Once upon a time, Italian football was the centre of the universe. As recently as the turn of the decade, Serie A was the preferred destination for pretty much all of the world’s top talents. From Maradona to Zico, Platini to Zidane, greats from all over the world flocked.
Nowadays things have changed slightly, and Italian football- despite the 2006 World Cup success- has fallen a bit behind its English & Spanish counterparts in terms of glamour and European prestige. But they are still attracting some class talent, so let’s have a look at the newboys set to shine in the newly-formed Lega Calcio.
1. Samuel Eto’o (Inter Milan)
Perhaps the most complex, and surprising, transfer move of the summer so far saw Zlatan Ibrahimović find himself the subject of a mammoth bid from European Champions Barcelona. In exchange for the silky Swede, Barça sent over a hefty sum of cash- around €40m apparently- but more intriguingly their top scorer, Samuel Eto’o.
Eto’o of course needs no introduction whatsoever to football fans. His record pretty much speaks for itself, almost 400 games for Barcelona, over 200 goals including those that secured him the “Pichichi” as La Liga’s top scorer in 2006, and goals in two Champions League finals- both against English opposition, Arsenal in 2006 and Manchester United this year. Not your typical Serie A striker perhaps, Eto’o relies more on power and energy than technical perfection and elegant genius, but José Mourinho is no mug, and to my eyes has picked up a damn fine deal for Inter by snaring the Cameroon star. His partnership with another new striker, and fellow La Liga goal machine, Diego Milito, will be the hottest in Italy next season, I’m sure.
Not technically a summer signing, the 24 year old Brazilian centre back officially signed for the Rossoneri in a €10m deal in December of last year, but European legislation and red tape has meant his registration as a Milan player was delayed until this June. Now the twice-capped former Fluminense star, who has had unsuccessful European spells in the past with FC Porto & Dynamo Moscow, is eager to make up for lost time and add some defensive stability to a side that has struggled in the past to replace the creaking limbs of the likes of Paolo Maldini, Billy Costacurta, and Cafu.
Silva is a commanding aerial presence, as well as possessing good foot speed on the ground. He also manages to use the ball smartly off either foot, over both short and long distances. His lack of playing time over the past half year may bring about some rustiness, but with a World Cup at the end of this season, expect this Brazilian to be busting a gut in an effort to work his way into Dunga’s seleção for South Africa.
3. Diego (Juventus)
Almost a forgotten deal this one, seeing as though it took place almost before last season had ended. But Juventus fans have plenty of reason to be excited about the latest Brazilian to don the Bianconeri jersey.
Diego is only 24, yet he seems to have been around forever. Since bursting onto the scene at Santos as a 17 year old- putting him in the company of the likes of Pelé and Robinho- he has crammed plenty into his career. A stint in Portugal with FC Porto was considered by many a failure, but with Werder Bremen in Germany he has rebuilt his career and established himself as one of the most potent attacking midfield players in Europe. 51 goals in 130 games is a pretty handy return for a player who operates much deeper than the forwards, and his creativity, set piece delivery and eye for a pass has created countless others in an aesthetically-pleasing Bremen side. Juventus have paid around €24.5m for the Brazilian, if he can hit the ground running in Turin it will be money well spent.
With so many South American talents, it can be dangerous to judge them based on a handful of appearances. Javier Pastore, theoretically, should not be much different. But he is. Ok so he might only have made 35 senior appearances in Argentina, for Talleras & Huracán, but he has shown enough to convince most seasoned observers he has what it takes to succeed in Europe. Palermo may at first glance seem an odd choice for a talent such as Pastore, but in truth it gives him a chance to shine out of the media glare a move to Milan or Barcelona would undoubtedly have produced.
Just 20 years of age, Pastore was to many the driving force behind Huracán’s hugely successful Clausara campaign this year. His eight goals from midfield made him the team’s top scorer, and his combination with another young star, Matías De Federico, earned rave reviews from all quarters. Pastore’s playmaking abilities, effortless running with the ball, and eye for goal have earned him the tag “The Argentine Kaká”, Palermo fans will be praying he can have half the effect his Brazilian counterpart had in his time in Italy.
The third Inter signing on this list, which is an ominous sign for the chasing pack. Lúcio has ended an eight year stay in Germany by signing a three year deal with Mourinho’s men for an undisclosed fee.
A gangly yet classy central defender, Lúcio has shone both domestically and in Europe for the best part of a decade- first at Bayer Leverkusen, later at Bayern Munich. His pace and power enables him to outwit most types of forward, whilst his surges forward have seen him score and create plenty of goals, as well as picking up 84 Brazil caps, becoming captain in 2006. Inter have plenty of good defenders- Walter Samuel, Iván Córdoba, Cristian Chivu, Marco Materazzi, Nicolás Burdisso- none possess the qualities of the 31 year old Brazilian.
In Argentina for the past few seasons, Rodrigo Palacio has been considered something of a rarity. Here was a player, in the prime of his career, yet still plying his trade in his home country. In truth the Argentine First Division tends to be filled with those on the way up, the way down, or on a lower trajectory altogether. Palacio was widely recognised as a paradox. Good enough to be considered a star, yet not good enough to play in Europe apparently.
Until now that is. Genoa are an ambitious young side, and with money to spend from selling Thiago Motta & Diego Milito to Inter, they have managed to assemble a tasty looking, all-Argentine strike pairing. 27 year old Palacio will join 34 year old veteran Hernán Crespo in the Rossoblu ranks, keen to ensure his shot at the big time ends in success.
Palacio was a hero at his former club, Boca, scoring 82 goals in 185 games and earning himself eight caps for the national team. An unsuccessful outing at the 2006 World Cup may have shown the easy-going, diminutive forward that he needed to toughen/quicken up his game a bit, but he has responded positively. He possesses incredible speed on and off the ball, and is renowned for working the flanks very well, much like his countryman Ezequiel Lavezzi at Napoli in fact. With Crespo (along with Sergio Floccari & Raffaele Palladino) to do the poachers job at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris, much emphasis will surely be on Palacio to provide the creative spark and add a pace and zest to the Genoa attack.
Serbian football is thriving right now. Udinese possess some of the most eagle-eyed scouts around. Put them together, and you have Dušan Basta arriving at the Stadio Friuli.
Basta is a right sided defender cum midfielder, who made his name during eight seasons with Red Star Belgrade, where he picked up six major trophies. He is something of a long throw specialist, his Rory Delap-esque rockets into the box are a weapon for any side, and he also possesses wonderful technical attributes, despite susceptibility defensively when used as a full back perhaps. One of a new crop of fine young Serbian players across Europe, Basta joins a polyglot Udinese squad for a substantial fee.
nderson Miguel da Silva to his mates, or Nenê to the rest. Either way, the 25 year old striker is a €4.5m gamble by a Cagliari side eager to build on last season’s solid ninth placed finish.
The former Cruzeiro forward arrives at the Stadio Sant’Elia off the back of a hugely successful season in Portugal with CD Nacional, his 20 league goals having made him the league’s top scorer, ahead of the likes of Lisandro López & Liédson. Pacy, well built and skilful, Nenê could well prove an invaluable asset to Cagliari, who already possess plenty of young talent and a good team spirit.
Málaga were undoubtedly the surprise package of last season in La Liga. And amongst the concocted squad of has-beens and bargain-basement signings sat this lightning quick Portuguese winger.
Eliseu is 25 years old, and looks 15. He is short, thin and looks a little ungainly. Yet despite all this he is in possession of that priceless footballing commodity. Raw speed. Capable of running the 100m in less than eleven seconds, Eliseu’s direct running causes full backs nightmares. His end product, as with a lot of speed merchants, can sometimes lack consistency, but with Goran Pandev, Tommaso Rocchi & Mauro Zárate all there to assist him, Eliseu could well prove a bargain at €1m.
The problem with a mid-range side having a top class season is that, inevitably, vultures will soon begin circling around the best players of said mid-range side. That is exactly what happened at Genoa this summer, no sooner had they secured a superb fifth placed finish in last season’s Serie A standings, than champions Inter had swooped to whisk away two of their most stellar performers- Diego Milito & Thiago Motta.
The upshot of this, of course, is that by selling the players who got them to such heady heights, Genoa now have a bit of cash to spend on strengthening the squad as a whole. With Emiliano Moretti added to the defence, and Rodrigo Palacio (see #6) and Hernan Crespo already on board as replacements for Milito’s goals, Il Rossoblu have moved to replace the drive and energy of Motta in midfield by securing the signature of Real Zaragoza midfielder Alberto Zapater, in a €4.5m deal.
Zapater’s nickname in Spain is “The Bull”, on account of his strong tackling and limitless energy, but such a moniker should not detract from his other qualities as well. A clean and typically Spanish passer of the ball, Zapater is rarely injured (although can be suspended a couple of times a season) and offers leadership in abundance despite his relatively tender 24 years of age. Was a key component of Zaragoza’s promotion campaign last term, and will be hoping to achieve similar success to his former colleague Milito at Stadio Luigi Ferraris.