The Italian Job – by Josif
Since the start of the January transfer window – among 309,298 other players – Arsenal have been linked with Wesley Sneijder and (more surprisingly) Diego Milito recently. Both the Dutchman and the Argentinian were crucial members of the Inter Milan treble winning side in 2010. It is interesting to point out that they were both members of the Inter squad that was a jinx for our next opponents in the Champions’ League – Inter won Champions’ League Final against Bayern 2-0 with Milito scoring a brace in the process and in 2011 the Italian side made a shocking come-back to win on away goals on aggreggate in the First Knockout Stage in which Sneijder provided an equalizer in the second leg (Milito didn’t play).
In the aforementioned 2010, Inter were managed by Jose Mourinho. The big-mouthed silverware-winning Portuguese took over from Roberto Mancini. Inter had been the biggest spenders in Italian league for over a decade. Their rich owner Massimo Moratti didn’t spare money on his favourite toy but they needed Calciopoli – match-fixing scandal that saw Juventus relegated and stripped of two titles in 2006 – to finally start dominating on the field. Despite the fact they had a squad full of top-class players, Inter never managed to the final step in the Champions’ League. In 2009-10 they sold their best player Zlatan Ibrahimović to Barcelona in a part exchange transfer deal that saw cash and Samuel Eto’o heading their way. They also signed Wesley Sneijder who was struggling at Real Madrid and experienced defender Lucio from Bayern Muenchen as well as Argentinian Milito was signed from Genoa. Mourinho’s side went through the toughest path all the way to their third European title.
After Ibrahimović didn’t show his best at Barcelona and with the arrival of David Villa, Barcelona wanted to get rid of the Swedish striker and sent him on loan to AC Milan with an option to sign him for one third of what Barca paid to Inter. Ibrahimović imposed himself in Serie A as a top player again and led Milan to their first league title since 2004. He was assisted by another reinforcement – one of the greatest talents of Italian football Antonio Cassano from Sampdoria.
If you look at today’s Serie A table, you will notice that Juventus are leaders with three points more than second-placed Lazio. Juventus had a brilliant 2012 in Serie A – they won 94 points and saw their streak without defeat last 49 matches before Inter beat them. Andrea Pirlo, the deep-lying playmaker signed on a free transfer from AC Milan in 2011, has been instrumental ever since his arrival. Current runners-up Lazio made a brilliant free transfer themselves in the same summer Pirlo signed for Juventus. They went for an experienced striker Miroslav Klose who was struggling at Bayern Muenchen. As a result, Lazio came close (no pun intended) to Champions’ League football last season (they lost to Udinese on goal-difference, mostly because Klose was absent due to injury in the last couple of months) and have been the second best club in Italy so far. Klose himself never looked better at Lazio where he has formed a dangerous partnership with Brazilian midfielder Hernanes (previously linked with Arsenal).
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If we go to our time-machine and return to the ninetees, we will notice that Arsene Wenger’s champion-sides from 1998, 2002 and 2004 were built around three players who struggled in Serie A – Dennis Bergkamp was signed by Bruce Rioch from Inter, Patrick Vieira was signed from AC Milan and Thierry Henry spent only six months in Juventus before he was offloaded to Arsenal.
Now, what is the point of this text? There are two, actually, and they don’t exclude each other. First of all, it is possible to make silverware-winning squad around rejects. They can usually be signed for lower prices due to the fact that their clubs don’t want to keep expensive unhappy high-profile players on their budget. Secondly, Wenger might have a point that Spain and Germany are the best markets right now but, despite huge decline of Serie A talents in recent years, he should not forget the Italian market. Diego Milito is 33 but he has a nose (no pun intended again) for goal and the experience of winning big matches so that might not be a bad piece of business in the short term. After all, the aforementioned Dennis Bergkamp was 33 when he was destroying opponents on our way to the double in 2001-02 and 35 when The Invincibles were dominating.
Maybe Wenger should send a scout to Italy as well, especially to check experienced unhappy players in the top Italian clubs. If anything, Italian football has provided decent defending for decades and we could use some of those.