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Serie A: The Contenders & Pretenders


As 2013 comes to a close and with two games remaining in the first half of the schedule, some things are becoming clear among the elite Serie A teams this season.

For one, Juventus is confirming itself as a powerhouse. The Old Lady is flexing her muscles after trailing a perfect Roma side by as many as 5 points on matchday 8. Apropos the lupa (she-wolf) is having an extraordinary season, have broken a winning record and are playing beautiful football, courtesy of Serie A debutant Rudi Garcia. Napoli and Fiorentina are just about meeting expectations, with the former wanting a little due perhaps to adjustment to Benitez’s obstinance in his tactics, and team management. Finally, the Milanese are trailing – the rossoneri in particular are doing so by a significant margin.

So? Should observers and lovers of Italian football be surprised? No, the current rankings mirror the technical and financial state of the respective clubs.

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The Milanese are cognizant of Financial Fair Play parameters: since they don’t want to forfeit participation in UEFA competitions in the years ahead, they have been forced to delay or amend their technical/tactical projects. This explains some of the penurious moves over the summer, some of the cheap (or even free) transfers that will materialize in January (Rami and Honda for Milan as we featured in David Amoyal’s January Mercato Preview), and the odd “excellent” sale that is looming (Guarin) in order to inject fresh cash to be used to invest in players who would better fill tactical and technical voids.

The good news for Milan is that rain in the form of millions of euros is in the forecast, since they are only Italian team left to get Champions League “market pool” revenues, which should make room for future investments. On the other side of the Naviglio, while Inter’s situation in the standings is not as poor as their cross-town rivals it’s still disappointing if one considers that they do not have the burden of participating in a UEFA competition, and that they have no prospect of earning revenues from it.

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Milan’s technical project is still reeling from the loss of Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, both of whom haven’t been properly replaced – especially the latter. Inter, on the other hand, needs to settle into Mazzarri’s idee di gioco (game play concepts) and formation, nor have found the right men to fill key roles.

Juventus are in Year 3 of a project that started with a maniacal worker like Conte and a midfield mystic like Pirlo. That Juventus added a vital ingredient in Vidal who truly came of age in Year 2, and is now even more flavourful with Pogba (also coming of age in his second year), Tévez, and Llorente. Juventus is a cut above.

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What is significant about this technical project is that it was accomplished with austerity. The five players mentioned above were acquired with less than €25 million, ensuring that the Turinese club does not constrain their financial future and live within the Financial Fair Play rules. How long will they be able to sustain this, while preserving the likes of Pirlo and Pogba?

Roma, Napoli and Fiorentina lurk right behind – and it should surprise no one. These clubs are advancing their technical project in a financially responsible and sustainable manner, courtesy of disciplined planning and a pinch of luck (i.e., selling the likes of Lamela, Marquinhos, Cavani, and Jovetic very well).

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Gambles like Giuseppe Rossi, and intelligent investments like Cuadrado and Borja Valero are paying off immediately for Fiorentina, while they wait for their big man Mario Gomez to return the Serie A scene. He may be their best January calciomercato acquisition.

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Napoli is one of the Italian exceptions, turning out a profit year-after-year thanks not only to revenues from player sales (the aforementioned Cavani, and Lavezzi in 2012), but also to a large home fan base who have always filled the San Paolo – even when they  were in Serie C2.

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Last, but certainly not least, is Roma, whose technical project is thundering out of the gate. Rudi Garcia’s men are following his tactics quite well, despite this being the Frenchman’s first year in Serie A. Garcia is relying old veterans like Totti and De Rossi, new ones like De Sanctis and Maicon (acquired for a combined of €500,000), Serie A sophomores like Pjanic and Florenzi who are really coming into their own, and on investments who are paying off like Gervinho, Strootman and Benatia. Their bottom line from their 2013 summer transfer window: a whopping €38.6 million profit! The giallorossi are well poised to make an impact in Serie A and in Europe, now and for years to come. Juventus is warned.

The current Serie A standings are a reflection of the sporting and financial state of the respective clubs. The ones thriving have invested smartly and enjoyed significant revenues from player sales, unlike the ones struggling. Will those who sold well be willing and able to continue to do so? Will those who haven’t be able to retain their talent, or will they be forced to sell?

In order to create a competitive yet sustainable future Serie A must undergo a metamorphosis: from “surviving” to “thriving”. How? Find out on my next editorial for Italian Football Daily.

@ItalianFD

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