It’s January 13th and Ivan Juric’s Genoa sit middle of the table in 12th. At no point this season have the Rossoblu been proclaimed contenders for Europe or even Coppa Italia darkhorses for that matter. However, just two weeks into the latest installment of the chaotic January Transfer Window, the Grifone’s shrewd business on the market deserves it’s recognition.
If you were to ask “who has facilitated the best mercato of all the Serie A clubs?,” I’d say with little hesitation Genoa. Yes, Genoa, the club synonymous with AC Milan when it comes to the mercato. Now some will question my knowledge of football — and business for that matter, but hold your criticism until the end of this piece before drawing conclusions.
When it comes to the mercato, there are three categories of clubs. First, European contenders must determine if their is a window *no pun intended* to make a move up the table. The fringe clubs hovering around spots 5-8 have to decide whether they will have a go at Europe, stand pat or fold. And of course, the cellar dwellers (15-20) who can’t spend all that much yet utilize this month to scout talent for the present — and future — that may aid in avoiding the drop to Serie B.
At some point over the past few years, Genoa found themselves in all of three of these brackets. Whether they are content with the status quo is irrelevant here. Rather it’s their workings in January when several clubs are fighting for Europe that makes them consistently average, which is not necessarily a bad thing. At this point in 2014-15 season, their league positioning through nineteen rounds was 7th. In May, a 6th place finish earned them a play-off round birth in the UEFA Europa League. Eventually, they were denied a UEFA license due to tardiness in submitting paperwork, and because Stadio Luigi Ferraris did not meet UEFA competition standards. (Ironically enough, their city-rival Sampdoria — who finished seventh — were awarded the spot even though they share the same ground.)
Last January, Gian Piero Gasperini’s Genoa’s were barely staying afloat in 17th and stared relegation square in the eyes. With the help of smart moves in January (particularly the loan of Suso), they rose from the depths to finish a respectable 11th. The reason Genoa often fly under the radar when talking strategic business each winter is because the moves they operate never result in a Champions League or Europa League birth.
A club like Torino this year is a fair test case. Sitting eighth, Siniša Mihajlović’s Toro have done extremely well under difficult circumstances. A club forced into selling Nikola Maksimovic to Napoli (a club which I will get into later), the Serbian’s exit loss decimated their backline late in the summer which also saw the departures of Kamil Glik and Bruno Peres. Despite the dismantling in the back, Torino have proven to be one of the more prolific clubs over nineteen rounds. So far, their lone haul is flop Roma winger Juan Manuel Iturbe on loan. This addition is one that will receive a fair amount of praise from industry experts and pundits who applaud the efforts of chasing a European birth.
The Maroons have sized up the competition and understand that Europe is a realistic possibility, especially since Milan are in a bind financially and Atalanta are being stripped of their biggest assets. But back to Genoa.
Juric’s squad has endured their share of hardships in 2016-17. Injuries to Leonardo Pavoletti and Mattia Perin have dealt near fatal blows to any dreams Genoa set out for this season, but that hasn’t stopped the club from causing some problems.
In the first half alone, victories over Juventus (3-1), AC Milan (3-0), Fiorentina (1-0) and earned a point v Napoli (0-0) have all come at the friendly confines of the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. Their problem of course lies away from their home stadium. To their defense, Genoa have been on the losing end of some very tight contests. If they managed to come out with either a point or victory, they could be much higher in the table. That’s football.
So, for a team this inconsistent and hampered with significant injuries, why are Genoa my current winners of the January mercato?
President Enrico Preziosi, sporting director Sean Sogliano and Juric seem to have a very good understanding of their position. Europe is a pipe dream and barring any major collapse, relegation is unlikely. Even as bonafide mid-table candidates, Genoa has done exceptionally well in capitalizing on the needs of their adversaries, specifically two who have the financial clout and await the Champions League Round of 16.
Since Arkadiusz Milik sustained an unfortunate injury serving international duty with Poland in October, Napoli have pieced together a temporary solution up front, using Manolo Gabbiadini and Dries Mertens. The Belgian concluded 2016 in exceptional form and while Milik is back to training at Centro Sportivo di Castel Volturno, manager Maurizio Sarri demanded a striker arrive in January.
With the going rate for a solid striker at extreme highs in this market, Genoa’s Leonardo Pavoletti was the perfect addition for the Aurelio De Laurentiis and the Partenopei.
Pavoletti has spent half the season injured with hamstring issues yet Genoa managed quite the coup for their number nine. Balancing league play, a domestic competition (Coppa Italia) and a two-legged bout with Real Madrid in the knockout stage is a tall order without a 100% fit striker.
Rather than hold onto him until the summer, Genoa leveraged Napoli’s desperation for an immediate solution and received a maximum value for their best attacker.
Above Napoli in the league are Juventus who have objectives of their own on the open market. Once primary target Axel Witsel declined the €4.5m per year salary offered by the Bianconeri in favour of China, Tomas Rincon became a quick, low-end solution to Allegri’s midfield woes. Lacking some strength and toughness in the midfield, Beppe Marotta quickly secured the Venezuelan on loan with permanent buyout clause for 8 million euro in the summer.
An estimated 28 million euro does not seem like a whole lot of money by current industry standards yet it’s more than enough for Genoa. Once Pavoletti’s deal became official to Naples, Preziosi acted accordingly to snap up a veteran replacement, signing of Mauricio Pinilla from Atalanta. Pinilla’s experience playing all over Italy will no doubt be welcomed even if he’s half the striker Pavoletti is at this stage of his career.
On the same day the Chilean completed his return to the Grifone, Genoa announced the signings of Italian youngsters Leonardo Morosini and Andrea Beghetto.
Morosini made the switch from Serie B outfit Brescia for a minimal fee of 2.5 million euro and had enjoyed steady success this season; 4 goals, 1 assist in 13 league matches for Cristian Brocchi’s Leonessa. Meanwhile, Beghetto’s exploits in the second-tier of Italian calcio with SPAL caught the attention of Genoa who captured his signature at a bargain 1.5 million euro. Before his move up to the top-flight, the 22-year old recorded seven assists playing out on the left wing.
As the two young Italians get acclimated to playing in the Serie A, Juric ensured his side is well-stocked with skillful players for the next six months; individuals capable of beating defenders.
Adel Taarabt, who last sampled Italian football with Milan in 2014, arrived to Centro Sportivo Gianluca Signorini earlier this week on loan from Portuguese elitist Benfica. The Moroccan’s work ethic and drive have often been scrutinized. On his day however, and when he’s feeling up for it, Taarabt’s dazzling foot work can make even the best of defenders look silly.
*Disclaimer: even before rumblings for this next transfer gained steam, Genoa were still crowned my early winners of January.*
Since it’s all but official, you can add the loan for Lazio’s Danilo Cataldi to the list of smart deals by the Ligurian-club. Milan’s inquiry for the Roman was a long-shot given his ties to the club and the Rossoneri’s crowded midfield. That made Genoa an ideal landing spot for the young Italian centrocampista as a loan fills the void left behind by Rincon, while providing minutes to his development. A win for all parties.
Obvious in the steady stream of club announcements, Genoa have been busy this month. By having already sold two of their most sough after pieces, it’s unclear whether Uruguayan Diego Laxalt — linked with Chelsea — will also head to the exit. Or, if they’ll explore the market for Mattia Perin’s replacement in net.
In the short-term, the losses of Pavoletti and Rincon will undoubtedly hurt the product on the pitch. But, if Preziosi’s history tells us anything at all, it’s that Genoa will be just fine in the long-run by cashing in on top assets while bolstering with established youth for the future.
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