Every parent has probably felt this way on at least one Christmas morning. They wonder why they ever bothered purchasing such a lavish present for their child, when they seem happier playing with the packaging. In these times of austerity, Italian football fans might well have to satisfy themselves with such simpler pleasures.
When Milan, once the pin-up boys for purchasing power, are selling their crown jewels it is clearly a watershed moment. The days when Serie A presidents were dubbed Ricchi Scemi – Rich Fools – are evidently long gone. They may well remain foolish but, in comparative terms at least, their wealth is diminishing rapidly.
Teams like Chelsea, Manchester City and Paris St Germain have become game-changers for Calcio. Their buying strength is such that they have turned an old adage against the nation which invented it. They are making offers that Italian football cannot refuse.
And so we can only stand idly by as Pocho Lavezzi, Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are setting sail for the banks of the Seine. More worryingly, perhaps, young talent like Marco Verratti is also being pounced on by the Parisians. Where once Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane moved in the opposite direction, the route over the Mont Blanc has become a distinctly one-way journey of late.
It has made the Italian transfer market look like a bit of a backwater. The big name acquisitions from outside Serie A seem to be mostly rumours designed to shift a few season tickets. The most significant transfers have been internal ones and for players who – as yet – have not attracted covetous eyes from abroad.
Of the domestic action, Juve look to have made the most significant moves. They were quick to benefit from Udinese’s sell-a-few-stars-every-summer policy and also brought back Sebastian Giovinco. The capture of Lucio from Inter also made for interesting reading.
The other big names have not stood idly by, but the action has hardly been earth-shattering. Inter also snapped up a player freed from the Friuli, goalkeeper Samir Handanovic. However, they too, find themselves constantly fending off rumours about which players might leave – most notably Wesley Sneijder. It hardly makes for comfortable times for followers of the Nerazzurri.
Their main source of pleasure, it seems, is the dismantling of their city rivals by overseas money as Ibrahimovic and Silva departed. Milan’s marquee signing so far has probably been Riccardo Montolivo, released by Fiorentina. No wonder Adriano Galliani keeps squirming on the spot when journalists ask him how he is going to keep the fans happy and give them the big name signing they crave.
Napoli, too, have lost a star in Lavezzi but hope young Lorenzo Insigne can step into his boots while Valon Behrami and Alessandro Gamberini of Fiorentina have added depth to their squad. They could be a prime contender to benefit if the apparent decline of the big boys proves to be genuine.
Roma and Lazio will also believe they can benefit, even if neither has been splashing much cash. The Giallorossi have the solid Michael Bradley in their ranks while the Biancocelesti have added Ederson – reputedly five years after they first wanted to sign him. Neither name will have supporters filled with ecstasy but at least they look to have competitive squads.
In Udine, of course, they expect to see players depart in the summer and this one has been no different. Indeed, you could argue that the Friuli side might well be pioneers and role models for how Italian football has to develop. Their purchasing of players before they become household names has proved to be a fruitful approach. The only regret, for many, is that not more of them are eligible for Italy. If they could start unearthing more future Azzurri, they truly would be a template worth exporting to other clubs.
Also busy culling and rebuilding are the likes of Palermo, Genoa and Fiorentina. Nowhere has the reconstruction process been more radical than at the last of those three clubs. The old guard has been unceremoniously dumped with a great deal of mystery surrounding what sort of line-up Vincenzo Montella will be able to field when the season actually gets under way. The long overdue Viola revolution is definitely under way – but what exactly its outcome might be is anybody’s guess.
The lesser lights have also been busy equipping themselves for battle, with new boys Samp and Torino coming with better credentials than your average newly-promoted side. Both teams have stated their aims as survival but if they can click, surely they could achieve a little more than that. Neither outfit has put together a stellar challenge but the days when they could afford to do so are long gone. The sooner we learn to accept that the better.
Everyone else, too, seems happy enough to bring in second or third tier Stranieri, along with a mix of tried and tested professionals and young hopefuls. The emphasis really should start to go on the more youthful domestic product but there is little evidence of that so far. A recent study in La Gazzetta dello Sport reckoned foreign players now outnumber the homegrown talent in terms of Serie A appearances. But reversing that trend might be the only way for Italian football to enjoy any kind of long-term revival.
But the relatively flat transfer market need not mean a disappointing season is in store. Indeed, you could argue quite the opposite. The title race looks wide open with last year’s invincible Juventus side having to cope with the demands of Champions League football once again. There is also a strong chasing pack and a lot of sides hungry to make their mark down at the bottom end of the table. The overall level of football may well have diminished, but there is every reason to suspect that might yet make for a pretty entertaining year of football in Serie A.