Think of the most famous Italian footballers and some familiar names come to mind – Roberto Baggio, Paulo Maldini, Francesco Totti, Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, Alessandro Del Piero.
With the exception of Del Piero and Andrea Pirlo; all of these players plied their trade in Italy for their entire careers. Granted Serie A , was a very strong league at the time, but the lure from the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona , Bayern Munich or even Manchester United never managed to attract them abroad.
More tellingly, since the turn of the century, Serie A as a league has declined and fallen far behind the other top European leagues of England, Spain and Germany, yet the cream of Italy still stays at home.
The Italy national team has consequently remained strong, winning the World Cup in 2006 and reaching the European Championships final in 2000 and 2012. So maybe the Italian patriotism has paid off?
In contrast to Italians, the Dutch are one of football’s biggest globetrotters. For example, Clarence Seedorf has played for Ajax, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and A.C. Milan. Wesley Sneijder too played for Ajax, Real Madrid and Inter before moving further afield to Turkey with Galatasaray.
Granted, the Eredivisie league has less money and prestige than Serie A, so naturally top Dutch players will seek to develop their career out of Holland.
Proud of their heritage
It could be argued that Italian players place a big importance on heritage, and tradition. If you look at the national team, an Italian has always managed them and the Azzurri have always played in a very defensive and tactical style.
Playing abroad may mean playing in a manner that does not suit the national team. In other words, Italians could be afraid of not getting picked to play for their country if they play abroad.
So it’s no surprise that Pirlo moved to New York City FC once his international career was over.
There are exceptions however; Marco Verratti plays for Paris St Germain and Matteo Darmian is at Manchester United. Only Verratti however, could be described a major success.
Bonucci’s surprise move to AC Milan a puzzling example
Yet movement within Italy is far more emphatic. Leonardo Bonucci’s recent 42M euro transfer from Juventus to Milan is a puzzling example.
At the moment he is arguably one of the best defenders in Europe and a player that was pursued by his ex coach Antonio Conte at Chelsea, not to mention Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
Yet he chose to stay in Italy and move to the San Siro, to a club although rich in tradition is in no way dominating Serie A, let alone Europe. Even stranger is the fact that according to ESPN Bonucci is a loyal diehard Juventus supporter.
He told the network –
“There is so much Juventus in me. It’s a matter of heart and skin. Every time I wear the shirt, it gives me this incredible energy. I hope I can be important for Juventus as Juventus is for me.”
Yet it has been much documented that Bonucci had a strained relationship with manager Massimiliano Allegri. The pair were caught on camera verbally abusing each other in the closing stages of a 4-1 victory over Palermo this year.
If he was keen to leave Turin surely there were better options available than staying in Italy? And why would Juventus sell one of their best players to an archrival? They are the top club in Italy right now, winning the last 6 Scudetto titles.
This transfer is the equivalent of David De Gea leaving Manchester United for Liverpool. It would never happen. Not directly anyway.
In Italy it does, and the answer is probably simple – money. A.C. Milan were recently bought by Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux led by billionaire Chinese businessman Yonghong Li.
No doubt the acquisition of Bonucci is a massive statement of intent by the Rossoneri. We will see who else is brought in this summer.
Puzzling moves are not new in Serie A, and it seems club loyalty is not quite as a strong as it might seem either. Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri was Milan manager from 2010 until 2014. Marcello Lippi managed Juventus and Inter Milan.
But for players, the list of Italians that have represented both A.C. Milan and Inter is long. Christian Vieri, Andrea Pirlo, Roberto Baggio (who also played for Juventus) Mario Balotelli, and Antonio Cassano have all swapped Milan jerseys over the course of their career.
Italian clubs have proven to be a bit of a merry –go-round for both Italian players.
Italy still numero uno
There are some exceptions that suggest that when it comes to management, Italians have become more outward thinking recently.
England has been a huge success for the likes of Roberto Mancini, Antonio Conte, Claudio Ranieri and Carlo Ancelotti.
They all won the Premier League with their respective clubs. For players though it seems Italy is still numero uno.