George Orwell wrote that Italians are incapable of doing anything without making a deafening noise, and he kind of has a point. Italy is pretty mental, but it works in its own way. Take the transfer market in Italian football (tenuous link alert), where Antonio Cassano and Giampaulo Pazzini have just changed the colours of their stripes in Milan. There is more than one way of analysing this trade; one is to suggest the whole thing is typically Italian, and not in a flattering way. On the other, less exciting hand, the deal suits both clubs – Milan had too many forwards but no one to lead the line; Pazzini was unlikely to start for Inter, who could in turn benefit from more variety in the final third.
Can you imagine a similar scenario where the two Manchester clubs traded players for their mutual benefit? It’s not going to happen, and that goes for other rivals too. Witness United’s exertions to prevent Liverpool from signing Gabriel Heinze, even though he was surplus to requirements at Old Trafford. Alex Ferguson did not need him, but he didn’t want to risk inadvertently helping a rival address a weakness in their squad.
Carlos Tevez signing for ManchesterCity was a huge story, but if United had really wanted him, they could have kept him. In any case, United didn’t own his contract. If they did, there’s no way Tevez would have ended up at City. Probably the most spectacular English example from recent years was Fernando Torres’ transfer from Liverpool to Chelsea. This was a proper case of two big clubs doing business, but only made possible by Liverpool falling so drastically off the pace at the top of the Premier League.
You’d expect plenty of ridiculous grandstanding and arguing in Italy, and there is. The media appear to be just as obsessed with transfer speculation as in the UK, and some of the clubs’ owners will display remarkable levels of vanity (Riccardo Garrone – I’m looking at you here). But, underneath all that, there is a willingness to trade on a far more pragmatic level then we see inEngland.
In Serie A there are loads of examples of star players turning out for more than one of the biggest clubs. In recent years, Zlatan and Andrea Pirlo have played for all of the big three – Juventus, Milan and Inter; Clarence Seedforf played for both Milan clubs; Christian Vieri played for pretty much everyone. There are plenty of other examples. These were all big stars – literally in Vieri’s case – but it seems Italian clubs are more willing to accept that a marquee player’s usefulness is not infinite. Juventus famously sold Roberto Baggio to Milan.
How does this approach affect Italian supporters? They despise rival clubs just as much as their English peers – observe the anti-Juventus graffiti on the walls of every town. It must rile the fans to see former idols pulling on the shirt of their enemy. Do they have to accept that their system discourages loyalty? Alessandro Del Piero’s longevity at Juventus, and Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi’s commitment to Roma suggest otherwise. In the examples of Totti and De Rossi, both were offered the opportunity of a big pay day elsewhere, both said no.
In any case, loyalty can be a very subjective concept. The clubs are under little obligation to show loyalty to a player if there’s money to be made. It’s understandable that Arsenal are resentful of losing players to Manchester United orManchesterCity– it’s an unequal relationship when they’re the only club selling. Yet, the wealthiest clubs – City, Chelsea, and United – never do business in the same way. Perhaps it will become more common over time; restrictions on squad size, financial fair play rules, and the limited number of clubs capable of paying stellar salaries may yet force greater cooperation among England’s elite. In the meantime, Arsenal will probably be the only big dreading the summer, and sensible trades to balance obvious gaps in squads will be ignored.