In the garden of the Grand Hotel Rimini, sporting directors came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. For the third year in a row, Italy’s transfer window opened on the same stretch of Adriatic coastline, where the most celebrated regista (director) of them all, Andrea Pirlo Federico Fellini, was born.
Disappointingly for the film buffs waiting tables, any discussion about 8½ was limited to the loan fee that Inter Milan have agreed to pay Chelsea for Romelu Lukaku. Amid the clinking glasses, general managers like Roma’s Tiago Pinto defended their profession from comparisons with Fellini’s Vitelloni, the layabouts and slackers in a dead-end town that could be Serie A. “I’m right in thinking the window only opened yesterday, aren’t I?” he smiled while introducing the club’s new back-up goalkeeper Mile Svilar to the media.
Svilar was out of contract at Benfica and isn’t alone in moving to Serie A on a Bosman. The next player Pinto unveiled on Monday was Nemanja Matic, a curious twist of fate if you recall that Manchester United-Benfica game at Old Trafford five years ago when his shot hit the post, ricocheted off Svilar’s back and went in.
Jose Mourinho was the home side’s manager at the time and the remnants of the last United team to win a trophy are spread throughout the league. Matic replaces Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who turned down the new contract Roma were offering to follow the footsteps of his old captain Edin Dzeko in moving to Inter, where “Mkhi” becomes the first Armenian ever to play for the club — unless, of course, you count France international Youri Djorkaeff.
Activity has not been lacking, then. A lot of the yellow-ticker, we-interrupt-this-programme business has come in Serie A this summer with Lukaku returning to Inter for next to nothing and Paul Pogba set to do the same with Juventus, at least in fees, after leaving for a combined €225 million.
While it is undoubtedly a coup to bring the league’s former MVP back to San Siro just a year after he left and the deja vu is palpable in seeing a World Cup winner return on a free transfer a decade on from the last one that enabled him to move to Turin, it would be wrong to categorise either as a low-cost operation. Lukaku’s lawyer Sebastien Ladure insists he doesn’t understand where reports of his client taking a wage cut come from and that “Big Rom” is now the highest-paid player in Serie A.
Inter are paying around €25 million between loan fee and salary knowing “all” they’ll get in return are goals as Lukaku remains under Chelsea’s control, with no option to buy included in the deal. As for Pogba, the Frenchman is expected to sign for approximately the same pay packet as the one Paulo Dybala requested, despite missing more game time at United (80 games!) than his former team-mate and good friend did these past three years at Juventus.
Minestra riscaldata (reheated soup) is being served. The taste test in Italian football tends to show it’s never as good as the first time. Rather than send it back to the kitchen, the hope is that second helpings will still be nutritious enough to make Inter and Juventus stronger. Encouragement comes, of course, from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who may not have been quite as fresh as he was in 2011 but still contributed to Milan winning the league 11 years after his first Scudetto with the club.
While the Swede recovers from the ACL repair he needed after six months of training and occasionally playing without one, Milan found another free agent in Divock Origi to compete with the team’s other forwards and deliver some of the big goals that made him such a cult hero at Liverpool.