Why Serie B Players Can Be More Attractive Than Pricey EPL Stars
With only a few days left in the January transfer window, it's safe to say that in Italy, business isn't exactly booming.
The days of Serie A dominance over Europe are far behind us, as evidenced by the lack of high-profile signings that any of the Italian teams have made. Sure, Fernando Llorente will be joining Juventus in July on a Bosman, but he's not exactly a superstar and won't be joining the team immediately.
Mario Balotelli might still be on his way to Milan, but he only has two goals in 18 games and has lost much of his popularity in the last 12 months.
Inter, Roma, Lazio and Napoli added a number of depth players, but no team really made the headlines this past transfer window. The biggest news coming out of Italy was probably the sale of Wesley Sneijder, if anything.
So, is Italian football in crisis? No.
If we're talking finances, world football is in crisis, and Italian teams are starting to realise this. What's more, they're changing their business model in order to overcome the economic problems that plague the bulk of top teams around the globe.
Italy as a country is obsessed with football, arguably more than any other European nation. The lower leagues are filled with young, hungry players who make up for their lack of technical ability with discipline and a work ethic that is rare amongst modern footballers.
Serie A teams have shifted their focus when it comes to scouting and are now looking in their own back yard to find squad players they can develop in the long run. Combined with the everlasting stream of Southern American supertalents and the veteran stars already plying their trade in the Italian league, they're rebuilding their teams from the ground up.
With the exception of the German Bundesliga, which is a shining example of how a league should be run, every major European league has put itself in a difficult financial position. We know this. It's not exactly a big secret.
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But no one appears to be willing to admit this, and while we are already starting to see the first signs of the impact that the new Financial Fair Play regulations will have on European football, teams continue to spend ridiculous transfer fees on above-average players in an effort to boost short-term success.
Contracts these days are drawn up with enormous release clauses because the top teams from England and Spain will break the bank if a certain player entices them anyway. Teams like Atlético Madrid, FC Porto and Udinese have become talent farms that survive on selling their best players to the highest bidder, and more often than not these players fail to produce the kind of results their new owners were expecting from them.
This simply can't last, and it would appear that the owners and general managers in Serie A have finally realised this.
Juventus have built a competitive team without throwing huge amounts of money at a top striker. In Stephan El Shaarawy, Milan have discovered their latest superstar where they should have been looking: their own back yard.
Inter have given the reins to Andrea Stramaccioni, a former youth coach that knows how to work with what he's been given as opposed to what he can buy. Napoli have built their team the slow way, developing players like Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik into superstars.
Even Lazio and AS Roma have made changes to their roster—the casual fan wouldn't even recognise the majority of names on the team sheets. Yet the formula is always the same: veteran leaders and talented youngsters you've never heard of.
Does this mean Italian football has officially rolled over and surrendered? Juventus and Milan are still playing in the UEFA Champions League, and Inter, Lazio and Napoli all qualified for the final stages of the Europa League.
Changing your philosophy and remaining competitive aren't mutually exclusive, and the Serie A is showing everyone it can be done. We don't often get to say it, but it looks like the Italians are setting an example the rest would be wise to follow.
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Everyone except the Germans of course.
And with players like Richmond Boakye, Domenico Berardi, Riccardo Saponanara, Nicola Leali, Bartosz Salomon, Nicola Bellomo and Simone Zaza, the next generation of talented youngsters waiting in Serie B has already arrived.
Looking at this new Italian philosophy, it's only a matter of time before these guys become household names. That's a pretty exciting prospect.
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