Written by Matt Santangelo (@Matt_Santangelo) & Alessandro Pugliese (@sandro_pugliese)
While some clubs made impressive signings in January, there were some deals that made us question. Whether a rushed purchase, inactivity or a collapsed deal, here are some things that stuck out to us.
Torino not improving backline
I Granata have a new look under first-year coach Siniša Mihajlović. Their attack has looked explosive with great talents like Andrea Belotti, Iago Falque, Adem Ljajic and others. But they have somewhat neglected their backline and it is costing them. After selling their staring center-back duo of Kamil Glik and Nikola Maksimovic last summer, the club just hasn’t signed adequate replacements. Not only were both of them were great defenders for the club but they anchored the backline and provided leadership; Gilk was the captain for almost three years. Torino did sign Leandro Castan and Luca Rossettini in the summer as replacements. Don’t get me wrong, they’re both solid players but neither are on the same level as Gilk or Maksimovic. The club also brought in Man City goalkeeper Joe Hart, who after a shaky start has done a fine job in net.
Torino have conceded 32 goals in 22 league matches this season, the most of any club in the top half of the table. Not making a significant signing to improve the quality of the defense may be a mistake that will hurt Torino’s efforts in hopes of Europa League qualification.
Palermo selling key Swedes Hiljemark, Quaison well-below market value
When it comes to Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini, we often ask ourselves the questions “What was he thinking?” or “What will he do next?” Well, his movement on last months’ mercato was yet another case where his judgment should be challenged.
It was fair to assume Zamparini would most likely remain quite during the transfer window - excluding managerial decisions of course. As it stands, the Rosanero sit 19th in the league. In 2015-16, they barely escaped the drop to Serie B thanks to some late-season heroics. This year, however, is quite different for the Sicilians. They will be relegated, and it’s a mere formality at this stage of the campaign.
Housing few quality players, Palermo is enduring a famine of sorts, evident in their performances week in and week out. The few pieces they did employ were of interest and by industry standards, should have been sold at a fair price. Yet, that was not the case with the transfers of the Swedish duo - Oscar Hiljemark and Robin Quaison.
The 24-year old Hiljemark was loaned to Genoa for the remaining six months of the season, a transfer eventually being made permanent through a €2.5 million obligation in June. His fellow countryman, who had Juventus’ curiosity, was shipped out of Italy to Germany as FSV Mainz 05 swooped in with another €2.5 million clinching bid.
We can understand a club who comes to grips with the fate of relegation, and shopping top assets for a premier return. To sell both Hiljemark and Quaison – both very young and impactful players – for a combined €5 million is simply unacceptable given the inflation of today’s market.
Lazio ‘mute’ in the midst of chase for Europe
In my opinion, president Claudio Lotito’s lack of involvement last month was quite difficult to comprehend.
Lazio are currently well within the chase for a top 3 finish – just five points from third place Napoli. Manager Simone Inzaghi had already done tremendous work in steering his club to prime contention zone. Yet, one could argue that a few additions to bolster for the stretch run would have been of great benefit. There were discussions throughout the month over a possible move for Ajax winger Anwar El Ghazi (now of Lille) who would have been a solid addition for the present and future – even if they are covered on the wings. Other than that, Lazio mostly downsized their active roster by loaning out several young players for development.
The Biancocelesti held off Inter this past week 2-1, advancing to the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia, and still hold the talent to remain in the hunt for Europe. Time will tell however if they regret their quiet January come May.
Napoli overpaying for Leonardo Pavoletti
Once star Pole Arkadiusz Milik went down with an ACL injury during international play with Poland, Napoletani called out for a striker to arrive in January.
Already loaded with one of the most prolific attacking corps on the Italian peninsula, manager Maurizio Sarri and president Aurelio de Laurentiis targeted Genoa’s Leonardo Pavoletti to fill the void left behind at striker. Napoli’s only competition appeared to be themselves for his services. Urgent to replenish, the Partenopei secured the 28-year old’s signature for €18 million.
If you are a stranger to Italian calcio, Napoli possesses a deep, talented attack, boasting names like Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon, Lorenzo Insigne and - at the time - Manolo Gabbiadini. Essentially, all four either play in wide positions or as attacking midfielders.
Sarri had previously been improvising by plugging Mertens in as a false 9. With this role comes a lot of responsibility and freedom – both which the Belgian has undertaken with sheer confidence. Prior to the turn of the calendar, Mertens’ form was at peak levels. But, in light of drawing Real Madrid in the Round of 16, Napoli were in a bind and needed a striker to ensure the attack would not be burned out like last year.
I completely understand the move. By adding Pavoletti, Sarri can now gradually work Milik back into the starting XI while working to sustain runs in the league title chase, Coppa Italia and of course the Champions League. However, in three appearances since putting on Naples azzurro, the Italian striker has struggled.
While it’s unlikely Mertens would have been able to maintain such elite form, shelling out that much money for a number nine who has struggled to catch form, is a bit bizarre.
Juventus Missing Out on Witsel
Yes, this might not be exactly something to scratch your head about but it was potentially a big miss for Juventus. After nearly completing a deal on deadline day back in August, it was expected a formality for the Belgian midfielder to join the Bianconeri either now in January or in June when his contract expired. But a new force in international transfers stepped in to break-up the deal. Witsel instead joined Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian as the money was just too good to turn down. “I have great respect for Juventus as they tired everything to get me,” Witsel said to Sky Sport. “Nonetheless, I respect Juventus and wish them the best. I do not; the economic aspect of the deal was an important decision to go to China.”
While Juve’s midfield is already world-class they have struggled to stay healthy at times. After missing out a Witsel, they snapped up Tomas Rincon from Genoa. While we’ll never know for sure, maybe Witsel would’ve had a profound impact in Juve’s midfield and provided them a new dynamic.