Written by @Matt_Santangelo and @sandro_pugliese
With the January mercato now shut closed, we look back on the top 10 deals on the Italian peninsula. The following deals are in no specifically ranked order.
Manolo Gabbiadini (Napoli >>> Southampton, €17M + bonuses)
The 25-year old Italian boasted great promise and potential upon his arrival in Naples from Sampdoria during the 2015 January mercato. Although his Napoli career started off quite well under former manager Rafa Benitez, Gabbiadini was unable to find consistency in the side. Some say he was never given a real chance to cement his name in Napoli lore. Others believe in the matches he did feature, the opportunities were not met with enough quality performances.
Still possessing major upside, Southampton shelled out 17 million euros for him with the hope of tapping into his potential. Capable of playing anywhere across the attack, manager Claude Puel will undoubtedly use that versatility to his advantage. Gabbiadini made a good impression on the Saints faithful last weekend, scoring on his debut in a losing effort to West Ham. This is a deal that could also be a victory for Napoli in the sense they really had little to no use for him yet managed a solid return.
Southampton execs and scouts had been eyeing Gabbiadini for the longest time, and are very optimistic the fee will be well worth it in the long run. Time will tell if Napoli were more to blame for his shortcomings in azzurro rather than the individuals own personal struggles.
Roberto Gagliardini (Atalanta >>> Inter, €2M 18-month loan with €20M obligation to buy)
Since Gian Piero Gasperini captained the rise of Atalanta this season, Europe’s biggest clubs have shown serious interest in the crop of fledgling young stars the club currently employs. One of those names at the heart of this new regime in Bergamo was 22-year old Roberto Gagliardini whose exploits caught the attention of Italy’s top clubs. Inter, unwilling to wait until the summer, snatched the Azzurri midfielder on a €2m loan with an obligation set at 20m euro.
The gut reaction from fans, journalists and pundits alike felt it was a bit risky due to the failures of Geoffrey Kondogbia. Since putting pen to paper on the deal, Gagliardini has quickly put the Nerazzurri supporters at ease with a series of stellar performances, most notably his debut v Chievo last month at the San Siro.
Investing in Italian youth is a model which has rapidly become the norm on the peninsula, and with a final fee of 22m, the chances are quite high of Inter coming out as major victors in this deal.
Clement Grenier (Olympique Lyonnais >>> Roma, six-month loan with €3.5M option to buy)
The assumption was that Roma would have a very active January given how tight things have become in the race for Europe. Linked mostly with attackers - particularly Gerard Deulofeu and Gregoire Defrel - Luciano Spalletti must have felt confident enough in his attack, bypassing an impactful forward and bolstering his midfield instead with the signing of Clement Grenier.
The French international arrived on a six-month loan, with Roma holding a club-friendly option of 3.5 million euros for June. It was and remains a move that flies under the radar, as it’s not the big-money transfer most Giallorossi supporters had hoped for. However, Grenier adds another dimension to the attack in the form of a quality set-piece taker and a long-range threat. In the event Spalletti does not use him much, they are not at the mercy of an obligation in the summer. Low-risk, high-reward.
Iago Falque (Roma >>> Torino, activated €5M option to buy)
After flopping hard at Roma last season, Torino loaned in the former Barcelona youth product for the 2016-17, giving new boss Siniša Mihajlović a solid attacking option provided he regains his form.
Iago Falque has re-established himself from his Genoa stay this season, with tallies of 9 goals and 4 assists in 20 Serie A appearances. Star striker Andrea Belotti has received the brunt of the praise and glory – rightfully deserved – yet the Spaniard should be lauded for helping Torino stay in the chase for Europa League. Pleased with his offensive numbers, president Urbano Cairo activated Falque’s 5 million euro option with little hesitation, a sum of money considered to be great value by current market standards.
Should Toro find their way into Europe with a top five finish, the 27-year old globetrotter will surely play a major role in their qualification.
Assane Gnoukouri (Inter >>> Udinese, six-month loan with €4M option to buy)
Once part of the Marseille youth system, Assane Gnoukouri broke into Inter’s senior team under former manager Roberto Mancini in 2015. While having performed well on one of the biggest stages of European football two years ago– the Derby della Madonnina – the 20-year old has struggled to find regular pitch time for the Milanese giant.
The Nerazzurri, who have shown reluctance in recent years of implementing youth, are mostly at fault here for his limited action. In the few appearances he has made, Gnoukouri showed great promise and composure. As a result, Udinese were quick to snap the young Ivorian on a six-month loan.
Employing very few impactful players in the midfield, Gnoukouri should see a substantial hike in minutes with Luigi Delneri’s Zebrette through the end of the campaign. If all goes according to plan, he will flourish at the Friuli, have his option picked up in June and become a mainstay in the middle of the park next season.
Riccardo Saponara (Empoli>>>Fiorentina, 18-month loan with €9M obligation to buy)
Fiorentina surprised many when they signed one of the most underrated midfielders on the peninsula late in the window. Milan will reportedly receive 30% of the transfer fee as part of the deal that brought him to Empoli. Saponara has been a consistent performer for the Tuscan side over the years. In the past three seasons, the midfielder racked up 14 goals and 15 assists in 68 Serie A appearances. Saponara is a highly skilled player who does a great job creating chances for his teammates. With good dribbling skills and the eye for through balls to spilt the defense, he should fit into Paulo Sousa’s system quite well.
Marco Sportiello (Atalanta>>>Fiorentina, 18-month loan with €6M option to buy)
La Viola signed another formidable Italian talent at a very reasonable price in the 24-year-old goalkeeper. The move should be beneficial to the keeper as well who needs to get playing time again and regain confidence. Sportiello, who came through the youth system at Atalanta, had been demoted to the bench this season in favor of Etrit Berisha. After two impressive seasons as the starter, Sportiello earned high praise from many, including talk about being a potential keeper for the national team in the future. La Viola were able to find an upgrade between the posts when his price tag was quite low. He may need some time to get back his match sharpness back but make no mistakes about it; Sportiello is a very good goalkeeper.
Juventus snap up young talents
Riccardo Orsolini (Ascoli>>>Juventus, €6M + €4M in potential bonuses)
Mattia Caldara (Atalanta>>>Juventus, €15M + €10M in potential bonuses)
While both of these young Italian talents will remain at their respective clubs on loan to gain more experience and maturity, Juventus further solidified their future. Orsolini is a talented winger with impressive dribbling skills, useful speed and has the ability to whip in a good cross. While the 20-year-old was being linked to Milan in early January, his name recognition took off after this video went viral on Twitter.
The youngster would probably fit into Juve’s new 4-2-3-1 formation quite well and we might see him there soon enough.
On the other hand, the Bianconeri managed to snap up another one of Italy’s most talented and sought after defenders in Mattia Caldara. Another gifted Atalanta youth talent, the central defender is very good at reading the game and making interceptions while also being calm on the ball. Caldara has even scored three goals so far this season in 15 league appearances. A future back-line led by Daniele Rugani and Mattia Caldara is a mouth-watering prospect.
Simone Zaza (Juventus>>>Valencia, €2M loan + €16M conditional obligation to buy)
Zaza’s stint at West Ham did not go well to say the least. In 11 appearences in all competitions, the striker failed to score a single goal or register an assist. Even after a poor and extremely forgettable time in the Premier League, Juventus were still able to get a good return for the striker. Now infamous for his penalty in Euro 2016, Zaza just never adapted and settled in at the London club. Perhaps a move to Spain might be a better fit but Juve will still be content with the deal they got.
Oscar Hiljemark (Palermo>>>Genoa, €2.5M)
Genoa were able to snap up a proven midfielder at a low cost. Although he didn’t make an appearance, Hiljemark was part of Sweden’s EURO 2016 squad. He will be able to immediately step into Genoa’s midfield and contribute, especially after the departure of Tomas Rincon. Last season, Hiljemark featured in 38 matches for the Sicilian club tallying 4 goals and 5 assists in a season that nearly saw the Rosanero drop to the second division. His short passes and maneuvers in close quarters open an outlet for goal opportunities in the final third. Hiljemark might not be a flashy signing but he will competent midfielder making solid contributions.
Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Before the winter break the sun was shining on the red and black half of the San Siro. Milan were somewhat surprisingly competing for a Champions League spot under Montella and L'Aeroplannino managed to guide his Milan side to a shock Supercoppa victory over Juventus on penalties. Pasalic's winning penalty gave the Rossoneri their first trophy in five years and there was a real feel good factor at Milanello going into the winter break. However many predicted that Montella's Milan would not sustain a fight for the Champions League places and these critics have proven to be right. Milan currently sit eighth place in Serie A on 37 points albeit with a game in hand. With European places slipping further and further away each week Milan are going to have to improve their form drastically over the next week.
In Milan's four Serie A games in 2017 they have won only one which was a unconvincing 1-0 win at home to Cagliari thanks to a late Bacca goal. Milan were then lucky to scrape a point against Torino as had Ljalic converted his penalty to make it 3-0 the game would have been over. However despite the comeback against Torino, Montella's side have lost their last two matches by a score of 2-1 against both Napoli and Udinese. The Rossoneri have most definitely struggled for form since their Supercoppa win against Juventus and look to be faltering under Montella. One key factor in their slump in form has been their extremely poor performances in the first half of most of these matches. This is something that Montella has talked about in his interviews and he has expressed a desire for his players to perform for the full ninety minutes rather than just the second half. The Rossoneri conceded within the first half an hour in each match against Torino, Napoli and Udinese. Milan's seemingly lackadaisical approach to the start of games is something that needs to be addressed quickly. Despite Milan showing signs of spirited comebacks they are simply giving themselves too much to do by shooting themselves in the foot in the first half.
Milan's defense has also been struggling with injuries and form since the winter break. Apart from Paletta who has been rock solid all season the rest of Milan's defenders have looked shaky at times, even Romangnoli who had a dismal game against Torino before topping it off with a red card. Donnarumma and Locatelli have also came under some criticism in recent games and it seems Milan's young team is going through a learning curve. Montella will not be worried too much by this however as with a team as young as Milan's mistakes were expected to be made. These youngsters’ mistakes will benefit this Milan side over the coming years as they will learn and grow.
However, Milan can't really afford to make any more mistakes this season. With two games over the next week against Sampdoria on Sunday and Bologna on Wednesday picking up six points is a necessity for the Rossoneri's European ambitions. Achieving these six points will not be easy as Milan are facing an injury crisis particularly in defense with De Sciglio, Antonelli and Calabria all out injured although Calabria is believed to be close to full fitness. Montella will also be without Bonaventura for the rest of the season, which is a massive blow for Milan. New signings Gerard Deulofeu and Lucas Ocampos will have to try fill the huge void left by Bonaventura. Montella is expected to shake things up this Sunday against Sampdoria with Sosa rumored to be replacing Locatelli as the Regista. Vangioni will probably play at left back and Deulofeu looks to have beaten Ocampos to the left wing spot freed by Bonaventura's injury. Although the squad is thin Montella needs to reinvent his side and return the Rossoneri to winning ways. Montella's side need to bounce back quickly because if they don’t pick up wins against Samp or Bologna it looks like playing in Europe will have to be postponed for yet another season...
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.