Saturday, 23 April 2011

Shopping In Serie A This Summer

The end of another season approaches and with it comes the truly important stuff in football. Trophies and medals are all very nice but the real business happens in the transfer market as fans of all affiliations whip themselves into a collective mindless frenzy hoping to see mega bucks splashed out as marquee names arrive by the boatload. This summer, almost without exception the most fertile shopping ground is Serie A. Forget the fashion designers in Milan or sight-seeing in Rome, anybody travelling to Italy this summer with a wad of cash will be hoping to bring back a footballer. Aside from Lille’s Eden Hazard and Anderlecht’s Lukaku (billed as the next David Silva and Didier Drogba respectively) the bright new talents of Europe are currently plying their trade for the likes of Palermo, Napoli and Udinese.

No longer the powerhouse that it was in the 80’s and 90’s Italian football nevertheless has some genuinely exciting superstars emerging. The question is whether clubs can hold on to their prized lumps of meat as the big boys circle like piranhas. Napoli have been the obvious surprise package of the season and while a first Scudetto since 1990 looks increasingly less likely the trio of Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi have all been hugely impressive. All three are relatively young, Lavezzi being the oldest at 25. Napoli will certainly exercise their buyout clause regarding Cavani who is still technically on loan from Palermo. Given that they will be playing in the Champions League next season they will certainly try to hang on to all three but if rumours of interest from Real Madrid, Manchester United and Chelsea are true then Napoli can expect to receive at least €20m for each. Any of the three would seem to offer excellent value. Lavezzi and Hamsik operate as schemers and creators while Cavani’s 25 goals so far this season testify to his lethal ability, making him the highest league scorer in a single season in Napoli’s history.

Outside of Napoli the talents at Udinese have been attracting attention all over Europe. The crown jewel of the Zebrette is undoubtedly the young Chilean Alexis Sanchez who can play across the board behind a striker. His partnership with Di Natale this season has been nothing short of exhilarating. Sanchez has the pace, power and technical ability to make it at any top club in Europe and his blossoming has hardly gone unnoticed by scouts. The likes of Antonio Di Natale, Gokhan Inler and Kwadwo Asamoah would all be excellent signings for a number of Premier League outfits as well. As Javier Hernandez and Cheick Tiote have proven, there is value in the market still and if any of those three are available at reasonable prices, they could prove remarkably astute acquisitions.

However if there is one shining jewel in the whole of Serie A that should be scooped up it would be the Argentine playmaker Javier Pastore of Palermo. Ironically the cream of the crop is the one not playing for a side that hasn’t mounted a challenge to get into Europe this season. Nevetheless, the former Huracan player is strong, tall and quick. Moreover he has a wonderful eye for a pass and the technical ability to pull it off. As Manchester United seek to replace an aging Paul Scholes their first stop should the office of Palermo President Maurizio Zamparini who claims to have already turned down a €50m offer for the Argentine.

It will be a test of the strength of Serie A as a league to see how many of the names mentioned above begin next season still plying their trade in Italy. There are numerous problems in the Italian game as it still struggles to overcome the shadows of Calciopoli and the decline is evident. How fast and how bad the decline is remains to be seen. But unless Italian clubs can hold on to players like Pastore, Sanchez and Cavani, any reversal in fortunes will remain a dream.

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