Friday, 2 September 2011

Ahhh, the Mercato

This post will only be of interest to those who follow football - a meager part of my already meager readership. Still, I've been asked what I think about Serie A's transfer window, and I'm only too pleased to oblige. Don't expect anything otherworldly - there's only so much to be said.

I'm assuming the querist was a Romanista like myself, so I'll dedicate most of my thoughts to the Giallorossi. Our mercato covered all parts of the field, with more verve than focus, though I think the department that least convinces me is the defence. The departure of Mexes has been compensated for by the arrival of Kjaer, whom I expect to do well. But I'm concerned about the state of our fullbacks. Valdes is no replacement for Riise on the short term (past that, time will tell), and he has practically no backup if he gets injured. On the right, I am flabbergasted that we still sport Cassetti. Wtf?? Has the guy made a pact with the demon from Paranormal Activity or something?? Why is he still there? Weak link of the chain for sure.

On the whole, I doubt that the defence will be ready from the get-go. They are all strangers (to each other and to Italian football) and they'll need some time to gel. The fullbacks are uncertain and the centre-backs need to adapt. We don't really know how Luis Enrique intends to organise our defensive game, but I'd encourage him to focus on that department before all others. If we start out the season by losing/drawing games because we conceded stupid goals, it could really hurt us later on.

The midfield is... Christ. I don't even know. We've got so many people there, and most of the new guys I've barely even heard of. We do seem to have a good deal of creative, smart passers, which should help LE's plans to clone Barcelona's game, but that depends on how they interact with the offence. On that note, the higher part of the field is also quite crowded. I was sorry to see Vucinic and Menez leave; the Frenchman in particular I thought could have been put to great use, especially in LE's game, and I believe he should have been kept.

The abundance of forwards does belie a problem - that LE seems to be planning a very specific, articulate game, one which requires some very special types of players. From this point of view, despite our many strikers, only a few may match the demands of our coach (Bojan being the most obvious). The rest may be difficult to use, and to an extent even detrimental. This may be the case of Totti, but also of Borriello, who are both hard to mould into new roles. Of course, Borriello may simply not play at all - but that can't be good for the changing room morale. What LE will (can?) do with Okaka, Caprari, Borini is anyone's guess.

On the whole, there is much to be liked about this mercato, in that we have purchased numerous players, all of them young, several creative. This does not instantly translate into a good/functional team. And the downside is that almost everyone is a foreigner, a fact I do not like. For those in denial about Roma's loss of identity after the departure of the Sensi's, tell me that the team as it stands has more in common with anyone else but Inter, and I'll call you a liar. Integrity aside, it also raises questions about how (and how quickly) the team will learn to function together. We've been lucky to be spared Inter at the first game thanks to the strike.

No-one really seems to give a crap which images I put up, so here's some tits

In bullet-points, then, what may we expect?

1.) It is a maxim that who fucks up the mercato, in Italy, fucks up the season. I don't think we run this type of risk; on the long run, we should do well. Our main danger is that of compromising the opening of the season by conceding avoidable goals; if that happens, morale will plummet along with faith in LE, the team will break up, and sustaining the project will become ever more difficult. Our first priority, then, should be that of making sure the defence is organised and effective. Tiki taka and all that jazz can wait. I have to confess I'm a little scared, since the players at the back are so incohesive and LE has no experience coaching in Italy. Hopefully it shouldn't take long for him to recognise the problem, assuming he hasn't already.

2.) Morale in the changing room will be a definite issue this year (one more reason why it's really important to start with some wins and get the guys to unite). It's not so much likely as inevitable that there will be a battle of the generations within the team, in the sense that it will be split into two social cliques. Think of it: Lamela is far more likely to socialise with Gago (both Argentinean) and Bojan (both very young) than with Totti. In turn, Totti is far more likely to hang out with De Rossi and Pizarro than with this platoon of freshers. The extent to which this will damage the team depends on the personalities of the individuals and on the team's results on the field. In any case, I do expect trouble to surface before mid-January.

3.) In terms of results, I do expect Roma to do comparatively well this year. The first month or two will be edgy, but there's all the time in the world to make good the difference. The fact that we're not playing in Europe is an enormous advantage over the bigger teams (Napoli in particular), one that is invariably underestimated. It's so big, in fact, that thinking of the Scudetto is not at all outlandish. The fact is that we know so little about LE's game, and how it's going to go. The opening matches are dangerous, of course, but suppose that the coach's game *does* gear in quickly, and suppose that it does work? In that case, with no other competitions to bleed us of our energies/determination, and with such an extensive squad available, there's no reason Roma couldn't go all the way. It's an unlikely scenario, entirely conditional to a solid game and identity being found quickly, but it's certainly not impossible. In any case, even if we don't do that well, I fully expect us to end among the first five, and compete for the third place.

4.) The word 'project' is abused in football. We justify almost everything that management and LE do in terms of the 'project.' In particular, we understand LE's project as modelling our game after that of Barcelona, with all the obvious implications (fast passing possession game, developing the vivaio, etc.). The realities of Italian, professional football will reframe that neat little project in a very short time. In truth, I believe LE's success will be measured in terms of how well, and how quickly, he can adapt to the impositions of the new scenario - and not by the resemblance of his game to Barcelona's. To phrase it more clearly: it is Roma that will tell LE how to play, and not the other way round. This is something that everybody, and especially the man himself, would do well to understand as quickly as possible. The project can only be successful if it is flexible. With these premises (the flood of new players, the team to be rebuilt from scratch, the new coach, the new tactics, the approach to Italian football, the divided locker room), it is completely impossible for events to take a linear trajectory. Nothing is going to go as planned. This doesn't mean that 'nothing is going to go well.' But if the team enjoys any success at all, and I expect it will, then it will be thanks to their ability to change and compromise priorities, not by clinging to them. The new face of the team will emerge spontaneously, and no-one yet knows what it will be like.

This, I think, is the defining trait of Roma's future in my opinion. The team *will* be successful, but it will do so in a very different way from what the 'project' expects. We won't play like Barcelona, even by vague resemblance. We will play like Roma. Exactly what that means is something we'll have to find out. And my bet is that it will work, especially in proportion to how well the first month or two of the season go.


With that said, my interest in the rest of the mercato was almost entirely oriented towards the Azzurri. I was especially intrigued by Milan's operations in midfield. I was hoping to see Aquilani and Montolivo together, as I believe they have great prospects and it would be nice to see them build on a complicity. Instead, we got Aquilani and Nocerino. I guess that's better than nothing, though I doubt Nocerino will see very much playing time (Aquilani, on the other hand, will do great things for Milan, as will Vucinic for Juventus). The Azzurri remain troubled by the disgregation of their members: there's no longer established pairings like Cannavaro-Zambrotta, Zambrotta-Camoranesi, Pirlo-Gattuso, Totti-Perrotta. Instead, everyone comes from different teams and has to start knowing each other from scratch (Roma, take notes).

I don't know what to think about Cassano staying with Milan. I really hope he plays.

I was also delighted to see Poli at Inter, and here's to hoping that Cambiasso breaks his fucking leg so the kid can play! Hahahaha just kidding. In reality, I fear that Poli will not feature much this year. So see you in 2014, kiddo. (Maybe 'delighted' is an overstatement, since I was hoping he'd land at Roma, but at least he's not staying in Serie B). And I was happy to see Eto'o leave, if only because it will open up spaces for Pazzini.

I don't think that Lazio's work on the mercato was as hot as most people give them credit for. They've built a powerful system that can break in many parts (Klose's bones, Cisse's mind, the defence in general). But I think Marchetti is a very exciting purchase for them, and for all of us. The drought of Italian goalkeepers is worrying, and this kid means a lot to me. Buffon won't live for ever.

Chapter Juventus. Puzzling to say the least - the first thing they did was to change the only thing they had which worked, the central midfield. Wtf? Still, they've done a decent job fixing the defence, and I think Elia is a superb signing, as is Vucinic. Pirlo is an incognito - can we expect him to go the whole season without breaking (lungs, bones, heart) at any point? I don't see why they didn't stick with Aquilani, or pick up Montolivo or Poli. Meh. Their offence is also doubtful, as I think Matri, Quagliarella and even Krasic are too much of one-trick ponies to really work. Vucinic is their new star; I just hope he isn't employed on the left. Expect operations in the January transfer window, because they'll already have holes to patch.

I was sorry to see Sanchez and Pastore leave. I don't have great expectations for Udinese (too gutted by the mercato) or Palermo (too inert) this year. Napoli will be stilted by the double engagement of campionato and Champions and won't go as far as last season. If someday they pick up Rossi, they will truly have an offence at the level of the great teams; but the rest of the squad still isn't quite up there. Fiorentina saw little movement, and what happens with Montolivo is everyone's concern. He may even leave in January. The return of Jovetic should do much to revitalise the team, and Gilardino will benefit as well. In truth I really hope to see Federico Carraro become a regular in the squad this year. I'm not sure he's even 19 yet, but he's my favourite Italian youngster, and if Fiorentina are struggling, then this may be the right time for him to come out of anonymity. I expect great things of him. Surprise team of the year? Cesena. Wonderfully organised and a spot-on mercato. I wouldn't be surprised if they finished among the first eight.

I guess that's all I could think of saying. Thanks for reading. Ta! :P