Serie A Clubs and Their Premier League Addiction

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In recent seasons, some of the Premier League’s top talents and promising youngsters have departed England and moved to Italy to join a Serie A club.

Today, we look at some of those players and ask why the Italian clubs are looking towards the Premier League market.

From Premier League to Serie A

Maitland-Niles and Tuanzebe: The Latest to Take the Jump

Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Axel Tuanzebe became the latest Premier League players to make the move to Serie A in recent years when they completed loan moves last week to Roma and Napoli respectively.

To be more specific, the latest “Big Six” players to be cast-off to Italy after falling down the pecking order – in Tuanzebe’s case after falling out of favour on another loan at Aston Villa due to Steven Gerrard’s reluctance to select a Manchester United player (according to the player’s agent).

Both Milan clubs, AC and Inter, have looked to the Premier League for recruits – Chelsea and Manchester United to be exact. AC signed both Fikayo Tomori and Olivier Giroud from the Blues last year while Inter, under Antonio Conte at the time, raided Old Trafford for any deadwood they could find – Ashley Young, Matteo Darmian, Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku. If they look again, they’ll find plenty more.

Juventus have been less open to buying British with Aaron Ramsey their sole Premier League signing of late, and he was considered somewhat of a coup at the time of his arrival on a free transfer. Not anymore – he’s been described as an “outgoing player”, and not in a social sense, by gaffer Massimiliano Allegri and is likely to depart shortly.

Brexit Business Partners

In these strange and surreal Brexit days, Italy has fast become the most reliable importer of English football goods.

No one, however, has been a better business partner than Roma, with a whopping 12 Premier League players making the move to the Eternal City since 2015.

Throw in Jose Mourinho, too – sacked by three of the “Big Six” in this time frame and persona non grata in English football now, but someone Roma jumped at the opportunity of landing last summer.

Players Fall Like Dominos – Starting With Szczęsny, Followed by Salah

The first domino to fall was Wojciech Szczęsny – the Polish stopper joined Roma on a season-long loan from Arsenal following Petr Cech’s arrival at the Emirates Stadium. This would be extended for a second year before Szczęsny moved to Juventus, reuniting with his old pal Ramsey and somehow being deemed a worthy successor to Gianluigi Buffon.

In 2016, Roma bolstered their options up top, with the signings of Edin Džeko and Mo Salah from Manchester City and Chelsea respectively. The two players had enjoyed contrasting spells in England, with Džeko an integral part of City’s early success and Salah barely any part of Chelsea’s.

With a travel route now established, another Citizen, Aleksander Kolarov and Tottenham Hotspur defender Federico Fazio were the next to seek refuge in Rome in 2017 – in Kolarov’s case, for a second time having played for cross-city rivals Lazio prior to his move to Manchester.

Sting – An Englishman in New York, Smalling – An Englishman in Rome 

2018 saw a now rare break year of buying British for the Giallorossi but this would be more than made up for in the following two years, as once again the damaged goods section of the Premier League was their preferred aisle.

Loans would be the preferred transaction when the summer of 2019 rolled around – Chris “Mike” Smalling swapping the Trafford Centre for the Trevi Fountain, and David Zappacosta (Chelsea) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Arsenal) simply swapping one capital city for another.

Mkhitaryan, of course, part of arguably the worst swap deal in history with Alexis Sanchez in January 2018 – both men were exiled to Serie A at the same time.

The Armenian captain would fare better in Rome, where like his old United colleague Smalling, a career renaissance was experienced. This led to both of their moves being made permanent the following summer.

Any chance of a similar story for Zappacosta was ended when he suffered an ACL injury just nine games into a return to his homeland.

London to Rome Flights Becoming Even More Popular

His return to sender in 2020 was turned into a gift exchange of sorts, when Pedro, also of Chelsea, made the switch to Roma on a free transfer.

This fast-becoming yearly tradition has continued this season, as alongside Mourinho, Tammy Abraham, again from West London, and Portuguese number one Rui Patricio crossed this well-trodden track. Now they’ve been joined by Maitland-Niles.

On the flip side, Roma have lost several top stars to the Premier League, notably Salah and Allison to Liverpool.

A Sign of the Times and the Decline of Serie A

It’s a situation now where Serie A loses its best players to the Premier League and gets their leftovers in return – a world away from the halcyon days of Italian football when it was recognised as the top league in the world and the platform on which the best tested themselves.

A prime example of this would be the ‘original’ Ronaldo moving to Inter from Barcelona in 1997. A slight outlier is the modern Ronaldo, but even then Juventus near emptied the bank to afford him to no gain on the European stage.

This summer, does anyone think Erling Haaland would consider a switch to Italy when he likely leaves Borussia Dortmund? Case in point.

But How Has This Happened and Why Has Serie A Become the Scrap Heap of English Football?

The ever-growing financial disparity in European football is an easy place to start.

Bar perhaps Juventus, no Italian club can compete with the transfer fees and wages in the modern market. Napoli have lost Lorenzo Insigne, their star player and skipper, to the MLS and Toronto FC for this rather depressing reason.

The league has diminished as a result, falling from the best on the continent to a battle for third spot with the Bundesliga. Italian clubs have made just two European Cup finals since Mourinho’s Inter success in 2010 – 2015 and 2017, with Juventus losing against Spanish oppositions on both occasions.

European Success is Becoming More and More Limited

Inter’s appearance in the 2020 Europa League final was the league’s first of this century in Europe’s second competition. Prior to this, the trophy mirrored a domestic cup, with 13 finalists and four all Italian finals in the years from 1988 to 1999.

It makes the national team’s EURO 2020 success all the more impressive. That it came against England at Wembley was the cherry on top.

Good Living and Earning Opportunities for Has-Beens

For players whose careers have seemingly reached the endgame in the Premier League, Italy represents a safe haven for a multitude of reasons.

The first is their ability to earn – while Italian clubs may not be able to compete for the very best, a recently introduced tax exemption on the first 50 per cent of wages for foreign players is a lure for Premier League players, who can continue to make comparable cash in Serie A.

This rule first made its footballing debut when David Beckham moved from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2003, subsequently being referred to as the “Beckham Law”.

Retire to Italy?

The lower quality, as well as slower pace, of Serie A also makes it an attractive proposition for players, both those coming towards the end of their careers or not of the requisite standard for Premier League football.

Italy has become a retirement home for the stars, with Franck Ribery and Zlatan Ibrahimović playing well into their late 30s, and in Zlatan’s case his 40s, and to a good level. It has been said that Italians greatly respect their elders, and this has continued into football.

And let’s face it, the food, the weather, the wine – it’s not exactly the worst place to put the feet up.

Another year is upon us, and there’s few certainties left in life, bar death, taxes and Premier League rejects turning up on Italian shores.

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