Europe’s ongoing financial crisis is proving to be less influential on major clubs this year than has been the case in previous years. Halfway through the transfer window, many clubs managed to strengthen their ranks, paying top dollars for players with relative statuses, while others are yet to dip in the market.
A quick analysis of the number of arrivals (permanent transfers - loans excluded) in the top 5 European leagues shows that the Serie A has been the most active with 212 players, followed by the English Premier League with 147, Bundesliga with 130, La Liga with 129, and finally Ligue 1 with 121. A lot can be derived from such figures, but what is certain is that Italian teams are starting to realize the importance of spending in competing for silverware, ending Juventus’ monopoly and returning to the summit of European competitions.
In the past 10 years, only three teams managed to win the league title in Italy: Inter Milan, AC Milan, and Juventus. It is not far from the duopoly that has been taking place in a number of European leagues such as Spain, but this fact could be deceiving because even with only three winning teams, the Italian league has been quite an intense competition in comparison with other European leagues.
While Inter’s previous couple of seasons showed a dip in form, Juventus and Milan are still as competitive as ever. Mainly, these three teams have been contesting for the top spot, with a slight involvement from teams such as Roma, Lazio, and Udinese. But this season might witness the emergence of two new powerhouses in Fiorentina and Napoli which could only make the Serie A more attractive and competitive.
Usually in transfer windows, teams tend to do business in the beginning of July so as to avoid losing primary targets or overpaying for a certain player. While Milan’s director Galliani prefers to wait for the dying minutes of the transfer window to put his touch on any possible deals, the majority of European teams find it more suitable to start negotiations as early as possible in order to pursue alternatives if deals for primary targets fall through. Either way, Italian teams in general - Milan, Inter, and Roma in particular - should get their boots on and get ready to battle if they are to topple Juventus from the Italian football summit and keep up with the progress of Fiorentina and Napoli.
Of the top five teams that notched a European spot last season, Fiorentina and Napoli have been the most active in the transfer market, strengthening with no less than six new players, signaling a clear intention of building a team capable of battling with the likes of Milan and Juventus. It’s a common fact that buying players alone does not, in anyway, suffice in building a successful team or in challenging for titles.
There are many factors that determine the flourishing of a project such as continuity, proper planning, age of players, suitable coaching staff, etc. But when looking at the two clubs from Florence and Naples, one can’t but commend the work that is being put in these two ventures.
While the Partenopei’s extravagant spending this season may have been something unfamiliar in Italy, there can be no doubt that what they invested will only make them a much stronger squad than last season. The captures of Gonzalo Higuain, Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens, Raul Albiol, Pepe Reina, Rafael, and young Croatian starlet Josip Radosevic are amazing additions to an already good squad. What makes this project interesting is that Napoli’s spending spree is far from finished, with president Aurelio De Laurentis confirming a budget of €124 million. Porto’s prolific goal scorer Jackson Martinez could be the next addition to the San Paolo revolution. After the departure of their main star Edinson Cavani, it was only fair for Napoli fans to be pessimistic.
However their controversial president wasted no time in assuring that his team is here to stay, and that their form last season was not an act of luck but merely a stepping stone to reach unprecedented heights. This is why he realized the huge task of replacing a very successful and adored coach such as Walter Mazzari, and while Rafael Benitez might not be everybody’s favorite coach, he surely is a proved winner who knows how to make the most out every situation.
On the other hand, Fiorentina are fast becoming a force to be reckoned with. With the irreplaceable Borja Valero along with Facundo Roncaglia, Adem Ljajic, and Juan Cuadrado pulling the strings, the Viola played arguably the most entertaining football in Italy last season. Also, with Ambrosini, Joaquin, Munua, Mario Gomez, Giuseppe Rossi, and Josip Ilicic added to the Florence battalion, they will have a team capable of surmounting any given task. Bookmakers might write off Vincenzo Montella’s men following the sale of Stevan Jovetic to Manchester City, but the truth is that the Montenegrin will hardly be missed if the club manages to capitalize on the talents of Rossi, Ljajic, and Gomez.
Indeed, Fiorentina have bagged one of the continent’s most prolific goal scorers in Mario Gomez. Giuseppe Rossi will again be able to showcase his talent after a lengthy spell on the sideline. Adem Ljajic will continue fulfilling his potential and show why clubs such as Milan are pursuing his services. The signing of Palermo’s Josip Ilicic - one of Serie A’s most exciting and creative midfielders - is another impressive acquisition for a team that will be a bit more than a dark horse in next season’s Scudetto race. If Montella continues to show his tactical acumen, the dream of winning the Europa League won’t be far-fetched.
Since the start of the 2012-13 season, the number of Champions League places allocated to Serie A clubs was reduced to just three. This is mainly due to the drop in coefficient points due to the result of poor performances from Italian clubs in European competitions. Without diving into the debate of whether this is a justified criteria to prevent great teams such as Inter, Milan, and Juventus from participating in Europe, we can’t deny that such a decision has affected Italian football greatly, and the burden of putting Italy back on the map is a task assigned to all Serie A clubs with no exception. As much as Italian football needs re-developing and re-organizing, they are in dire need to ply their trades in Europe’s big competition in order to further their progress.
In 2001, Zinedine Zidane’s departure to Real Madrid signaled the beginning of a new period for Juventus. The Italian club invested money from the sale to build a dominant project that managed to impress, with the purchases of stars like Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram, Pavel Nedved, Marcelo Salas, and Enzo Maresca.
Are Napoli and Fiorentina on the verge of doing something similar this summer after trading Edinson Cavani and Stevan Jovetic to PSG and Manchester City? Napoli’s last Scudetto title was in the 1989-90 season, while Fiorentina’s last was in 1968-69. With Juventus, Milan, Fiorentina, and Napoli arguably on the same level, and Inter and Roma slightly trailing, this season could bring about the dethroning of a strong Juventus and the much needed emergence of the Serie A.
Written by Hassan Chakroun