Once upon a time, Serie A was said to be the exporter of quality players, which sent some of the best additions to the Premier League with the likes of Di Matteo, Desailly, Ravanelli, Di Canio, Viera, Henry, Bergkamp and Zola setting the English game alight. In those times, a move from Italy to England was somewhat a step backwards when Serie A was at its peak and English Premier League was beginning to catch up, slowly yet steadily.
While sheer pace and physical prowess remains the essential requirement to flourish in the intense English game, the Italian league revolves around tactics and the art of out-thinking your opponent. There remains a substantial gap in the footballing philosophy of the two countries which has often led to Italian superstars failing to adapt to the English game and subsequently being labelled as a flop by press, fans, managers alike.
As the 2016-2017 Premier League season welcomes back Paul Pogba and Juan Cuadrado while Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a former superstar in Italy sets his eyes on becoming the God of Manchester, it is imperative to examine the list of players who did exceedingly well in the Serie A but failed to adapt to the highly demanding rigours of (arguably) the best league in the world.
In the summer of 1995, following prolific spells at Napoli and Torino, Andrea Silenzi became the first ever Italian to play in the Premier League after he was signed by Nottingham Forest manager Frank Clark for a fee of £1.8m .Silenzi failed to make an impact on the English game after managing to score just two goals in 20 appearances. He subsequently went back to Italy on loan to Venezia.
It is alleged that Nottingham boss Dave Bassett (who took over in 1997) tore his contract when the player refused to to return back to England. Having costed a cumulative fee of £3m, he is often considered (by the British press) as one of the worst transfers of all time.
In what was meant to be an astute signing by Walter Smith in the summer of 1998, Marco Materazzi joined Everton for a fee of £2.8 million. He was destined to take the English game by storm having all the ingredients to succeed in the Premier League. His Merseyside career ended rather prematurely following 12 Yellow Cards and 3 Red Cards in 27 Appearances during his first season for the Toffees.
Materazzi was sold back to Perugia (the club he joined Everton from) and joined the Nerazzurris thereafter where he established himself as a regular winning 5 Serie A titles, 4 Coppa Italia and the 2010 UEFA Champions League, alongside winning the 2006 FIFA World Cup with Italy.
Believed to be an Abramovich signing, rather than Mourinho one, Andriy Shevchenko arrived at Stamford Bridge (costing £30.8 million) to propel the club to a new level as the West Londoners longed for European glory. Having won the 2003 Champions League and 2004 Ballon d’Or with AC Milan, Shevchenko had scored 127 goals from 208 appearances prior to the Chelsea move.
Unfortunately, the Ukrainian could never really find his feet at the English Premier League following a dismal spell in London which saw him score only 9 goals in 48 appearances for the blues. He eventually quit the club in 2009 after spending much of his time on the bench (under the shadow of Didier Drogba) and is often regarded as the worst piece of business in Premier League folklore.
Juan Sebastian Veron
The Argentinian stalwart, who was nicknamed La Brujita (The Little Witch) while he featured in the 1998 World Cup, won the Coppa Italia and UEFA Super Cup in 1999 with Parma. He later joined Lazio the following season, driving them to a Scudetto, Coppa Italia and Italian Super Cup in 2000.
Unsurprisingly, Sir Alex lashed out £28.1 million to acquire the services of this immensely talented midfielder. Despite performing really well in Europe scoring 4 goals for the Red Devils, Veron struggled to adapt to the pace of Premier League. When questions were raised at his dismal performances, Sir Alex rebuked by saying,”Veron is a fucking great player and you’re all fucking idiots.”After 51 appearances for the Red Devils and scoring just 7 times, he was sold to Chelsea where he made another 15 appearances before returning back to Italy.
Fergie later admitted that he offloaded Veron because he felt that the midfielder could not cope up with the rigours of the Premier League.
In 2001, when Aquilani was 17, Chelsea and Arsenal offered him contracts but he declined the prospect in order to continue playing for his boyhood club, Roma. In 2008-2009, Liverpool had finished 2nd in the League and Rafa (after falling out with Xabi Alonso) was looking for a replacement following Alonso’s departure to Real Madrid. Dubbed as “potentially the best player in the world” by Roma legend Francesco Totti, Alberto Aquilani joined Liverpool in 2009 for a fee of £17 million. Former Red, John Arne Riise, who was playing at Roma at that time said,”He certainly runs more than Xabi and is probably more dangerous in terms of getting in the box and trying to score goals.”
Liverpool fans unfurled a banner depicting Alberto ‘Il Principino’ as a Gladiator before he had even kicked the ball in the Carlsberg outfit, as expectations kept soaring high. The Kop had to wait until boxing day to watch him start a game courtesy the injury he carried over to Anfield from Rome. Aquilani went on to make only 18 appearances that season, scoring once (that left foot finish, assisted by StevieG).
Lacking the physical attributes required for him to flourish and growing injury concerns, he was sent on loan to Juventus and Milan in hopes of recouping the huge sum of investment made over him. The Little Prince joined Fiorentina where his contract came to a natural end upon which he joined Sporting CP as a free agent.
What can be said about this crazy head maverick that hasn’t been said before. Having won 3 Serie A titles alongside being a part of the 2010 Champions League winning Inter side, Super Mario joined his former manager Mancini at Manchester City where was touted to reach great heights after winning the Golden Boy award in 2010. Balotelli was eventually sold to Milan following disciplinary problems and falling out with Mancini.
Mario enjoyed his return to Italy, scoring 26 goals for Milan the following season after which Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers signed him for £16 million calling it a ‘calculated gamble’ to make up for the loss of Luis Suarez to Barcelona. Balotelli made only 16 appearances in the Reds shirt scoring a single goal in the League.
He could never really find a way into the starting team lacking the pressing game as a lone forward courtesy his poor work rate. His terrible work ethic, poor attitude, lack of movement and unsuitability to Rodger’s system made the move one of the most catastrophic ones. Liverpool are still looking to get rid of the flop striker who is on high wages for practically doing nothing all along.
Signed from Fiorentina, having scored 40 times in 134 appearances for the Serie A outfit, the £22 million forward joined Manchester City in 2013. He waned in the Premier League, spending 175 days on the operating table and missing 35 games between 2013 and 2015, scoring just 8 times for Cityzens. Upon the arrival of Wilfred Bony in February-2015, Jovetic was omitted from Manchester City’s UEFA Champions League squad and was later sent to Inter on a 18 month long loan.
Returning back to Serie A, Stevan Jovetic scored a last minute winner on his debut before netting both goals for Mancini’s side in the next game as Inter beat Carpi 2-1.
It’s funny how Giaccherini made it to Conte’s Italy squad for EURO 2016 but couldn’t find a place in the starting XI of a Sunderland side that has been fighting relegation for several years now.
He won the Serie A title playing for the Juventus side and was bought by Sunderland on a four year long deal in 2013 but often found it tough to make it to the Wearside team after being loaned back to Bologna, where he scored 7 times in 28 appearances.
Another Italian superstar who found it too difficult to adapt to the pace and physicality of the Premier League?
After Lamela had joined River Plate as a 7 year old, Barcelona reportedly offered him £100,000/year alongside providing a house and employment for his parents in Barcelona in attempts to lure the wonder kid to La Masia. If that was not enough, Trans World Sport crew flew to Argentina (in 2004) to interview Lamela who had scored 120 goals previous season for the River Plate youth side. During the 2012-2013 season for Roma, he went on to score 15 goals in 33 appearances which earned him a move to the North London club.
Lamela, who joined Spurs as their record signing (£30 million) was destined to take the Premier League by storm but it wasn’t to be. He is yet to justify his hefty price tag (and reputation) having scored only 7 goals in 76 appearances. Although following an interesting turn of events, Mauricio Pochettino seems to have brought out the best (in Spurs shirt) out of him as compared to his previous bosses, Andre Villas Boas and Tim Sherwood.
On 2nd February, 2015, Chelsea declared the signing of Juan Cuadrado for a reported fee of £23.3 million which could potentially rise to £28.1 million. He had impressed in his time at Fiorentina and Juventus owing to his verticality, dynamism and directness where he played as a Winger in a traditional 3-52 formation. Traditionally, Italy has never really produced flying wingers so it was natural for the Colombian to stand out in Serie A. In his first spell at Stamford Bridge though, he found it difficult to break into the team and finished the season without a single assist or goal having made 13 appearances for Mourinho’s side.
It is noteworthy that the Colombian completed 2.5 dribbles per game while playing for Juventus last season and averaged 2.1 while he was plying his trade for Fiorentina. Bring on the Premier League and his dribbles per game dropped down to a horrendous 0.4 while playing for Chelsea.
In 17 games he played last season for Juventus, Cuadrado managed 4 assists and 4 goals for the Old Lady of Turin and Conte would want the same Cuadrado to turn up at Stamford bridge this season unlike the one that turned up on the previous occasion.
Conclusion/Effect on Premier League
This piece is NOT meant to scare off the 659 million (reportedly, by Kantar in 2012) Manchester United fans around the globe following the arrivals of Pogba and Ibrahimovic, who enjoyed rather fruitful spells in Serie A.
Although, it could act as a consolation for the Gunners fan base who missed out on Alvaro Morata and Gonzalo Higuain earlier in the window to Real Madrid and Juventus respectively.
Liverpool fans might as well have their fingers crossed as they anticipate 2 more names (or better 3) being added to this list by the end of the season. (wishful thinking)
Thank you for reading, let me know your views in the comment section below.