Saturday, August 30 th, 2014
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Why do Serie A players fail in Premier League?
Aquilani, Jovetic, Osvaldo, Giaccherini: life is hard in the UK if you come from Calcio. But we can't say the same for footballers from the PL: Gervinho, Tevez, Pogba are pillars of Roma and Juve. Is it really just a coincidence?
by Ben Cousins
With the news a few weeks ago of Erik Lamela's latest injury, more questions than ever are being asked of the success of his transfer from Roma to Spurs last summer. And whilst it is far too early to stick a giant "failure" stamp on his passport before sending him back to Italy, it got me thinking - do transfers from Serie A to England ever work?

 

It was August 2009 and Liverpool had just sold midfield genius/man-crush to all Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid. His devastating triumvirate with Steven Gerrard and Javier Mascherano was now missing its playmaker, so Rafa Benitez turned to Alberto Aquilani to fill the void. In a reported £20m deal, Aquaman, as he was affectionately known to Liverpool supporters, arrived injured and unable to participate in the first few months of the season. When he did eventually play, he was pretty impressive, with a fairly remarkable six assists in nine Premier League starts.

 

However with the Merseyside club changing managers three times in as many years, he was loaned out twice and then eventually sold to Fiorentina in the summer of 2012, those nine games remaining his last in England. This perfect storm of bad luck has seen the Italian regarded as one of the worst ever signings in English football. He's certainly not a bad player, in fact now an integral part of a Champions League chasing side; but if this is true then why did three managers not fancy him? Of course among ex Serie A players, Alberto Aquilani is not alone in his objective failure.

 

Just this season the disastrous £17m signing of Pablo Osvaldo imploded completely, Emanuele Giaccherini has struggled to make an impression on a poor Sunderland side and Gaston Ramirez has continued to be so anonymous that although I'm pretty sure he was sporting cornrows around Christmas time there isn't enough footage of him to prove either way. Comparing these players to some successful signings may hint at what the secret is. Phillipe Coutinho arrived at Liverpool for an almost nominal £8.5m last year and has been one of their most important players since.

 

Mathieu Flamini's return to Arsenal has coincided with The Gunners' return to form, with many accrediting the Frenchman as the key to their new midfield steel. And Matija Nastasic, although he has struggled recently, was a consistent first teamer for the incumbent champions Manchester City at the age of just 19, winning the Young Player of the Season award. So what are the key differences? Well for the last five or so years at least, it appears that the successful signings typically join Champions League teams and the unsuccessful signings tend to join teams of a lesser stature.

 

There is the occasional Stekelenburg or Santon who do reasonably well for smaller teams, and of course the odd Aquilani who doesn't for the big teams, but in general, this appears to be the rule. This could be debated should Lamela not recover from this bad start or if Jovetic fails to force his way into the Man City team, but they're both very young, ferociously talented and it is far too early in their respective careers to label them failures.

 

Looking the other way it appears to be all success for those making the move to Calcio. Gervinho (from Arsenal to Roma) has been a revelation this season, Paul Pogba (from Man United to Juventus) has developed into one of the most exciting young players in the world and Carlos Tevez (from Man City)has shown Juve that they are even better when they actually deploy a striker capable of scoring goals. Indeed searching for someone who has really flopped after leaving England for Italy leaves us with maybe only Robinho or Sulley Muntari. In truth however neither of them have been disasters, just declined quickly after somewhat impressive starts - although they were also very expensive given their respective outputs, so the argument is there to be made.

 

Does this say something about the respective quality of the leagues? Why can players swap Italy's top teams for England's and impress, but fail to do so when they join the lesser sides of the Premier League? Examining the individuals, maybe it has something to do with a lack of aggressiveness or assertiveness. Aquilani may have been one of the most naturally talented players to develop in Italy during the late 2000s but he is so languid that still even today he resembles some kind of footballing Keanu Reeves, who was just informed that running faster than 50 metres a minute will result in his half time glass of whiskey being destroyed. Gaston Ramirez suffers from the same lethargy, a striking contrast to the combative Flamini or Coutinho.

 

Thus it would be unfair to state "the Premier League is better" in some ill-advised jingoistic rant, but rather acknowledge that they are just different leagues, and many of the players making the move are simply the wrong kind of player. Lamela and Jovetic have all the ability necessary to become some of the most talented players in England, there is no question of that. Do they have the desire to keep trying when everything is going against them? That is the real question, and I for one hope that they do.

Friday, March 14 th, 2014
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