A felt like an episode of “Lost”. We had an intense start with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan and Juventus defeating bitter rivals Inter in the race for Dejan Kulusevski, a long middle part filled with numerous mysteries, followed by an emotional ending that saw a sad departure with Roma captain Alessandro Florenzi joining Valencia and a rather shocking twist with Milan giving up on Krzysztof Piatek, their top goal scorer from last season.
Just last January, Milan paid Genoa 35 million, in one installment no less, after the Polish striker had taken Serie A by storm after arriving from Cracovia by scoring 13 goals in 19 Serie A matches. Piatek confirmed himself at Milan by scoring an impressive 9 goals in 18 matches which made him and the fan base confident enough that he could end the curse on the number nine kit after boldly deciding to take it over.
On paper there were many reasons to be confident that Piatek could be a long term building block for the club, especially since many expected him to benefit from the managerial switch going from the very defensive Gattuso to the Sarriball disciple Giampaolo, who had just overseen Quagliarella’s banner season at Sampdoria. Because Piatek was scoring at an Inzaghi like level, it was easy to overlook the fact that the Polish striker was extremely limited technically, but during this campaign they became very evident.
While it’s debatable if Milan would have pursued Zlatan Ibrahimovic at all had Piatek come close to his production from last season, his arrival spelled the end for the Polish attacker if certain financial condition were met. The rossoneri did not want to risk his value plummeting further which certainly could have been the case had he gone to a team on loan and struggled, so once they had an opportunity to avoid taking a loss on his amortized value they pulled the trigger (since they acquired him from Genoa they have amortized a portion of what they invested, making the reported 27 million offer enough to cover his remaining value on the books).
But why would Milan give up on him so quickly since in many ways he fit exactly the type of player Ivan Gazidis described when he laid out the vision of Milan under the Elliott fund- young, with the potential to either become a star or an asset for a plusvalenza on the transfer market? Unfortunately the rossoneri’s current financial situation does not allow them to have the chips to gamble in order to find out if Piatek is closer to what we saw last year or in the current campaign.
Milan had one of the top 5 payrolls in Serie A going into the season and then added Zlatan Ibarhimovic’s significant salary. To Boban, Maldini and Massara’s credit, during this January window they were able to get rid of a lot of dead weight- Pepe Reina AKA the highest paid backup keeper in Serie A on a team who doesn’t play games in European competitions and a young stud keeper, Ricardo Rodriguez who lost his starting job to Theo Hernandez as well as Suso and “oggetto misterioso” Mattia Caldara.
But getting rid of Piatek does come with some risk although it makes financial sense. On one hand, the rossoneri were able to get a substantial offer for Piatek despite his dreadful performance during this current season because there is so much scarcity on the market for quality pure number 9s, as demonstrated by Roma offering Edin Dzeko a 3 year deal at the age of 33 and Inter breaking their transfer record to sign Romelu Lukaku, but on the other hand it won’t be easy for them to find a quality option when they have to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Florenzi’s departure from Roma is much more rooted in emotion than the cold hard facts that surround Piatek’s exit at Milan. The giallorossi’s ownership group which is in the process of selling the club, were accused by Francesco Totti of being on a crusade of ridding the team from Romans just last summer, and certainly didn’t try to put up a fight on this accusation by moving captain Alessandro Florenzi to Valencia on a dry loan.
There is a good reason and a historical precedent for this move at least. Florenzi wants to get to the upcoming Euro in top form, which is rather difficult to do when you are benched over someone like Santon in the derby against bitter cross town rivals Lazio. While that was the straw that broke the camel’s back- and one that you can imagine really hurt someone born in Rome who grew up dreaming of playing for the giallorossi, Florenzi had become an afterthought under new manager Paulo Fonseca well before this game.
At least Florenzi isn’t the first Roma captain to join Valencia. At the end of the 90s, Amedeo Carboni joined the Spanish club and ended up staying for nine years before becoming one of their directors. But as Florenzi’s agent Alessandro Lucci said on Wednesday “in football there are only arrivederci” (see you again), because the deal was reached on dry loan and Florenzi’s love for Roma, hopefully this will be just a six month diversion.