Serie A: Has the League Improved or Gotten Worse in January Transfer Window?
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There are only days left in the 2013 winter transfer window, and it's about the time that people start marking winners and losers, teams and leagues that got better or worse. When looking the activity in Serie A in this transfer window, it's going to be hard to answer that question directly.
A few of the teams in the league ended up getting better through subtraction. The departure of Wesley Sneijder from Inter is certainly a case in point here. Sneijder is one of the best center midfielders in the world when healthy, but the drama that his case has caused since the summer caused a huge distraction for the nerazzurri. The Dutch master was also less of a fit into the tactics of manager Andrea Stramacioni than he was when Jose Mourinho stalked the sidelines at the San Siro.
The same might be said of San Siro's other tenant. AC Milan sent the talented but oft-injured Alexandre Pato to Corinthians in the early days of the window.
Pato has shone at times for Milan since arriving in 2007—he scored 51 times in 117 matches. But the Brazilian international seemingly spent more time on the bench than on the field, and at times he caused the rossoneri a bit of a depth problem at striker in his absence. With him gone, Milan will be able to use the money they'd been spending on him to restock their striking force.
There haven't been a ton of huge imports this window. Much of the movement has been internal to cover depth issues or to build for the future, such as Federico Peluso's move to Juventus or Milan's purchase of Empoli's Riccardo Saponara.
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There have been four major names that have either already moved to the Serie A from overseas or have been heavily linked to doing so. Interestingly, all involve strikers. Three are sealed, the last still in the air.
Two of the moves involve Juventus. The first won't take hold immediately: the bianconeri have agreed to a deal with Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente that will see the Spain international come to Turin on a Bosman next summer. The second will have an effect closer to the present: Nicolas Anelka will arrive at the Juventus Stadium on a short-term loan from Shanghai Shenhua, with an option to make Turin his permanent home next year.
The other done deal comes from Florence, where Fiorentina has plucked injured Italy international Giuseppe Rossi from Spanish club Villarreal. The Yellow Submarine totally crumpled when Rossi tore his ACL in October of 2011, but if he returns to his pre-injury form the viola have pulled off a major coup.
Rossi would either replace Stevan Jovetic if the player is—as expected—sold this summer or form a potent partnership if the Montenegrin remains in Florence. The move could end up being the steal of the window—and of several windows to come.
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The one unsettled name is also the one that's been most talked about: one Mario Balotelli. The BBC reports that Milan and Juventus are in talks with Manchester City for his services. Both teams would benefit greatly if he were to arrive in their respective locker rooms—provided he behaves himself. For Juve, he could be the last piece of a puzzle that could see them jump up to the level of some of the best teams in Europe.
Milan's real problems are defensive, but they also need to diversify their attack. Giampaolo Pazzini is a shell of what he was when he teamed with Antonio Cassano at Sampdoria, and Stephan El Shaarwary can't do everything up front by himself. Balotelli would be a major help for Milan in their quest to qualify for European competition next year, although he is cup-tied in the Champions League for this season.
Taken as a whole, the transfer activity of the Serie A seems to have definitely improved the league's quality. If Balotelli ends up in Italy, that improvement would become a leap, at least as far as the goal-scoring ability of the league is concerned. Serie A has not been what it was before it was ravaged by calciopoli, but the improvements the Italians have made this transfer window tell me that the league has definitely begun its slow climb back to its former place.
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