Posted by: mdegeorge | March 1, 2011

The Latin flare of Italy’s top talents

It hasn’t been the best of weeks for Serie A in terms of public relations. All three of their remaining Champions League teams dropped their first leg contests at home, including current holders Inter. The last surviving entrant in the Europa League, Napoli, also bowed out midweek, leading UEFA to judge Serie A no longer worthy of four UCL berths (the fourth has been redirected to the Bundesliga).

Making matters worse, the Roma’s ousted coach Claudio Ranieri blasted Italian football Monday as “hell” to the English Premier heaven in which he formerly plied his trade.

At least it was a week of stadium mishaps or turmoil…oh, wait. Well, at least no one died.

But lost in the shuffle of the team inadequacies is a rising tide of young Latin American talent that could make Italy a hot shopping destination for Europe’s big clubs this summer. It’s turning into a veritable who’s who of young talent that along the way is putting up some impressive numbers in the usually offensively challenged league.

Alexis Sanchez (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.)

Here’s the complete list of potential departures:

Javier Pastore

Wanted by: Chelsea, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona, Juventus, Arsenal

The 21-year-old Argentine and 2010 Italian Young Footballer of the Year may be the hottest talent in the world right now. The languid number 10 wowed Serie A by dragging Palermo into the fifth spot in the league last term with his tremendous playmaking ability in the prized trequartista role so revered in the Spanish and Italian games. He’s an amazing physical specimen at 6-foot-2 who lacks some speed and still has some developing to do, but doubtlessly possesses amazing instincts and play-making intuition. To his credit, Pastore has been in no rush to make the big European leap, repeatedly eschewing transfer talk until at least the summer by stating his desire to stay at Palermo, though his departure at season’s end is looking increasingly inevitable. Man City’s time as a favorite seems to have past, and it looks like Juve has been priced out of a move. The likely favorite to his signature now appears to be Chelsea, at least according to catbird seat Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini.

Diagnosis: How good would a front line of Fernando Torres, Neymar and Pastore look at Stamford Bridge? Pretty amazing. I think Pastore is best suited for the Spanish game, but he might not be the top target on Real Madrid’s list (keep reading). He’s been too patient with a move to fall into the Man City money trap, and Juve and Barca may not be able to meet his price. He’d look best wreaking havoc alongside Lionel Messi in the blaugrana, which is could be why Madrid heighten its interest. But ultimate, I think he’s London bound.Alexandre Pato

Wanted by: Chelsea, Real Madrid

Chelsea, through Carlo Ancelotti, the man who brought him to Europe, has long been an unabashed suitor of the Brazilian starlet who, despite already being in his third Serie A season, is still just 21. Pato’s skills are more polished than his age suggests with unmistakable ability, especially with the ball in his feet. Where he still falters is in staying healthy for longer than three weeks at a time and how exactly he fits into the AC Milan team. He’s good enough to work in a variety of systems, and he’s getting near the age where the Rossoneris‘ kid gloves need to come off. Chelsea’s spending on Torres and equally fervent pursuit of fellow Brazilian wunderkind Neymar cast some doubt as to its financial viability in the Pato chase. But if Chelsea’s poor form, by its lofty standards, continues this term, a house cleaning that sees replacements for the aging Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka riding into town may include Pato. Recent talk has also speculated a swap deal between Milan and Real Madrid with wantaway Sergio Ramos headed in the other direction. But a big part of Milan’s dealings over the last few years, perhaps most notably the acquisitions of Brazilian mentors like Robinho and Ronaldinho and the capture of Zlatan Ibrahimovich, on and off the pitch have revolved around making them a club worthy of retaining Pato’s services.

Diagnosis: If Milan manage to hang on and win a Scudetto, he’ll sign a deal tying him to the club into his late 20s, especially when they add Ibra long-term. My guess is that Milan’s brass are still gun shy thanks to the backlash of the Kaka departure. Only an offer of that magnitude with the commensurate financial woe of the club should pry him away from the San Siro.

Alexis Sanchez

Wanted by: Manchester United, Inter, Real Madrid, Juventus, Chelsea, Manchester City, Barcelona

The newly-minted 22-year-old Chilean is starting to put up goals in bunches, epitomized by his four-goal outburst in a rout of Pastore’s nine-man Palermo Saturday. He’s always been a promising winger and play-maker, and he has the experience of a World Cup run under his belt already. He is currently thriving in the offensive nursery that is Udinese and looks increasingly likely to be the next high-priced striker spawned from that program. Inter has already been rebuffed in attempts to procure his signature with youngsters going the other way. Juve is probably keen to eke out another defector down that black-and-white pipeline (see Fabio Quagliarella, Vincenzo Iaquinta, and Simone Pepe.) But Man U and Real Madrid are also lurking in the shadows, with Barca’s interest apparently having been renewed just in time for the weekend power display. You have to think that if Sir Alex Ferguson gets dismayed with his youthful strikers and they falter down the stretch of a title drive, he can will Sanchez to Old Trafford. It’s his preferred destination, and he already knows how to play in red.

Diagnosis: Ryan Giggs is aging, as is Ji Sung Park. While Nani has elevated himself to the level of a world-class player, every formation has two wings. Perhaps more so than any team these days, the Red Devils are only linked to a team when they really want him. He would be a perfect fit in Manchester. Again, Real Madrid has bigger fish to fry first, and only Barca can hijack a move to Man U. Ultimately, I expect Sanchez to be wearing red for both club and country in the fall.

Edinson Cavani

Wanted by: Manchester City, Real Madrid

It’s hard to still regard Cavani as a youngster even at 24. He’s in the midst of his third season in the top tier of Serie A scorers, doing it with a second team after a loan move from Palermo. He was a bit disappointing despite being surrounded by excellent talent with Uruguay at the World Cup last summer, but is still an unmistakable talent. He’s able to score goals from just about anywhere, and can excel as a winger or a center forward. Talk has been heating up in recent days that Napoli is ready to cash in on the star for a world record transfer fee of ₤85.5 million, over ₤5.5 million more than the fee fetched by Cristiano Ronaldo. That fee might be doled out once again by Real Madrid, which reportedly already tried in vain to bring Cavani to the Bernabeu. Manchester City, as usual, was also in the running, but the signing of Edin Dzeko might preclude its future interest. The patient Cavani is content to stay at surging Napoli and may not be worth that type of stratospheric money, but he’s certainly one worth more modestly opening the bank for.

Diagnosis: Cavani is entering the fee range where the suitors become few and far between. There’s really only two at this point. Real Madrid, given their striking deficiencies, is the where he’ll likely end up if it can swing the finances.

Maxi Lopez

Wanted by: Manchester United, Napoli, Juvenuts

Having already been unable to catch on with Barcelona, the 26-year-old has rebuilt his career with Catania. He is scoring goals in bunches tucked away from the European spotlight and could be earning a trip back to the continent’s biggest stages, though he has treated every link to a new team with tremendous class and is in no hurry to move on. He hasn’t shied away from expressing his desire to join up with Napoli, presumably in the summer as a beneficiary of the transfer kitty gleaned from the inevitable Cavani sale. Juventus had their overtures in January rejected and could be back on the trail if higher profile grabs like Diego Forlan elude them. But Manchester United is also keen on his signature, an odd choice considering how much his stature and playing style resemble that of former Man U washout Forlan.

Diagnosis: Sanchez and Lopez are an either/or situation for Man U in all likelihood. Juventus may wow Catania with an offer, but for now, they look content to shop in the casuals department with the likes of Luca Toni and Iaquinta in their revolving-door frontline rather than pull out the plastic for the top-of-the-line stuff. If Man U wants him, he’s theirs. But Sanchez is four years younger and a higher priority if the price is right. Lopez meanwhile will be content with shipping into Napoli mere hours after Cavani’s locker is vacated for over $100 million.


  1. […] The Latin flare of Italy's top talents You have to think that if Sir Alex Ferguson gets dismayed with his youthful strikers and they falter down the stretch of a title drive, he can will Sanchez to Old Trafford. It's his preferred destination, and he already knows how to . […]

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