Why Serie A's Top Clubs Are Proving That Transfer Spending Isn't Everything

Colin O'Brien@@ColliOBrienContributor ISeptember 4, 2014

ROME, ITALY - MAY 11: Paul Labile Pogba with Carlos Tevez of Juventus celebrate the victory after the Serie A match between AS Roma and Juventus at Stadio Olimpico on May 11, 2014 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

After a summer spending spree of unrivalled proportions in the Premier League, the financial gap between England's top flight and the Serie A is striking. But there's a danger that too much will be made of the gulf by fans and the media, when really the attention should be on what kind of business is being done rather than simply the cost of it. 

Serie A's spending is significantly less than that of either the EPL or La Liga, but as Transfermarkt.it shows, it still eclipses what's being paid out in Germany and France.

Huge TV deals coupled with more interest from sponsors and larger matchday takings give English and Spanish clubs an advantage, and there's no way that in its current state, Serie A can beat Europe's two biggest leagues at their own game.

Which is why we're seeing Italian clubs get more creative. 

In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich have the ability to spend big, but Borussia Dortmund have found another model—their biggest signing this year was the relatively economical purchase of Ciro Immobile—that allows them to be competitive. And it's something close to this blueprint that Italy's top clubs now seem to be striving for. 

Money, as the cliche goes, isn't everything. It's true that Manchester United spent more this summer than Italy's top seven clubs combined, but where does that leave them? Louis van Gaal's side are still some way off being title contenders in England, and though adding the likes of Angel Di Maria to a squad undoubtedly makes it better, even after shelling out a fortune, United's best XI is still less impressive than, say, that of Juventus. 

Juve began a five-year plan in 2011, spent big and then stabilised. A huge injection of cash brought a much stronger squad, and it allowed Antonio Conte to win three league titles in a row. It also allowed the club to shop more conservatively over the next number of seasons, because that core was already there. 

The Bianconeri have proven that if clubs are clever, top signings can also be cheap.

Carlos Tevez, for example, was brought in for around €10 million, a fraction of the Argentine's real worth. Fernando Llorente came for free—an incredible coup considering his goalscoring record and the fact he's an experienced Spain international. 

The club took a chance in signing Paul Pogba for nothing, and now, they have one of the world's most in-demand footballers on the books. It's tempting to think they might have repeated the feat this summer with Kingsley Coman.

Andrea Pirlo has been indispensable to the Old Lady's recent successes, and he was snapped up after being cast off by Milan. And Arturo Vidal cost just over €10 million when he arrived from Bayer Leverkusen, but over the summer, he was valued at four or even five times that by several European suitors according to reports from Tuttosport (via the Daily Mirror) and the Gazzetta Dello Sport (via the Daily Star).

Pirlo and Vidal are key figures for Juve.
Pirlo and Vidal are key figures for Juve.Felice Calabro'/Associated Press/Associated Press

These are just some of the more obvious examples of what can be done with a reasonable but not huge budget and the right kind of know-how.

Roma's Walter Sabatini has been pulling off similar strokes since joining the Giallorossi. Before the capital club's American takeover, it was spending more or less the same amount of money on transfers as Serie A's minnows.

There's been a revolution at the Olimpico since then, and the Lupi have been Italy's biggest transfer movers for the last few seasons, but the idea is similar to what was done at Juve: build a spine of top-class talent with a large initial outlay and then add to or augment the squad year on year. 

Big-money sales like that of Erik Lamela to Spurs, Marquinhos to Paris Saint-Germain or Mehdi Benatia to Bayern Munich have given Roma an advantage in the market, too. The new owners are willing to spend, but they want to do so sensibly.

When a huge profit is earned on a player, however—Marquinhos cost PSG more than 10 times what Roma had paid the year before—it allows Sabatini to strengthen Rudi Garcia's squad significantly without overly burdening the bank balance. 

Italy's clubs have to work a little harder nowadays if they want to bring in top talent to the league, but both Roma and Juve have proven time and again in recent seasons that it is still possible.

The likes of Vidal, Pogba, Miralem Pjanic, Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan could all be sold now for huge sums and would strengthen almost any midfield in world football, and none of them cost a fortune. They're proof that in the absence of a bottomless bank balance, knowledge and a little cunning can still unearth brilliant alternatives to the marque players chased by England's and Spain's elite. 

Roma and Juventus are still a step behind the likes of Bayern, Real Madrid and Manchester City when it comes to all-out star power, but on their day, both sides have a starting XI good enough to trouble anyone. They've achieved that without having to spend vast sums. Now, they need to prove that it doesn't just look good on paper but that it also works on the pitch and in the Champions League.